Why “Figuring Things Out” Is Risky When It Comes to Enabling Sales Managers

“Unless commitment is made, there are only promises and hopes; but no plans.”

Peter Drucker

If sales managers have the hardest job in sales, we must be giving them more support than any other role, right? Sadly not. Most sales managers receive no formal training, no practice simulations. We just stick them on the sales equivalent of the Autobahn and leave them to figure it out for themselves. It they survive, we reward them. If not, there are a number of salespeople waiting on the on-ramp who would love a shot at management. Unfortunately, these untrained managers can do a considerable amount of damage to the sales force, customer trust, and performance before they “figure things out.” That is assuming they ever do.

Why “figuring things out” hinders you from achieving sustainable and ambitious sales results

At first glance, “figuring things out” may not sound too bad. There is a generally accepted 70/20/10 rule in learning theory that states that 10% of learning is formal, 20% happens through mentoring or coaching, and 70% is informal learning where we figure out what works on our own. We could quibble about the percentages, but that’s not the relevant issue. The real problem in sales is when we ONLY rely on the 70% and forget about the relevance of formal learning as a foundation and mentoring and coaching as ongoing elements to drive behavior change.

At the end of the day, the figuring-things-out-only method is not sustainable, and most important for ambitious sales leaders, it is NOT scalable. Moreover, in sales, where most managers are looking for immediate results, it takes too long. And here is why:

If you and I are both sales managers, what I figure out will be different from what you figure out because we are different personalities with different experiences and approaches to thinking, decision-making, processing information, and dealing with challenges. Both of our approaches may or may not achieve the results we’re looking for, but we often can’t explain in detail why our approach worked or didn’t and how we did what we did. If we can’t explain our success, we certainly cannot formalize our processes into something that others can emulate. Worse, since we may not even be sure which of our activities or behaviors (or which combination thereof) led to our results, we may not even be able to repeat our own performance.

Unfortunately, many sales managers are still expected to learn like this. What they do and how they do it is based on what they figured out and what they “learned” from their managers who also had to figure things out on their own.

What happens is that while they are “figuring things out” they drive top performers out of the organization, while the low and average performers remain. What is that telling the sales force? Mediocrity wins. I’m sure this is definitely not what you as a sales leader want to communicate to the field.

In fact, no sales leader can afford to take a “figuring things out” approach to sales manager enablement. Time is money, especially for a sales leader with ambitious revenue goals, but limited budgets. If you want to apply those budgets to impact performance, the wisest way to invest is to invest in the most important role in your sales organization, the role with the highest leverage effect—your sales managers, especially your frontline sales managers.

Stay tuned: Next week, we will discuss how to create a business case for sales manager enablement!

Questions for you:

  • How do you approach the development/enablement of sales managers in your organization?
  • What are the costs of low performing sales managers in your organization?
  • Do you see a correlation between sales manager performance and turnover?


Related blog posts:

Sales Managers: Overwhelmed and Underdeveloped | Our First 2017 Sales Manager Enablement Report

Why Sales Managers Need a “Driving License”

Leading vs. Lagging: Where Should Sales Managers Focus?

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