Man with head in handsAre you coaching your sales team, or leaving them to fend for themselves?

I’m not whining. You need to understand that I’m not just another number on your sales team. I know you think I’m not worth your time because I’ll probably just stick around for a year and then move on. That might be true, but only because I’m not learning anything here. I need to know my career path and the steps I should take to advance. I need your wisdom, your guidance, your tips, your encouragement, and your thanks. Yes, thanks. Thanks for helping out another team member, thanks for asking insightful questions, thanks for scoring a meeting with a prime prospect, thanks for representing our company well, and thanks for bringing in a new deal. If you keep ignoring me, I’ll keep underperforming until you fire me or I move on to a new company. How about showing me a little leadership instead?”

If you’re leading an underperforming sales team, your reps might not be speaking up, but I guarantee they’re thinking these thoughts.

Sales execs recognize that coaching and recognition contribute to performance. But by how much? And how are they supposed to find the time? Most sales leaders are so busy that the only coaching they have time for is asking reps who they plan to call throughout the week. That’s not coaching. That’s checking in.

Why 74 Percent of Salespeople Are Failing

Most new salespeople receive little training, even less coaching, and no real-world experience. So they “wing it” and fail.

According to the Objective Management Group, 74 percent of sales reps are failing. Most of these struggling salespeople could improve with training. The problem is that salespeople must learn their success secrets on the job, because they’re generally not on any career path. Sales has always been a “sink or swim” profession, so it’s not surprising how many reps end up drowning.

Why Sales Leaders Aren’t Leading

One could argue that sales managers don’t know how to coach. They’ve never had any training to build those skills. So they “point and tell.” But you can’t point at people, tell them to do something differently, and expect a miraculous change.

It’s not complicated to teach people how things work—a software system, a sales training program, a consulting process, a social media platform. Typically, people can read a manual online, get a brief demo, and figure out at least the basics. But that’s not building sales acumen.

Teaching selling skills requires a clear and repeatable process. It takes building skills, lots and lots of practice, joint calling, feedback, continuous coaching and reinforcement, and accountability for results. But coaching is not part of the sales culture in most organizations. It’s not measured or managed, so nothing really changes. It’s no wonder that 84 percent of sales reps are open to new opportunities. That doesn’t mean they’re actively looking, but their antennas are up, and they will definitely consider new opportunities if presented to them.

Change Your Game, or Lose Your Team

You have a big problem when there is churn in your sales team. Your customers get annoyed because they have to “train” a new rep. You spend weeks or months hiring a replacement, scrambling to get that person up to speed, and figuring out which other reps can pick up the slack in the meantime.

Don’t fall into the same sales management trap that has plagued new hires for decades: Hire them, give them a desk, a phone, and a password, and expect them to become rainmakers. Your new hires will be off and running … to new companies.

So what can sales leaders do differently? For starters, be more selective during the hiring process. A CEO I once worked for told me the biggest mistake I could make was to hire the wrong people. He advised me to take my time.

What then? Train them. But skip the product pitches. Rather, immerse them in your company culture. Talk to them about the problems you solve for clients and the critical sales conversations they must have. Introduce them to resources in your company who could be integral to their success—consultants, customer service reps, account managers, executives. Learn how your new hires do their best work, and set guidelines for how and when the two of you will communicate. Coach them weekly on the behaviors that predict their success. This is not micro-management. It’s you getting the rocks off the road so they can do what they were hired to do—sell.

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