Is your sales problem really a sales leadership problem?

SmartCompany, August 7, 2017

Every business wants their sales people to prospect more, close more sales, produce more consistent sales results, achieve their sales targets/budgets, and have happy, loyal clients.

So it is not surprising that some of the most common questions we hear from sales managers, sales leaders and chief executives are:

“How do we get our sales people to sell more, produce better sales results?”

“How do we find better sales people who can sell?”

If you look at the content on the internet about sales problems and issues, it overwhelmingly focuses mostly on salespeople and their performance; “how to sell more” is the most common search term.

However, very little effort is directed towards sales leadership and frontline sales management.


Because according to international research on sales training and salesforce effectiveness, many sales leaders and frontline sales managers are given very little or no support when it comes to being a competent, effective sales manager. In fact, many sales leaders and frontline sales managers reported they were given no formal training in sales management practices, either before or during their tenure as a sales manager.

Other than ‘sales coaching’ training —which in most cases is useless as most programs offer nothing to coach to other than platitudes — most sales leaders and frontline sales managers get nothing. Zip, zilch, zero. The study reported that sales management training is the category of sales training that is addressed with the least frequency, in fact it is addressed less than annually or not at all.

Perhaps the way to solve the problem of ‘how to sell more’ is to start with solving another problem: how do we raise the standards of our sales leaders and frontline sales managers to lead and manage sales teams better?

Here are just some of the issues we need to resolve that sales leaders and frontline sales management face on daily basis:

Problem 1: Of all the teams out there in business, sales teams need to be lead and coached on a regular and consistent basis. However, very few get any form of real leadership and direction beyond quarterly targets and even less get real and effective coaching because most sales leaders and frontline sales managers have never been trained in how to perform these roles.

Problem 2: Most frontline sales managers are not leading or managing their sales team, they are out there selling; either taking over the sales call from their sales teams and calling it coaching, or running their own territory in parallel so they do not have any time to lead, manage and coach their sales teams.

Problem 3: Quite a few sales leaders are getting caught behind their desks focused on numbers and outputs, processing and managing information, and producing data and reports for senior management.

Problem 4: Many sales leaders and frontline sales managers are often very busy, being dragged in all directions by the business and therefore have a low tolerance for “noise”. If an initiative is not going to reap short term and tangible rewards, they lose interest quickly. The result: a reactive sales team.

Problem 5: Those sales leaders who want to do better, raise the standards and lead often find the ‘best practice’ philosophical content available through keynotes, books and online resources interesting, but they are soon dragged back to the reality of the day-to-day demands. And the ‘best practice’ ideas they want to implement end up being a blip in thinking at best.

Problem 6: With rapid change in markets, the expectations on sales leaders to deliver growth and outcomes are real and fall within the ever shortening corporate time frame. Sales leaders are under immense pressure to perform with very little time to be strategic and plan. They are often reacting to the markets instead of analysing and strategising for the future.

In our experience, most sales leaders and frontline sales managers are pragmatic people who are measured by the most tangible of corporate outcomes: sales.

They have risen to the highly paid positions they hold through getting stuff done; many are clever in the street smart sense. Which further fuels the debate about selling never been seen as a profession worth investing in. How wrong can we be?

What if business focused on training and coaching sales leaders and frontline sales managers to professional standards on ‘how to lead and manage sales teams better’? What if, indeed.

Here’s what happens if we invest in the ongoing development of sales leaders and frontline sales managers:

Studies reported that if sales leaders and frontline sales managers were more frequently and better trained and coached, their sales teams achieved higher performance and results. In no other type of sales training was a more positive correlation found between frequency of training and sales performance. Interestingly, it also revealed that sales training doesn’t need to be delivered in formal classroom settings.

These international findings further support our more than 22 years of observations in the Australian market place that sales leadership and frontline sales management development and performance is not taken as seriously as it should be.

The investment in developing our sales leaders and frontline managers to professional standards is far more economical with better returns on investment than most sales training initiatives.

Why is this area ignored for the best part? Because it is not well understood by many.

Where do we start? Let’s look at some of the broad core capabilities they need to be competent sales leaders and frontline sales managers in the 21st century sales environment.

The primary role of sales leadership and frontline sales management is to:

  • focus, motivate, empower and improve the performance of the sales team;
  • provide resources and direction; and
  • ensure that the company’s position in its served market is protected in its quest for incremental profitability and sustained market-share growth.

Sales leaders and frontline sales managers are charged with leading a group of salespeople; of preparing them for a competitive market place and focusing their energies so that they can sell in value in the form of a larger basket of products and solutions, to more customers, at better margins, in the face of stiff competition from their rivals who have the same resources (and very often, the same solutions) as they do.

That means they have to be smarter, more efficient and better prepared. They have to plan and strategise. They have to ensure that they have the right people, doing the right things; that the people in their sales teams are well trained, highly motivated and focused.

As you can see there is a lot to know and apply in the role of sales leader and frontline sales manager. So, how do we support sales leaders and frontline sales managers in their development?

Formal classroom training on key foundation topics such as:

  • Sales strategy
  • Account mapping
  • Sales selection/recruitment
  • Performance management
  • Sales coaching
  • Sales financials
  • Sales technology

Infield Coaching:

The formal classroom sessions should also be supported by much more frequent activities, which can include local or distance coaching (group and one-on-one), combined with regular access to advice and topics of interest such as talent management, time management, and business trends.

This type of support needs to become part of a development regimen for those who are in sales management or those that aspire to be sales leaders and frontline sales managers.

Sales leaders and frontline sales managers need support if they are to be of best value to our businesses, our teams, and to themselves.

Remember everybody lives by selling something.