Empowering Sales Managers: Unleashing Agility and Sales Leadership Skills
Enhancing Agility for Stronger Sales Leadership Skills
Agility is the one skill that can address any problem. Why? Because agility creates the flexibility to address the one constant in selling: change. If a sales manager can adapt to change, they can manage any sales team through any market, and most importantly, they can do it efficiently.
Efficiency matters because the average number of direct reports managed by first-line sales managers is now 8.5, and some organizations report as many as 23, according to the Alexander Group.
A greater number of direct reports means that sales managers need to interpret more information coming from CRM platforms, sales enablement platforms, knowledge management systems, business development applications, conversational intelligence, data analytics, and artificial intelligence.
Enabling sales managers with successful sales leadership skills means giving them an efficient coaching method that is dynamic and relevant to what’s happening in the field at any time. They also need a model built upon behavioral psychology principles that equips them to work effectively with a range of personalities.
Here, we show how a dynamic coaching method enables sales managers to be both agile and effective. We show the three parts of that method, how they work, and why they matter.
1. Preparing Sales Managers: The Three Essential Steps
Preparation happens in three parts. The sales manager needs to know their purpose, their perceptions, and their plan.
- Knowing your purpose means identifying the topics to be addressed in the coaching conversation. This is an important time to review notes from prior meetings with the seller and look at all relevant data. If possible, observing the seller’s customer conversations can also reveal opportunities for coaching and development.
- Knowing your perceptions means asking yourself four questions about the sales professional: what’s working and what isn’t, what is the desired outcome, what is preventing this outcome, and what needs to be done. It’s also important for sellers to prepare their own answers to these questions.
- Knowing your plan means thinking about the questions you will ask and anticipating the seller’s assessment and reactions. This forethought is also important for keeping the conversation focused and concise. Limit feedback to one or two priority focus points to allow you to complete a coaching session within 15 to 20 minutes.
2. Engaging the Sales Team: Connecting, Coaching, and Committing
Engagement is where the sales manager creates real change in the seller. It’s where agility truly comes into play and it happens in three parts: connecting, coaching, and committing.
- Connecting is about setting the state for a coaching conversation, setting the context, and clarifying the purpose. Setting the stage means establishing a safe, collaborative setting. This is the time to build rapport and state your intention to support. Setting the context is where you start to summarize what led to the discussion. Context setting is also about recapping prior discussions and commitments which reinforces accountability. Finally, setting the purpose is about reviewing the agenda, and checking for feedback. The best coaches use neutral language to manage emotions and reinforce their intent to support, and not judge.
Coaching means engaging in a collaborative process to help sellers self-assess and self-discover ways to improve performance. This happens across three steps. First, the seller needs a chance to discuss how they’re progressing against their goals and where challenges remain. Then, you and the seller can work together to uncover the underlying issue that might be impacting performance. Finally, you and the seller should list a few ideas on how to address the issue before determining the best one.
- Committing requires you and the seller to identify specific behaviors and actions that will strengthen the seller’s performance. This works best when the seller is the one who articulates what the next steps should be. This also gives sellers a greater sense of self-efficacy. This is important because, according to research published in the International Journal of Psychology, individuals with high self-efficacy recover more quickly from setbacks and remain committed to their goals. From here it’s important to schedule a follow up and reinforce your support.
These three parts are guided by research from Wharton School of Management, and the University of Chicago which found that consistency of feedback and tolerance of errors are the two keys to behavior change.
3. Advancing Performance: Best Practices for Sales Managers
Advancing means providing a set of best practices for systematically ensuring that you and your sellers continue to learn as you strengthen performance. Maintaining this momentum means seeking feedback, summarizing notes, and following-up.
- Seeking feedback starts by considering what you did well, and where there are opportunities to do things differently and improve. With these questions answered you can begin to ask sellers for feedback. Any commonalities between your self-reflection and the comments from sellers should be considered important areas of focus.
- Summarizing notes means keeping a record of discussions to ensure continuity. Remember to enter agreed-upon action steps in your calendar to facilitate follow-up. Effective coaching is a long game. It is easy to become distracted with other internal initiatives, trends in the market, and quarterly goals. A record is what keeps you and the seller anchored to a plan.
- Following-up builds accountability. If sellers know that you will follow-up they will follow through. This process must be ongoing. Follow-up is not just about ensuring that the seller follows through. It is also an opportunity to reinforce your commitment and offer praise and support. The goal is for the seller to accept you, the coach, as a constant supportive presence rather than a manager looking for faults.
These steps fit with the concept of Social Interdependence Theory which shows that “positive interdependence” emerges when the individual understands that goal attainment is a shared endeavor.
Enabling sales managers to be agile and effective is crucial in today's dynamic business landscape. By equipping them with a dynamic coaching method rooted in behavioral psychology principles, we empower sales managers to adapt to change, manage diverse teams, and drive optimal performance. The three-step approach of preparation, engagement, and advancement serves as a roadmap for fostering growth and success. Through continuous feedback, accountability, and a shared commitment to goal attainment, sales managers can cultivate a culture of positive interdependence, fueling individual and team achievements. By embracing agility and implementing these strategies, organizations can unlock the full potential of their sales leadership, driving sustainable growth and competitive advantage in the ever-evolving sales landscape.
Get industry insights and stay up to date, subscribe to our newsletter.
Joining our community gives you access to weekly thought leadership to help guide your planning for a training initiative, inform your sales strategy, and most importantly, improve your team's performance.