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When Stepping in Does More Harm Than Good as a Sales Manager

SalesManagerProcess Banner Sales Management Discussion


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 As a sales leader, what’s your first impulse when you see a member of your sales team in trouble?

If you answered, “Take over and do it for them,” pause and think for a moment. As Lain Ehmann (Selling Power) and Colleen Honan (OneSource) recently agreed:

The hardest part of sales management may be knowing when to step in and when to take a back seat as your reps learn the ropes, particularly in front of the customer. As tough as it is, it's often critical for the development of individual reps — and your team as a whole — to let them pave their own way.

So when should sales managers step in to close a deal? From my experience in the field, the best answer is “less often than you might think.”

The impulse to play the hero and rescue a struggling sales professional is understandable. In past lives, most sales managers have enjoyed successful sales careers, and the transition into management can be difficult. They love selling, and some miss the thrill of closing a deal. They’re also typically under pressure to meet sales forecasts.

But it’s often in your best interest — and the best interest of your company — for you to focus on coaching your team members to their full potential, even if it means an individual sale does not go smoothly. Here are a few reasons why:

  • Develop your team’s skills more rapidly. Just like there’s no aerobic benefit for you in watching someone else work out, your reps will develop their skills most quickly when they learn to handle hard situations themselves with your guidance.
  • Integrate inspiration into their professional approach. People rise to the level of belief others have in them. When you coach your sales professionals to be their own success machines, you are demonstrating your belief in their abilities. It’s better for your relationship with your team members, as well as their long-term performance.
  • Simplify your job. Coaching a sales professional through a challenge is the ultimate sales automation. If you coach them once this time (instead of doing it for them), sales professionals are more likely to do it well without your involvement next time.
Effective leaders know how to coach their sales team members to excel on their own. When you see one of your sales professionals in trouble, follow these five steps:

  1. Trust their training. Have faith in your sales system. If you’ve invested in a good system and put your team through the right training, let them show you what they can do.
  2. Remind yourself they’re not you. There are almost always multiple routes to the same result. Just because your reps don’t do things exactly the way you would doesn’t mean they can’t succeed. Focus on a successful outcome, even if you would do it differently.
  3. Remember your job. They are the sales professionals, you are the sales manager. Their job is to sell; your job is to manage the sales team. Make this your mantra: “My job is to let my reps do theirs.”
  4. Find out what they need. Ask effective coaching questions to first understand the sales professional’s perceptions of the situation. After you have actively listened to the professional’s perceptions and shared your own, collaboratively diagnose the problem in order to figure out what it’s going to take to solve it. Then, provide those resources and let the rep work it out.
  5. Accept the consequences. If they fail, they fail. It’s not the first lost deal and it won’t be the last. Make it a learning experience, debrief with the sales professional, and move on.
When you know what to do, it’s hard to stand back and not do it. But great coaches — and great sales leaders — know their position is on the sideline, not on the field.
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