Sales managers have a difficult job. After all, their livelihood is based on the performance of other people with wills of their own. A sales manager can't do the job of a sales rep for them, nor would they want to if they could.
So what can they do?
The main duty of a sales manager is to be a sales coach: someone who imparts training to a team and works with their reps to retain and develop those crucial skills.
Done right, sales training and coaching can result in an explosion of growth, since an entire team of competent and trained salespeople can sell more than any one sales rep on their own.
But what skills do you teach? What should be the things you coach your people on every day, week, month, and quarter?
The skills we compiled might be a bit different than the ground-level tactics and techniques that sales training often imparts. These areas of emphasis are intended to give your salespeople something every sales manager wants for their reps: self-efficacy.
To turn your reps into self-sufficient sales professionals, focus on these 10 areas as a part of your sales training program.
1. Active Listening
You can't be a good salesperson unless you know how to listen. But too many reps talk more than they should, or just think about what they're going to stay next while the prospect is speaking.
Active listening is a vital skill. This is done by giving the prospect their undivided attention and providing a brief response summarizing what the rep heard the prospect say.
They'll pick up on hints about the buyer's intentions, pain points, needs, thoughts, and emotions. They'll also start noticing red flags that can lead to trouble (see below).
One way to practice is to roleplay as a customer and have your rep go through a discovery call. Then, afterward, quiz them on details that they discussed during the call. Over time, with practice, reps can not only retain more information, but uncover more info as well.
2. Identifying Red Flags for Bad Deals and Bad Buyers
One of the best ways to ramp up the productivity of a sales team isn't to get your reps to make more calls and send more emails. It can actually be the opposite: finding fewer deals by cutting out all the opportunities that will never go anywhere.
In other words, juice your win rate rather than increase your pipeline.
Wasted time in the pursuit of the wrong deal with the wrong prospect at the wrong account will cripple a sales team's efficiency. It's more productive to focus on disqualifying deals fast that won't turn into anything, and the best way to do that is to look for red flags.
These red flags will vary depending on your business, but there are a few that everyone should be on the lookout for:
- A buyer who has no sense of boundaries and thinks everything is urgent
- A buyer who is far too eager to say yes (suggesting they don't understand what they need) or is
- A buyer who refuses to commit, but also refuses to bail, resulting in sales cycle purgatory
Sales pros need to learn how to get away from these types of relationships. If a prospect isn't a good prospect, they probably won't be a good customer (if they become a customer at all) and the rep's time is better spent elsewhere.
3. Handling Sales Anxiety
Sales can be a nerve-wracking, anxiety-inducing game. It's not for everyone. But any sales rep can learn how to cope with the natural apprehensions that are common to the trade.
For example, it can be overwhelming to know that as soon as they sit down in the morning, the rep has to make 40 calls before the end of the day. That number will loom over them until they either make enough progress to not have to worry about it, or find some way to break it down to a more manageable amount (i.e. by breaking the calls into, say, one chunk of 8 calls every hour).
A salesperson can also become overwhelmed by the sheer number of tasks that they think they have to accomplish. This is where the sales manager can provide value by teaching reps how to organize away the anxiety.
Additionally, the sales leader can help the rep develop either a process-oriented mindset or a goal-oriented one, whichever provides the most structure to the rep. Most people respond best to one or the other, and it's the job of sales management to figure out which.
4. Counter-Intuitive Ways to Overcome Objections
Many sales managers teach their team to overcome objections by either brute force (through high-pressure sales tactics) or "clever" manipulation and debating tricks.
They teach these methods because that's what they were taught, but today, the best approach is a collaborative relationship that, counter-intuitively, may find your reps actually agreeing with the objections.
Case in point: Let's say a buyer raises an objection about price. "This service is 10% more expensive than the alternative, and I don't see the value there."
One of the best ways to handle this might be something like, "I understand, and you know what, I can see why you'd think that. I'd actually agree with you, it is more expensive and it is hard to see the value. Here's what I think the value might come from, but I want to get your input on it." Then you proceed to demonstrate why the extra 10% is justified.
Approaches like these can help your sales reps stay on message, and help them come across as a partner instead of an adversary.
Sales isn't about debate; it's about common ground, and teaching your reps how to know the difference is a game-changer.
5. Sell Value, Not Features
Beginner sales reps (and many more experienced ones) fall into the trap of selling the features of the product/service.
But no one buys features because nobody cares about features.
All a buyer cares about is the value: the positive impact they or the company will see from the transaction.
Sales managers need to coach their reps on leading with value and getting to the features only after the buyer is convinced they’ll get the value you promised.
