Sales management leaders are failing

Why are Sales Management and Sales Enablement Leaders Failing?

I’ve recently attended two conferences for sales management and sales enablement leaders. They were different events, but they both had the same focus: Even though the economy is growing, sales performance is not.

So what were both conferences about? Finding the next big fix. That’s probably why so many sales productivity tools are so hot right now — many people are turning to them for answers. 

According to the Founder and CEO of Selling Power magazine, Gerhard Gschwandtner, there are currently 3,000+ sales productivity tools, including AI solutions, available on the market right now. 

In short, everyone is looking for something to make selling easier. But the question is this: Will any of these tools actually make selling easier? 

Here’s an inconvenient truth: Just like magic diet pills, there’s no such thing as a silver bullet solution when it comes to selling. If you’re going to master the profession of selling, sales management, and strategy, you’re going to have to do it the hard way. 

Don’t misunderstand me; I’m a big fan of optimizing the sales process with tools, insights, and anything that will make the journey easier because selling is hard. And I’m not just saying that, because our training programs rely on such tools. 

But, just like learning a skill like golf or the violin, there’s a measurable set of skills and capabilities that must be learned to be successful. There’s just no way around it. For example, if you’re struggling to hit a ball in the fairway, no amount of balls, clubs, or switching up the golf course landscape will replace rigorous practice. You’ve just got to fix your swing. 

The same goes for selling. As long as sellers are selling to people, there’s no such thing as a shortcut to mastering the art of influence. 

But this leaves us with the question: So what is it exactly that I need to practice to develop selling capabilities? 

If you think it’s just a quick answer of sales training, the answer is no. It’s also not dropping real-time learning sessions into the laps of your salespeople. Instead, it’s about investing in your frontline sales leaders — they’re the key to better sales strategy and overall sales performance. 

Here’s what we’ve learned from more than two decades in this industry: To change seller performance, the most effective strategy is to change the coaching of your frontline sales management. 

While training, microlearning, and productivity tools are all essential pieces in improved sales performance, nothing is more impactful than an effective leader. They’re driving seller engagement and overall culture, and they’re also ultimately the key to developing true competency. Why? Because change happens 1:1, not in a training workshop. 

I get it — this idea isn’t revolutionary. You’re probably on board with sales coaching as a whole, too. But when I’m in the field, either doing research, conducting group studies, or helping out with training, I get asked questions to assess how well sales teams are being coached. And I ask questions like this: 

“When was the last time your coach or manager went on a call with you?” 

“What’s the post-coaching session plan to build a new skill set?” 

“Are you measuring key competency or engagement levels in your sellers? 

Most of the time, the only answers I get back are blank stares. Why? Because many sales coaching sessions end up being sales management meetings or sales strategy sessions. They’re based on what went right, what went wrong, and how things are going to get back on track to win. 

But even though these are collaborative conversations most of the time, it’s not a diagnosis for seller improvement. It’s not a plan of action for getting more practice. And it’s certainly not an accurate assessment of a rep’s abilities. 

My point? Effective sales coaching takes time. There’s no shortcut. But most organizations are still looking for the quick fix. Even the best tool in the world in the hands of an incompetent rep will only yield small returns. Why? Because we need a coach to help us see where we need help, offer encouragement, challenge us to be better, and continually support our growth through the development journey. 

That’s why I can understand why people are looking for a quick fix — it’s tough to provide this kind of support consistently. But when organizations fail to make coaching a priority, performance suffers, and they see if reflected in their bottom line. So if you want to change your performance, you really should have one goal: Your frontline leaders need to be your first priority. 

If you’re looking to refocus your frontline sales managers, or you want to assess your personal approach to team training, check out our leadership diagnostic. It’s only five minutes, and you’ll be able to see if there are quick wins you can implement. 

Here’s a quick rundown of what the quiz can help you learn:

  • Are you good at igniting a desire to change? 
  • Does your company culture reflect the positive engagement and performance you want to see? 
  • Are you measuring the metrics that matter? 
  • Are you allocating the right amount of time to coaching? 
  • Do you know the three best practices of coaching that will change performance? 
  • Are you coaching the right people?

If you want to assess your own sales leadership abilities? Take one or both of our Three-minute quizzes: motivation assessment and coaching assessment

As Co-founder and CEO, Tom’s primary role is to create content that helps people live, sell, and serve more effectively. Find him on LinkedIn

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