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The Three-Step Formula For Sales Management Success

The Three-Step Formula For Sales Management Success

When I speak with them behind closed doors, many sales managers tell me they feel overwhelmed and underpowered. Even though they are competent, intelligent, well-educated and have the drive to make things happen, they’re often frustrated by the real amount of impact they can really make on their team’s performance.

When I ask them why that is, the answer is typically something along the lines of, “There are just not enough hours in the day.”

If you’ve ever read any of my stuff, you know I’m a huge fan of the 80/20 rule, otherwise known as the Pareto Principle. And at RAIN Group, we’re always trying to figure out what top-performing sales organizations do differently.

In our (appropriately named) study on The Top-Performing Sales Organisations, we took a long, hard look at what sets some organizations apart from others. Several factors came out, but one stood out: the quality of their sales management.

Globally, sales managers in top-performing sales organizations behave differently in three key ways.

#1: They prioritize sales coaching activities

When faced with the choice of acting as a sales manager versus a sales coach, top-performing sales organizations choose to prioritize the latter.

Two out of three sellers in these organizations either agree or strongly agree with the statement “Management prioritizes and actively works to maximize the time managers spend coaching their teams versus other activities.”

In “The Rest” category, that number drops down to one in three.

In other words, in top-performing organizations, most salespeople feel like their management really takes the time to personally coach and mentor them. In the others, they feel like management is busy doing, well, something else.

#2: They build supportive, positive cultures

When we asked if they agreed that their culture drives and supports sellers’ motivation to succeed, fully 83% of respondents from top performers said “yes”. That’s compared to 48% for everyone else.

So, top performers have a healthy culture that supports motivation – that’s not all that surprising. What’s more interesting is to look at why that is.

As it turns out, in top-performing sales organizations:

  • Managers are more effective at creating and sustaining seller energy
  • Sellers actively pursue top performance
  • Sellers’ attitudes towards their role and their organization are positive
  • The culture supports motivation

These are organizations where management creates and sustains sellers energy, and their drive to succeed. Meaning sellers actively pursue top performance, and feel good about themselves, their role, and their organization. Resulting in a positive, motivating culture.

This isn’t some “culture change” rah rah. This is how « soft » factors drive hard, measurable business performance (incidentally, the “Elite” category in the study had a 73% win rate, versus 40% for the rest).

#3: They invest in building their (people’s) skillset

Across the board, we found that inside a top-performing sales organization, sellers have much higher levels of skillset across a range of must-have sales skills: everything from filling the pipeline to sales negotiation.


Well, firstly because their management spends more time coaching them (see point #1). Second, because they invest more in sales-specific training and skills building, the quality of their programs is generally rated higher. And finally, because they are part of organizations where there’s a collective sense of pride, people feel like they’re part of a winning team.

In these organizations, the Pygmalion and Galatea effects work together to inspire higher levels of performance for sales managers and sellers alike.

In summary, in top-performing sales organizations:

  1. Management spends more time focused on actively coaching their people (vs “managing”)
  2. Sellers have higher levels of skillset across the board (from training, coaching, and expectations held by others and themselves)
  3. Sellers actively pursue top performance, with a positive view of themselves, their role (“ sales” is very much not a dirty word here), and their organization

Incidentally, there was one more important piece of the puzzle: in top-performing organizations, sales leadership (defined as the very highest levels of the organization, i.e. CxO level) prioritize improving sales effectiveness, and – when they set the priority – it actually gets done.

Or, as John C. Maxwell is fond of saying, A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.”

“Sales Management vs. Sales Coaching”—and Other Falsehoods

“Sales Management vs. Sales Coaching”—and Other Falsehoods

I recently heard a sales podcast that put forth a concept I was very surprised to hear: that sales coaching is more important than sales management.

I asked myself: Did I really hear that? Then I recalled that in the last year or so I’ve been seeing this same kind of message said in different ways—that basically pigeonholed sales management as one task, and separated out other functions such as sales coaching as others.

This is complete, in polite terms, horse pucky. Sales coaching is not more important than sales management. Sales coaching is part of sales management—it is only one of the many roles of this job you have to perform.

An Analogy

Let’s take an analogy outside of sales: parenting. A parent, at different times, must perform in different roles:

  • sometimes as a teacher
  • very often when the kids are younger, the role of nurse or doctor
  • in sports and other activities, a coach
  • often when they grow older, a role like that of a policeman
  • when they grow to be young adults, you very often slip into the role of a judge
  • and sometimes, to comfort your child, you even take on the role of a priest

Parents out there reading this may actually come up with a number of other roles they play quite in addition to these! But at the end of the day they, I and any other parent will tell you that they are purely being a parent, and all of the above roles are combined in parenthood.

The Truth of the Matter

The podcast I was listening to basically said that a sales manager is doing nothing but issuing quotas and making sure numbers are made. That’s all they do, and coaching is much more important than that.

Here’s the truth, known by veteran sales managers the world over: coaching is part of sales management! Any great sales manager knows that—and also knows that those numbers aren’t going to be made unless efficient and excellent coaching is also done on members of the sales team.

Hence, any competent sales manager has effective coaching as part of their skillset. This was true yesterday, is true today and will be true until the end of time. The sales manager might hire others to do this coaching work, or possibly outsource it—but they will still be very aware of the coaching being done, and quite willing to step in and do it themselves if need be.

Management vs. Sales Management

It’s not just an issue of coaching split off from sales management, though. What’s really fascinating, at least to me, is that sales management is considered a completely separate subject from management.

The truth is that great management is great management, whether it be company management, department management or sales management. There are basic principles of management that apply in every single case.

Stated simply, there are only 2 kinds of management: good or right management, and wrong management. There is nothing else.

Focus on Strengths

Part of being a manager is being a trainer or a coach, no matter the area being managed. Why? Because one of the vital principles of management is to focus on strengths. When a sales manager is focusing on the strengths of a sales rep, for example, the manager is making that rep more skilled and valuable.

Focusing on strengths is a far more effective form of management than trying to prop up or fix weaknesses. You’re already half the way there—the person is already good at it.

For example, if you have someone in a sales team that’s a great closer and a lousy cold-caller, why pound on that person to become a better cold-caller? Pick what that person is strong in. They’ll probably never be good at cold calling if you coach them from now until the end of time. But great closers are always needed—and you’ve got one right there.

I believe that everyone has some kind of real talent, a strength, and a manager has to build on that. It’s usually what the person really likes to do.


In that podcast stressing that “coaching is more important than sales management,” the podcaster also stated that they would never have anyone on their sales team that “wasn’t coachable.”

This was something else I couldn’t make sense out of—and once again it ties back into holistic management.

What if you have a salesperson that’s a real star, that’s making their numbers, that’s selling the product and the company vision—but isn’t coachable? Are you really going to dismiss such a person?

This salesperson is probably arrogant and missing humility. I personally may not like such an individual. But as long as he’s bringing the result, and helping the company to the next level, coachability is not the issue. Management is the issue, and management in that sense is: Is he violating trust? Is he doing something wrong from a compliance point of view? Is he not reaching his goals? If he’s on target and he’s succeeding, but isn’t coachable, then I have to learn to work with that.

Otherwise a manager (and I use the term loosely in this case) is trying to turn the members of a sales team into a bunch of uniform puppets, that will all do only what the manager wants. I don’t know about you, but that certainly is not the kind of world I want to live in.

Getting Back On Track

Let’s all return to the correct standpoint here: coaching is an integral part of sales management, and sales management is nothing but great management with some specialized functions.

The sooner we do that, the better our sales efforts will be!

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