Is Sales Manager Training Enough for New Managers?

Carl Erickson

Many organizations choose to promote people with high technical competence in their field to positions where they will manage others. The assumption is that because these people are familiar with organizational process and are good at what they do, they can instruct and guide others in doing it. In our experience and research, this remains a very powerful and often inaccurate assumption across many sectors.

The reason why it is often wrong is because people who are good at selling have many things they do unconsciously, and managing others to do something that is not conscious is very difficult. Sure, some people with proven sales success can take what they know and help a staff to achieve its own level of sales success. But far too often, by promoting a talented member of the sales team without a proper understanding of that individual’s managerial abilities, an organization is losing the person’s on-the-ground sales effectiveness while gaining only a marginally effective manager. It’s not a good tradeoff, and is a frequent reason why we see sales growth stagnation not long after an internal promotion in the sales team.

A More In-Depth Look at the Problem

To be an effective salesperson over the course of many years, a person must master many nuanced roles. For starters, they need to be a persuasive communicator. But they also need to be a strategist, psychologist, and product/service guru. It is also imperative that they have clear signposts down the sales development path that help them and their team know what to do when and why.

When this person is then charged with managing many people with selling responsibility, they must take on a whole new set of roles.  They need to be a trainer with the right training at the right time and a coach on making any training come alive.  They need to be able to assess performance and be able to understand and communicate their own successful strategies and tactics and why they were successful. On this last point, our experience has revealed that only very rare sales professionals have the ability to fully unpack their own behaviors that lead them to a high level of success in winning deals.

As you can see, it’s far from certain that promoting a talented sales team member will result in that person’s core talents being transferred to others. Without a doubt, there are some sales professionals who are good at handling the transition they face when they become responsible for overseeing others. But with the right training tactics and ongoing support, the chance of a smooth and productive transition skyrockets.

The Benefits of New Sales Manager Training

Sales manager training comes in many forms. Intuitively and informally, many employees pick up on the behaviors exhibited by company managers, and will actively attempt to replicate these behaviors when they are placed in a manager role. This can be both good and bad. It can help the management team to function more smoothly and efficiently, but it can also lead to stagnation.

The informal lessons learned by sales professionals who have risen up the ranks in an organization can be very difficult to un-learn. This is very true also of any personal behaviors a sales manager believes have played a valuable role in her sales success but that actually have little value or relevance to others with sales responsibilities. Acknowledging the power of behaviors adopted within these two tracks, it is unsurprising to learn that most 2 to 3 day training courses on how to be a better sales manager are supremely ineffective in actually changing behavior.

So how does an organization tap the right sales managers and ensure that these individuals are equipped with most effective behaviors in their new role?

Taking a Step Back to Move Forward

We frequently engage in sales transformation efforts; that is, helping organizations to transform the way they go about the sales function. What does that have to do with making sure that a new sales manager knows what she’s doing? In a word, everything.

In an organization that has succeeded in undergoing a sales transformation, there is a keen awareness of the skill sets that ensure maximum success. With this in mind, the organization can properly address the initial problem of selecting a person who will become a competent sales manager. The organization is able to accurately evaluate sales skills and abilities of team members and create a more complete picture of those who will be able to impart their knowledge and teach their skills to others.

In addition to selecting the most suitable manager in the first place, organizations that have completed a sales transformation are already teaching the person the key self-assessment concepts that are highly likely to remain useful as she takes on new managerial duties. When she walks into that first sales manager training session, she is in the best possible position to be receptive to the knowledge being shared and will have the tools to put it in action.

Summing Up

All new managers are going to need some level of formal training to ensure that they can succeed with their new managerial duties. But training alone is not enough to make new managers proficient within their roles. In order for a new sales manager to be in the best possible position for success, she will have the strong self-assessment skills and core sales knowledge that often comes from an organization that has completed a sales transformation. These organizations also have a competitive advantage in selecting the most likely people to succeed in vital sales management roles, directly impacting the overall performance of their entire sales function.