A value-based selling process is something sales professionals in any industry can learn how to use and use well.
6. Sales Self-Repair
The dream of every car owner who doesn't like paying for repairs is a car that repairs itself. In fact, one gold standard of an autonomous, AI-driven, robotic workforce is the ability of the machine to diagnose and fix its own issues without interacting with a human.
We're not there yet, but your sales team needs to be. You can't be everywhere at once and fix every issue. So, it's important to teach your salespeople how to self-diagnose and solve their own problems. How?
It starts with instilling a culture of continual self-improvement. Sales reps need to develop a critical - but dispassionate - eye toward their strengths and weaknesses. They need to know how to listen to a call recording, or read a call transcript, or review an email chain, and pick out what went well and what went wrong.
The best way to get a sales rep accustomed to this process is to do it with them at the beginning. It's important to not be negative, only positive; otherwise, a sales rep will view self-improvement as self-punishment.
One cornerstone of sales self-repair that can help make the process significantly more effective is...
7. Understanding Sales Analytics
Your sales reps don't have to be data scientists to be able to use data for self-improvement.
One principle that they can adopt is understanding probability. Just because something did happen doesn't mean it was likely to happen. Thus, a technique that worked in one instance can't necessarily be applied in every instance.
Another practice they can adopt is experimentation. A simple A/B test can yield surprising results. You don't need a big sample to get more insight. So, a sales rep can send out two sets of emails that differ only in one key variable - say, the subject line, or the length of the email. The one that gets the best results might be the better one to use moving forward.
Then, you reiterate, while understanding there is still uncertainty in the process, even if you use advanced modeling techniques and other tools of full-fledged data science. But that's unnecessary. Salespeople just need to be able to look at the numbers and ask questions about why the numbers are what they are and how they could be better.
8. Emotional Self-Regulation
Sales is full of rejection. It can't be avoided. Nor can other hang-ups and bad outcomes. But how you handle rejection, setbacks, delays, and failure is often the most important skill a sales rep can have...and one of the hardest for a sales coach to instill. Skills can be taught. Will is a lot harder.
Again, the sales manager can't be everywhere at once. Sales reps have to learn how to regulate their own emotional state in response to undesired outcomes.
Self-talk is the bedrock foundation of emotional regulation. A sales rep needs to learn how to:
- Remind their self to stay in the moment
- Not take things personally
- Separate the self from the outcome
- Focus on what can be controlled
- Find a neutral space when emotions run high.
Sales managers should develop mantras - not corny sales slogans - that salespeople can use on an ongoing basis. These can include:
- "I can only control what I can control, and I can't control this."
- "I can't change what I've already said, but I can say it better next time."
- "The buyer has too many of their own problems to worry about to make saying no personal."
Self-talk and staying in the moment is the solution to regulating emotions that can derail success.
9. Building Consensus
The average buyer's journey these days takes 6 to 10 decision makers (DMs) being involved before it results in a closed deal. Each of these key stakeholders has their own priorities and pain points. If a sales rep can't help them find common ground, the deal won't happen.
Sales managers need to have building consensus as a major part of their training, especially when selling into larger accounts. The sales process should focus on not just finding DMs, but also finding ways the DMs can agree with each other on:
- What the problem is
- What the most important goals are
- What solution would work best
It's not just a race to the C-suite, but a race to getting everyone on board along the way.
Your reps need to know how to get there before the competition does, because the sale goes to whoever has that critical group of champions on board first.
10. Asking for More
Finally, sales reps are often hesitant to ask for what they want. They need to be trained to ask for references, not just to other people on the team who might support the deal, but to people outside of that account for new business deals.
They need to know how and when to ask for a commitment, big or small, from the buyer. They need to know how to ask the questions that lead to cross-selling and up-selling opportunities.
And, ultimately, they need to know the right time and way to ask for the business - to get the signatures on the paperwork and the sale in the books.
This inquisitive and assertive nature comes naturally to some, but to others, it takes time and practice. But sales training programs that incorporate asking for more into their routines can see tremendous growth in total share of wallet for key accounts and other vital metrics.
Sales leaders don't have it easy. It's challenging and often thankless work, but make no mistake: the role sales managers play in driving success can't be overstated.
Adding these 10 areas of emphasis to your sales training programs will boost sales performance and help you hit your numbers. Effective sales coaching is built on essential skills like these that are self-sustainable and lead to ongoing success well after the training session is over - and that's what it's all about.
For more information, check out this guide to designing a sales onboarding program for faster ramp-up times. You can also watch an on-demand webinar on enabling sales manager coaching for actionable steps to take.