Retaining sales staff: the importance of management skills for sales managers

Your sales team are the the coalface when it comes to generating revenue for your business: but can a lack of soft skills in the management team actually be more damaging than not having that ruthless streak?

In probably no other business area is high staff turnover as significant as in sales. A lack of management skills among sales managers is a key cause. But there are ways to help sales managers optimize their teams’ performance: international sales consultancy Whitten & Roy Partnership explains.

There’s no question that selling is a tough job. Sales people are under ever more pressure: overwhelmed by aggressive targets, existing customer demands, endless meetings keeping them from their selling activities.

The same applies to sales managers. Staff turnover in sales departments is rocketing and, to make matters worse, it’s often simply accepted as inevitable.

We hardly need to say that the cost of losing good staff is high: recruitment, knowledge transfer to competitors, lost revenue while recruiting and training new people, not to mention the effect on staff morale.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Based on our decades of experience as sales consultants, we firmly consider the key to countering the talent drain is to focus on equipping sales managers with better leadership and team management skills.

Or as our friend, businessman Spencer Hays, would put it: “Build your people and your people build your business”.

A dual role that can be hard to adapt to

Most sales managers have been appointed because they were good sales people. Typically, they are thrown into a more senior role without being given the skills required to lead a team of people. Sadly, this skills gap frequently leads to unwanted consequences.

>See also: Making the move from consultant to employee

To illustrate, research conducted by the US-based CEB (based on interviews with 12,000 sales people and 2,500 managers) shows that 63 per cent of sales managers lack necessary sales management skills.

This significant statistic does not surprise us. It’s not a result of people not caring or not wanting to do the right thing; it’s a result of zero training in sales management – even at some of the most influential companies in the world. Sales managers need training if they are going to lead their teams forward.

Of course some promoted sales managers have a natural gift for managing and inspiring others. Unfortunately, as a rule, most don’t and so they need to be trained. Yet, in the absence of training, they tend to vacillate between (a) trying to be understanding, trying to coach, trying to inspire and coach, and (b) laying down the law, being ‘realistic’, and taking a hard line: ‘perform or move on’. But neither of these approaches works.

We believe in the importance of empowering people and letting them access their natural ability. Organizations are full of talented people and they need constant development. Companies investing in their staff ensure continuity to their business and experience a higher retention rate in sales department.

While any manager will benefit from management training, this is particularly true for those in sales as they generally operate in a much more high-pressure environment, providing the lifeline of the business.

In our bespoke programmes we help sales managers to focus on managing three fundamental success factors: attitude, competence and execution. The R=A+C+E® formula equation stands for: Results equals Attitude plus Competence plus Execution.

In other words, every sales person can improve their performance by addressing their own attitude, competence and execution. Sales managers should first address their own A, C and E for then supporting their team in doing the same.

>Related: Managing workplace conflict – are you ready to mediate?

Some simple steps can help to create a work environment where sales managers and sales people alike will feel positive about themselves and the work they are doing:

1. The manager should bear in mind that it is his or her responsibility to support fundamental changes in three different areas: attitude (managing people’s mindset, moment-by-moment, staying proactive and in charge, no matter what happens), competence (leading their customers through a process in which they are educated instead of manipulated), and execution (ceasing to do the things that distract people from their sales goals, and starting to plan the key steps to make things progress).

2. Above all, the primary role of sales managers is to support their teams and help them develop professionally. Managers and staff should not only discuss business matters on a regular basis but also make sure that there is time to talk about personal development, with the latter being as important as the former.

3. With this in mind, we strongly suggest scheduling fortnightly meetings between managers and account representatives to talk about development of the skills required to succeed in the role and to progress to the next one. In the long run this is time well spent, as it produces increased sales results.

These simple steps are aimed at creating a work environment where people feel positive about themselves and the work they are doing.

A positive and happy work environment, in sales or any other department, is contagious. As humans we can smell positivity – but also negativity – and react accordingly. A positive environment is the space where ideas are generated and results are produced.

Further reading: Handing over the reins of your business

Praseeda Nair

Praseeda Nair

Praseeda was Editor for from 2016 to 2018.

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