Develop Sales Managers Who Drive Performance

Identify and develop the most effective sales manager approach to employee coaching

Sales managers are being asked to achieve the unachievable

Imagine you’re a frontline sales manager with 6 to 8 direct reports. You spend about 35% of your day in meetings, almost as much time reading and responding to 120+ emails, and nearly 10% of your time coaching and giving feedback to your team.

Now imagine that learning and development says you should be spending four times as much time developing your people — 36% of your workweek. Who is going to give you more hours in the day? How is this even possible?

Now imagine that you give a good-faith effort to meeting this mandate. You offer the sustained, continuous coaching that L&D is calling for, only to find out that this effort not only failed to boost the group’s performance but actually degraded it. Does this sound unlikely or counterintuitive?

Actually, it happens time and time again. Entrenched principles of employee development call for strategies that often backfire. The world of work has changed, but traditional thinking about development hasn’t.

There have been tectonic changes in the way sellers sell

To sell complex solutions, today’s sellers must often work with and through an increasing number of people in different functions, business units and geographies. In doing so, they are expected to shift seamlessly from project manager to business consultant to administrative expert — all over the course of a single deal.

These changes bring new urgency to skill development

This dynamic, complex work environment has profoundly affected how sellers learn and develop. Now, formal classroom training sessions are just one of many options for teaching sellers. In fact, 66% of sellers report they expect most learning and development to occur outside the classroom, while 58% of sellers report they develop new skills through their colleagues.

In addition, learning and development efforts must keep pace with the dynamic nature of the seller role, remaining flexible enough to support sellers as they shift between skill sets. Indeed, 60% of sellers expect to learn and develop “just in time,” and 35% report the skills they use today were learned in the past year.

It all comes down to managers

Although managers have always played an important role in seller development, these dynamics mean sales manager coaching is increasingly critical to overall training and education efforts. In contrast to formal classroom training — which can feel too generic and requires a significant chunk of time in a seller’s busy schedule — manager-led coaching and training efforts have several qualities that make them especially attractive in today’s learning environment:

  1. Managers are close enough to a seller’s work to understand development areas and learning needs, and are thus theoretically able to tailor their coaching to the seller’s unique situation.
  2. Manager-led efforts should, in theory, provide a greater level of flexibility with regard to timing than formal classroom training.

Sales managers are well-placed to deliver the tailored, just-in-time training required in today’s work environment.

Sales managers struggle to meet expectations

Sales and L&D leaders expect frontline sales managers to coach and develop their direct reports continuously in areas ranging from specific deals or tasks to longer-term skills.

But managers are struggling with this burden. According to our research, the average frontline sales manager has seven direct reports but devotes just 9% of his or her time to actually developing them. More worrisome, 42% of managers simply lack the confidence to develop the skills that employees need today.

Ineffective sales managers have expensive consequences

Sellers feel the shortcomings of managers as well. Just 38% of sellers report their manager helps them develop the skills they need for their role today, while only 34% report their manager helps them develop the skills they need for the future.

Managers significantly influence sellers’ intent to stay, so between the underperformance of direct reports and the cost of replacing sellers who leave, a single ineffective sales manager can cost a company up to several million dollars.

Managers approach employee development in four ways

We conducted a global survey with more than 7,300 employees and managers across a variety of industries, functions, and geographies. We wanted to answer the question:

What are the best managers doing to develop employees in today’s work environment?

Our analysis of nearly 90 variables evaluating demonstrated manager behaviors and their effectiveness found that managers exhibit four approaches to coaching and development:

  • Teacher managers develop employees based on their expertise and experience, providing advice-oriented feedback and directing their employees’ development.
  • Always On managers provide continuous, frequent coaching, drive their employees’ development and give feedback across a breadth of skills.
  • Connector managers introduce employees to others for coaching and development and create a positive team environment while providing targeted feedback to their employees.
  • Cheerleader managers take a hands-on approach to development; give empowering, positive feedback; and enable their employees to direct their own development.

Connector managers outperform the rest

Based on the descriptions alone, it may seem Always On managers would be most likely to drive high performance among their teams, but this is not the case. In fact, across the enterprise, Connector managers improve the performance of employees by up to 26% and triple the likelihood that their direct reports are high performers, far outperforming the other profiles. In the sales function in particular, their effect is even greater: Connector sales managers have up to a 47% impact on seller performance. 

Connector managers foster connections

In addition to many core coaching activities, Connector managers foster three distinct types of connections — to the employee, the team and the organization.

  • Connector managers personalize for employee resonance by tailoring development to employee needs and interests.
  • Connector managers power the team for peer development by promoting reciprocal and real-time development within the team.
  • Connector managers partner for best-fit connections by teaching employees how to learn from new connections and helping employees expand their networks and experiences outside the manager’s realm.

Develop Connector sales managers in your organization

Download the white paper, “Identifying and Developing the Sales Manager Profile That Drives Performance”
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