Sales

Sales Managers: What Got You Here Won’t Get You There

When is the last time you provided constructive, specific feedback in a one-on-one?

I’ve been working on a sales coaching module for the past few weeks, so an article in Sunday’s New York Times business section about Google’s Project Oxygen caught my eye this morning.

Google analyzed thousands of performance reviews and other inputs to figure out what separated their top managers from the rest, and came up with eight practices.

Anyone who has worked as a manager for even a little while probably knows most of these, but the study was noteworthy because it provided hard data to what is usually a product of common sense and general wisdom. Even more importantly, it ranked them.

The most important point that I saw in the article is that managers have a much greater impact on the performance and morale of employees than any other factor, so your actions and performance as a sales manager are all-important.

The number one ranked practice of good managers is that they are good coaches, which Google defines as providing specific, constructive feedback and having regular one-on-ones with their direct reports.

While this may sound obvious, if you are a sales manager, take a moment to think about how much time you spent in the last week coaching your salespeople. If the answer was “none”, think about when was the last time you gave specific constructive, feedback to a salesperson. How regular are your one-on-ones? I don’t know what your specific answer was, but in general I’m guessing that the answers are a bit disturbing, given research that indicates how rarely sales managers use coaching.[1]

Think about it: it’s the most important practice you can employ as a manager, and yet it is one of the rarest. Maybe one reason for this is that too many sales managers spend their time focusing on the skill that is last on the list.

Last on Google’s list—eight out of eight—is technical expertise. Engineers are similar to salespeople in that they respect a manager who can do what they do at least as well as they can, yet the data shows that this is still far down the list of the attributes that make a manager successful. Substitute sales expertise for technical expertise and you will see how unimportant it is to your job. Most sales managers come from the ranks of successful salespeople, so sales expertise is what got you the job, but it’s not what will make you successful.

In fact, over-reliance on your greatest strength–sales expertise—can be a detriment to doing your job, because:

  • It can cause you to rescue a sale, because after all the numbers are important.
  • It may cause you to provide directives and advice rather than helping salespeople figure out the answers for themselves.
  • Your natural propensity to solve problems can lead you to apply short-term solutions instead of listening and learning to figure out deeper causes.
  • You may force people into your way of doing things because that’s what worked for you, not realizing that others might have different styles and strengths that can work for them also.
  • If your sales skills came easily to you, it can be hard to teach others how to do things.

There’s an old cliché that when all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. If you’re a sales manager, leave your expertise hammer in the toolbox and realize that you have at least seven other tools, starting with coaching.


[1] Future Selling Institute; Sales Coaching by Linda Richardson.

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