A Quick Stroll Down Memory Lane
Back when I began in a sales career, we went to corporate sales school in Atlanta, GA. We stayed at a place called Noble Ridge (we called it Nouveau Riche) for 2 weeks. We came back to the branch where we were partnered with a Senior Sales Rep, and went on joint calls. We were tested on what we were taught, and some who didn’t get it, were summarily dismissed. We would return for follow-up training at least once or twice a year, though the location would move eventually to Orlando, FL. Lest you think this is ancient history, this was less than 20 years ago.
Since this is Labor Day weekend, I’d like to take you in a different direction related to sales careers. It’s something very personal to me, and it’s provided me with a great deal of satisfaction. Some call it simply people management, others call it coaching, but I prefer to raise the stakes to the term mentoring.
Sales Managers | Sales Report Cards
There are some subtle differences in managing, coaching and mentoring. If you are a people manager, you are directly responsible for the success of someone else’s career, and if you’re any good at it, you’ll combine elements of coaching into that role. Being a sales manager is a formal process. You begin the year with a set of written goals (which likely came down the chain of command), periodically (ideally quarterly) have reviews to measure progress against those goals, and then wrap up with actual achievements against targets.
Frankly, sales people are usually the easiest people to manage to goals. You have a quota, and you either miss, meet or exceed it. Sometimes, there are soft Management By Objectives (MBOs) targets where you earn credit for customer sat responses, doing x number of demos, adding y net new clients, or completing an assignment like training on a new product. But in the end, you’re in sales and it’s still primarily about achieving quota.
Put me in Coach
Coaching involves guiding individuals to work cohesively for the benefit of the team. It could be working through the finance dept., the contracts dept., the inside sales team, the services team, and of course the sales team. That coach earns the trust of everyone, and to communicate the value which sometimes means convincing others to be part of a give-to-get approach i.e., “Say, let’s help this customer get that old product off the ELA list they signed two years ago, and move them to a cloud solution. We’ll get less revenue up front but the customer will be happier and recommend us, and maybe buy more!” Could be a lot of people involved in a move like that, right?
Coaches know how to work with other coaches. They see the bigger picture of how mutual benefit works. You might contrast this to individuals from the same company trying to sell different products to the same client to solve the same problem. I humorously envision this as two knights wearing the same colors jousting in front of the king and his court (insert Monty Python skit of your choosing here).
Mentoring – And do you know how busy I am?
Let me answer the question first. You’re right. Everyone is crazy busy. Have you never gotten up at 4AM in a cold sweat because you remembered an email you forgot to send? That’s life today in sales.
Now consider this. Today there is little to no formal sales training before a new rep is tossed into the territory, expected to start generating leads and closing revenue. Gone are the days of a senior sales rep to teach you to how to ask for an order, get the order and then Shut Up! How about a friendly sales manager who breaks you in gently by handing you at least one “easy” account. I think they have them on display at the Smithsonian.
What little sales training there is usually consists of some computer-based product training (sometimes just YouTube videos), maybe an annual sales meeting, and not much more. Of course, you might get a territory that hasn’t been milked dry, or find a friend from college that’s in a place where they can open a door. And even then, the smartest, most aggressive hunters, farmers and fishermen/women may still struggle to find their way thru the internal maze of closing a sale once they’ve gotten one, and praying they actually get credit.
You remember those days, don’t you? You muddled and struggled through it, and made it out the other side. But it’s harder now. Add it all up. CIOs are bombarded by email garbage that gets through spam filters, crummy lead lists driven by bad telesales, and pressure by finance to continue to lower IT costs. So clients are getting harder and harder to get and keep happy, and closing business, seems to take longer and longer. And you wonder why a new rep is sweating through your first quarterly business review?
Here’s where mentoring comes in. And I promise you that at-work mentoring of someone else changes your life as much as it changes theirs. This is bringing your expertise to others without fanfare or the expectation of rewards. And there’s a bonus: The best way to learn something new is to teach someone else.
5 Easy Steps to Mentoring:
1.Be Credible. Just because you say it is doesn’t make it so. To provide mentoring, you need to prove you know what you’re talking about. Evidence can be client testimonials/references, product sales, complex services deals, etc. Please don’t let it be only about the money you made 2,3,4 years ago. Instead, the message should be do the job well and (most times) the money follows.
2. Be Genuine. Based on feedback I’ve gotten on LinkedIn posts, there are a LOT of great people on here. But if you’re expecting applause, you are going to be disappointed. I’m going to go back to the sales rep discussion. A new salesperson who comes on board, regardless of where they’ve come from, or experience in the industry, simply doesn’t know the ins and outs of working at your company. You know the ropes – share them.
3. Get Management Buy-In If you genuinely want to offer solid feedback to another teammate and therefore help your team. first get approval from the appropriate manager to move forward. The person you might think needs help may be on their way out the door, or been assigned to someone else. Your management may give you extra credit, or use this as a means to demonstrate your leadership for a management role, however, this should first be an altruistic effort.
4. Make a commitment. Try to pick someone close by. Start simple. Maybe a cup of coffee one morning. Lunch in another couple of weeks. And at the same time, set some rules. Unless there is a crisis, these discussions happen at a mutually agreed upon time during the work week. That means no calls at home if you don’t want to mix your mentoring role with your life.
5. Listen. But remember you’re not there as a member of the clergy or Dr. Phil. You’re someone helping someone else. Stick to the topics you are the expert in i.e., How to get past the receptionist, nailing down a date to sign the PO, making sure you are dealing with the person in the company that has the authority to make the deal, and how to get everything lined up internally to ensure the deal closes and the credit flows to the rep.
Have another great summer (and Labor Day) weekend!
Hey, before you go.
There are a lot of smart, incisive and experienced sales people reading this post. Think about sharing that knowledge with someone.
You never know, you might be their boss one day, or they might be YOURS.
My sincere thanks for the likes, comments, shares, and frankly, just for reading what I think.