Operating in today’s hyper-competitive market places extreme demands on sales leaders to attract, develop, and retain sales talent. Do your sales managers have the capabilities to effectively motivate, lead, and keep their people? How can they develop the leadership skills necessary to achieve growth and keep good salespeople, especially when recruiters call the best performers with enticing offers?

Historically, most sales organizations hire their first and second level sales managers by promoting their best individual contributors. Sadly, most organizations do not adequately equip sales managers with the training and tools to perform at their best. This leads to some very Darwinian situations, where the ones who ultimately succeed are those who typically figure out their job almost entirely on their own. Most sales managers can work their way through opportunity and pipeline management because they have experienced these on the other side of the table as a salesperson. However, even experienced sales managers struggle with basic leadership skills, such as motivating and coaching their people.

In contrast, the best performing sales management teams take a logical, step-by-step approach to developing their leadership skills:

Step 1: Understanding Motivation

Developing sales managers into better leaders starts with a basic understanding of intrinsic and extrinsic motivators. Extrinsic motivators are rewards for showing desired behavior. In sales, this typically includes compensation and recognition. Many sales leaders make the mistake of assuming that sales reps are “coin-operated,” and that tweaking the comp plan or adding some additional recognition is enough to move the performance needle. Extrinsic motivators are important, but usually insufficient to drive sustainable behavioral change.

Intrinsic motivators – those that drive behavior because the salesperson enjoys it or believes it is the right thing to do – are also crucial, but often neglected. Before your sales managers can become great leaders, they need to understand their salespeople as individuals, and what motivates and drives them to do their very best. Then, they can leverage knowledge for more effective performance coaching and to help the salesperson grow as an individual. There’s a saying that good people don’t leave their jobs. They leave their bosses. We see this lack of understanding of intrinsic motivators as the most common reason for good salespeople leaving companies.

Whether your sales managers have inherited their teams or they are hiring new salespeople, uncovering intrinsic motivators starts during the interview process. Sales managers must learn to look beyond a salesperson’s resume and behavioral interview questions. These describe what they did and what they achieved, to understand who they are and why they did what they did.  Understanding who and why requires a different style of questions beyond asking about past behavior and performance.

The Open-Heart Interview Questions can help an interviewer to find out what motivates a candidate and who they are as a person. These questions begin to reveal a person’s character and chemistry. This insight helps determine the potential fit of a candidate with the team and organization. It also helps the sales manager determine how to best motivate and coach that salesperson.

Step 2: Diagnosing and Addressing Performance Challenges

Many managers fail because they either don’t have the skill or the will to coach their salespeople through performance challenges. Performance coaching requires more than understanding deals, accounts, and pipelines. It requires an understanding of what motivates an individual, the ability to identify and diagnose performance issues, and the skill to resolve these issues through effective communication.

There are some very useful tools available that help sales managers develop into better leaders and coaches, including:

  • Performance diagnostic tools help sales managers to more precisely identify performance problems. A salesperson might have a skill issue. But, there are many other potential sources of performance problems, such as chemistry, commitment, character, and integrity. The sales manager’s response to the problem will be very different, depending on the diagnostic results.
  • A behavioral model, such as DISC, helps sales managers understand the most effective way to engage and communicate with individual salespeople. Everyone is different, and good leaders adapt their communication styles for the greatest impact with their people.
  • A situational leadership model provides sales managers with insight about developing each individual, based upon their strengths and weaknesses. For example, a salesperson may be a great communicator but have weak organization and planning skills. Using a situational leadership model helps managers recognize these kind of weaknesses and coach sellers in those areas.

We have worked with many clients to develop their sales managers’ leadership skills and abilities, using these and other supporting tools and models. Practicing the application of these methods, in mentored coaching sessions with sales reps about actual performance problems, is critical to developing mastery and confidence with leadership skills. By practicing and receiving feedback from facilitators and peers, sales managers develop new leadership capabilities that they can apply immediately.

In working with new sales managers to develop their leadership abilities, we often hear things like this: “This is so real-life. This is exactly what I deal with, day in and day out. Now, I’ve got some tools and methods to approach coaching sessions in a much more positive and productive way.”

Sales managers can become great leaders. They only need to be given the proper tools, practice, and management support.

If you would like to learn more about our sales leadership development programs, please contact us for a complimentary consultation.

Download a copy of suggested Open-Heart Interview Questions.

SPI, Sales Performance Review

Sales Performance International (SPI) is a global sales performance improvement firm dedicated to helping the world's leading corporations elevate their sales relationships and drive measurable, sustainable revenue growth and operational sales performance improvement.

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Open Heart Interview Questions

Getting insight about the motivators and character of sales candidates is easier with these interview questions.


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