In a previous post, I looked at changes on the horizon for salespeople in 2019. Now it’s time to look at the changes faced by sales leaders.
I’ve already referenced this Salesforce study, indicating that a whopping 57% of salespeople do not expect to hit quota this year. That statistic should serve as a wakeup call, not just to sales leaders, but to leadership at the highest level of every organization that has a sales team. A side note: At Sandler, we’ve noticed that most of the leadership problems contributing to this sobering statistic fall into categories that can overlap in a single department. For instance, a manager who shouldn’t have been hired or promoted in the first place may also have the challenges of not knowing the sales process inside and out, or not receiving the training and reinforcement needed to perform well in the role of manager.
That said, the reality is that there are four particularly important trends to watch in sales management, each suggesting that the percentage of salespeople who expect to miss quota is going to continue to go up, not down. As sales leaders, we need to understand what those trends are – and do something about them.
Trend #1: The coaching gap is widening. First and foremost, most salespeople do not receive effective coaching from their leaders. The people leading the sales team may think that they are providing effective coaching, but data from the Harvard Business Review suggests that salespeople resoundingly disagree. This gap looks to widen in the coming year. All too often, sales leaders have a misguided idea of what sales coaching is. Coaching means supporting salespeople as they develop themselves to meet their personal and professional goals. Typically, coaching is about asking the right questions about a specific development topic in a safe, one-on-one setting – not lecturing people in public about mistakes you think they’ve made or telling them what you would have done in the same situation. Too many sales leaders have major challenges fulfilling their coaching responsibilities, for the simple reason that they don’t have a clear process to coach to. This is deeply problematic. It’s like putting a random address in the GPS and hoping you get to where you want to go. Not a good idea!
Trend #2: The training gap is widening. One of the big reasons sales leaders don’t coach well is that they haven’t been trained to do so. In fact, most sales leaders, in our experience, don’t receive adequate training and reinforcement for any aspect of their job. They are simply “promoted into management” on the theory that the skill set for being an effective salesperson is basically identical to that of being an effective manager of a sales team. It isn’t. A painful period of on-the-job trial and error typically follows, with learning curves far longer and far more expensive to both the team and the organization than necessary. Six to ten days per year devoted to managerial professional development could turn this situation around, but most organizations don’t make that investment. The result? When we take into account the steadily rising retirement rates of the most experienced sales leaders, it’s a huge group of younger sales professionals promoted into leadership positions, for which they haven’t been trained and simply aren’t prepared to take on. As long as there is a gap between what younger, recently promoted sales managers are expected to do and what they have been trained to do, the teams they lead will fail to reach their potential. By the way, the flip-side of this challenge is also important to notice: managers don’t train their people on the behaviors, attitudes, and techniques needed to be successful within the role of salesperson. Most salespeople still do not get the weekly or monthly training and reinforcement they should. Bottom line: Teams underperform.
Trend #3: The process gap is widening. A major trend that I talked about in a previous blog is that of motivated salespeople taking the initiative, stepping up, and using cool applications like Crystal to give themselves an edge in the marketplace. That’s a positive development, but too few sales leaders are taking advantage of these tools to support a shared sales process for the entire team. With Crystal, for instance, managers can review the actual transcripts of a salesperson’s recent discussions with a buyer, and thus base call debriefs on actual events, rather than the salesperson’s memory. Too few leaders are leveraging the astonishing power of the available technologies, which include Crystal, VisualizeROI, and Sandler’s own SalesAccountability coaching tool, to create a scalable coaching and debriefing process, one that features better, more informed interactions with each member of the selling team.
Trend #4: The communication gap is widening. The fourth big trend that is causing a major disconnect between managers and salespeople is the increasing reliance (by both sides) on email, rather than initiating voice-to-voice or face-to-face contact. Human beings need more than words on a screen if they are to communicate with one another effectively. Applications like Skype and Zoom give us the capacity to connect voice-to-voice or face-to-face very easily… yet many “remote” selling teams go for months or even years without this kind of direct person-to-person contact between salespeople and their leaders. This pattern is causing serious communication and performance challenges. Fortunately, it’s a relatively easy fix.
The future of sales in 2019 will be, increasingly, about strengthening sales management. Companies that spot and address these four troubling trends will post better numbers this year than those who don’t.