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Leading Your Sales Team: 5 Keys to Success

By Tony Cole, CEO of Anthony Cole Training Group

The working theory at many companies is that a producer can be promoted and successfully transition to managing and coaching others to do the same. However, there are very different skills required of sales managers than salespeople. The most important of which is the driving desire to develop and achieve success through others.

Both roles do include relationship building and the ability to quickly and effectively find and develop a bond with others, however, the core skills of an agency leader must be transitioned from doing to teaching and coaching.

The 5 Key Activities Framework

Here is a framework of five key activities that provide a new or tenured sales leader with specific activities they need to put in place to help them lead their team to greater success.

  1. Guiding the team to set Extraordinary goals
  2. Managing excuse making
  3. Understanding the Will to Sell and Sales DNA factors beneath sales behavior
  4. Following a Coaching process
  5. Coaching the deal and coaching for skill development

🗝️ #1 Guiding the team to set Extraordinary goals

One of the biggest complaints of many producers is that their goals are set by the company and are not realistic. But interestingly enough, if a sales leader effectively takes their salespeople through a process of establishing their own goals, salespeople will typically set them higher than the company might. We recommend a process to help managers with this problem that includes helping their team establish Extraordinary Goals.

Utilizing a matrix like the below, a sales manager begins by asking the producer what a Good goal for their year is and fills that in. Then they decide on Poor and Failing levels. Once those are established, they have a conversation about what an Excellent year would look like, and then what an Extraordinary year would be.

Numbers are essential along with a discussion of what would be needed to achieve these levels. Once all those numbers are established, the sales leader asks the producer to which level they want to be managed and coached. Most high-performing producers will choose the top level. What is key, however, is that the sales leader asks the salesperson if they will allow them to be coached to that level and gains the understanding that it will be hard, and challenging.

Utilizing this process, the salesperson has established their own goal and will be more committed to doing what it takes to achieve it.

🗝️ #2 Managing excuse making

We all make excuses now and then, however one of the skills of top-performing salespeople is their ability to own their outcomes and results. In our sales management training, we help sales leaders understand the commitment levels of their salespeople and then how to coach to those various levels.

We can all recognize there are producers who will do ‘whatever it takes’, which we call WIT, and these producers rarely if ever, blame the market or the company or anything other than their own actions, for any lack of success.

So here is the strategy. When asked ‘Why do you think you did not reach your annual goal, Joe?” Joe says “Look how many accounts I am managing! How can I do this client servicing work and still bring in new business?” The sales manager replies with “If I did not let you use that excuse, Joe, what would you have done differently?

This approach reaps great success because it puts the ball squarely back in the producer’s court and they must think about how they could have adjusted their activities to achieve a different result. They must own it. This question can be used to manage almost all excuse-making scenarios.

🗝️#3 Understanding the Will to Sell and Sales DNA factors beneath sales behavior

When a producer does not prospect enough or avoids asking about the fees or cost in a sales process or does not ask enough strong qualifying questions, it is often the result of their underlying Will to Sell and Sales DNA. It is impossible to coach these behaviors without understanding what lies beneath the salesperson’s actions.

Relationship selling is a complex skill and a sales coach will want to understand these underlying factors about their salespeople to truly coach them to higher levels of performance.

For example, if a producer does not feel comfortable that they have the right to ask questions about fees or the rate the prospect is paying (uncomfortable discussing money), they will shy away from doing so. It is easier to teach technique and help them with questions they can be comfortable with once it is understood what is getting in their way.

🗝️ #4 Following a Coaching process

Much like mastering a sport like golf or tennis, there are different styles and approaches.  But, there are some technical factors involved in becoming really adept at these sports.

Similarly, in our sales management training, we help sales leaders with the technical side of coaching with a 5-step coaching process. Yes, they must be adept at each of these steps below, but if they simply commit to coaching their salespeople in this manner, they will see a lift.

  • Gain insight: find out what is happening or not happening through huddle data or observational coaching, discovery through a coaching session

  • Provide feedback: have quality conversations that are timely and specific, asking questions of their salespeople to help them self-discover and gain agreement on the real problem

  • Demonstrate and instruct: Identify skill gaps, demonstrate mastery of skill and instruct on critical steps to improve 

  • Role play: Complete a pre-call for an upcoming call, advisor role plays, complete a post-call debrief together, coach the gaps

  • Develop an action plan: determine action steps, observe, inspect and coach again, celebrate results, and address failure

🗝️ #5 Coaching the deal and coaching for skill development

Many sales coaches are adept at coaching a specific opportunity-- helping a producer understand if the prospect fits their target, researching the issues, the complexities of the program, etc.

However, at a separate time, it is important that sales managers focus on sales behaviors so that they can help a producer make improvements in their strategies, skills, and approach.

We recommend establishing coaching hours on the calendar and that is when a salesperson commits to a meeting with their manager, reviews a prospect pre- or post-call, reviews the questions they asked, and completes a qualifying scorecard on the prospect.

This is time to sharpen their sword. One of the most important jobs of the sales manager is to practice with their salespeople, take time to help them with a new approach, ask questions in a different way, and help them get comfortable with closing questions.

This time is set aside, not to focus on a deal, but to improve skills and affect change in behavior. Remember, change takes repetition and practice!

Take your sales teams to the next level

Anthony Cole can help your sales leaders to sell and coach better.

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About the author

Tony Cole, Co-founder and CLO of Anthony Cole Training Group, has a lifelong focus on helping people and organizations achieve their personal best. As a former educator and university coach, Tony helped individuals learn how to improve their game not by ‘running faster’ but with significant and tactical behavioral changes. After 15 years in direct sales and sales management, Tony transitioned his passion for extraordinary performance and began to ignite that fire with other firms in 1993. Anthony Cole Training Group has grown to be a leader in helping companies close their sales opportunity gap by helping them sell better, coach better, and hire better. His blog can be found at https://blog.anthonycoletraining.com/sales-training-sales-brew.

Last updated: 12 Jul 2022

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