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Building the Sales Bench

Oct. 1, 2012
There's more to being an effective sales manager than riding salespeople to meet their monthly sales quotas. You also have to manage for the long-term and know how to develop talent.

Are you looking at an aging sales force and wondering how you will replace them as they retire? Are you finding it more difficult to attract and keep good talent? And, most importantly, do you know how to build a “bench” of talent to step up and take on the challenges of today and tomorrow?

As more baby boomers prepare to retire, identifying the process and building the bench of people ready to step into leadership becomes an urgent task. Capturing the knowledge of your senior salespeople so it can be passed on to their successors is difficult and, if the knowledge of those people has not kept pace with the changes in our industry, it's an exercise in futility.

A smarter approach is to establish a sales process as part of your culture, one that provides a guideline for taking the correct steps to win sales and provides a metric for identifying strengths and weaknesses in your team. Edwards Deming, the guru of quality management, reportedly said if you can't describe what you do as a process, you don't really know what you're doing. With a process, however, you build a sales culture with a common vocabulary and an understanding of what works and why it works. You develop a documented series of selling steps that when executed in the proper order lead to a buying decision. Once you have an identified process in place, you can capture success stories and also develop an early-warning system when a sale is not going as forecasted.

The next step in building the bench is hiring good talent. It's an expensive task and is even more costly if you lose your new hires before they begin producing at a high level. Here's where a process can help again by providing a basis for training and shortening the ramp-up time between hiring salespeople and having them make their first sale. Success breeds a desire for continued success and increases employee satisfaction and retention. The top reason people leave their employers remains dissatisfaction with their manager. They don't believe the manager has their interests at heart or cares about their career progression.

That's why the third step in building the bench is to teach sales managers how to coach. Many companies have not invested in developing the leadership and coaching skills of their sales leaders. Sales managers are often evaluated on their ability to submit a reasonably accurate forecast and manage a pipeline by requiring frequent updates and status reports. This may be why the average tenure of a sales leader is only eighteen months, according to Sales Benchmark Index in The CEO's Guide to Getting More Out of the Salesforce. Much has been written about the difference between managing and coaching and about how coaching is the key to long-term realization of human potential. But how does coaching apply to a sales force where the focus is too often on what is expected to book this quarter and what you can bring in before the end of the year — even if it means selling for less revenue now than patience might have produced? The pressure on sales leaders to manage to the numbers drives behaviors that lead to stress-related illness and poor morale and further contribute to turnover. While a manager has to focus on telling people what to do and by when, answering questions, giving information and solving problems, a coach asks questions, helps people solve their own problems and guides them to develop an action plan to achieve a higher level of performance or acquire a new skill. To be successful sales leaders, we must be skilled managers and effective coaches. Developing a culture of coaching leads to higher performance, less attrition and a stronger bench of leaders in training.

By planning now for the next generation of top performers, putting a process in place to build selling skills across the organization, and developing your managers to also be effective coaches, you can build a winning team now and for the future.

Sharon Parker is the author of Selling with Soul Version 2.0. For more information on developing a sales process and coaching skills, write her at [email protected].

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