e previously blogged about a question on coaching that we received at the ASTD 2012 International Conference and Exposition. (Click here to read that post.) In that very same session, we received another great question from the audience: “Which topics do you think are missing from the typical sales management training agenda?” We proposed many subject areas in response, but there was one in particular that yielded the most vigorous head nodding and the most interesting follow-up questions. That topic was the sales management process.

When salespeople are promoted to sales manager, they are typically given one simple instruction: Make sure your reps make their numbers. What they aren’t told is how to go about doing that. And we mean literally, how to do it. What types of interactions should they have with their reps? Should they hold sales pipeline review meetings or territory planning meetings? Or how about meetings to review progress with major accounts? Or all of the above?
 
Should those meetings be weekly or monthly? Should they be conducted as a group or as individual conversations? And what should be the agenda for each type of meeting? What are the inputs and outputs of the interactions?

In that absence of any clear guidelines on which activities will have the biggest impact in their new role, our observation is that most sales managers simply step into the management process that is some combination of their immediate predecessor’s and others who managed them when they were a rep.  With little modification, they take the same approach with their reps that was taken with them. They repeat history again and again. So what’s wrong about that, you might ask? Well, maybe nothing. But what if their approach is seriously flawed?

Almost every sales force we work with has some form of sales process that their sellers are expected to follow. Obviously, this is because they believe there is a “best” way to go about selling their particular products to their particular customers. However, we know of very few companies that give any thought to a formal sales management process, or a sales management “rhythm” as we call it. If there’s a best way to sell, then there’s probably a best way to manage those sellers. But it’s not a one-size-fits-all proposition.

Our research published in the new McGraw-Hill book Cracking the Sales Management Code revealed that managers need different approaches to managing different types of reps. (Click here to download the first two chapters of the book.) For instance, a manager who supervises territory sales reps might want to meet with them individually to coach them though prioritizing their opportunities and targeting their best prospects. And that interaction might happen on a fairly regular basis. However, that same manager might also supervise strategic account reps who need help setting strategic direction for their accounts and developing a solid action plan for reaching their goals. But those interactions might need to take place only a few times a year. Different types of reps → Different sales management rhythms.

So this is one thing we think is desperately missing from sales management’s training agenda—the guidelines for building a rigorous management rhythm that is appropriate to their particular sales reps.  In the absence of a formal management rhythm, sales managers’ daily lives degenerate into an endless series of reactive interactions. Urgency rules the calendar, and there is less opportunity for deliberate coaching to take place.

We also must caution against a formal management rhythm that is misaligned with the needs of reps. Things will either fall through the cracks because reps aren’t getting sufficient attention, or everyone’s schedules will be filled with tons of unnecessary, wasteful meetings. If there’s one thing sales managers don’t have enough of, it is time. Having that time structured properly is critical to their effectiveness as a coach and their efficiency as a manager. To be a great resource for their reps, sales managers have to get rhythm.

The sales management training agenda is actually missing much more than this, and this is just one of the many holes we are trying to plug at Vantage Point Performance. But this is a great place to start...  Teaching sales managers what they need to routinely do to help their sellers make their numbers.