For more than a century, sales training has focused predominantly on improving the skills of frontline sellers. And this makes intuitive sense – if you want to sell more stuff, then train the people who sell it. The logic is practically unassailable.
Assailing that logic is Neil Rackham, a well-regarded thought leader and author of Spin Selling. At a recent Sales Management Association’s Sales Productivity Conference, Rackham advised the audience to spend ten dollars on training frontline sales managers for every one dollar spent on training sales forces. Rackham opined that he would rather have mediocre salespeople than mediocre frontline sales managers – since the latter are pivotal for responding in a rapidly changing world. (Watch a short excerpt of Rackham’s advice.)
Our experience just happens to jibe with Rackham’s advice. We have helped clients achieve greater and more consistent sales improvement by training frontline sales managers – not the frontline sellers. Sales management training rather than sales rep training. In fact, we’ve seen win rates, margins, and revenues increase in all of our recent clients’ sales forces, though we never trained a single salesperson. Let me repeat that: we’ve never trained a single salesperson. All of this was accomplished by improving the knowledge, skills, tools, and behaviors of the salespeople’s managers.
You see, no one has greater influence on a salesperson’s skills and behaviors than their direct managers. While the knowledge gained during a one- or two-day off-site training event has to sit in the salesperson’s brain until it’s needed, well-trained sales managers train their sellers every day in the field. As a result, the instruction and coaching are constant and relevant – so, if sales managers are equipped to do the right things, their salespeople’s performance will improve every day. Sales management training ensures that sales rep training is ongoing – not a one-off event.
Second, sales managers are in contact with their sellers when real deals are being won or lost, and they can educate sellers in real time about how to improve. If you had a choice between 1) teaching someone to conduct a good sales call in a classroom or 2) teaching someone to conduct a good sales call before, during, and after an actual sales call, which would you prefer? Sales management training can actually accelerate sales improvement.
So, when you consider the best venue for sales training, it’s clearly not in the classroom – it’s in the field. And the best way to take the sales training to the field is to make your sales managers the trainers. When sales managers know how to teach and coach their sellers, sales performance improves. And it improves immediately, because managers influence real deals in real time. They use “real life” case studies to influence behaviors that lead to real revenue.
Conveniently, sales management training is also a high-leverage investment. When you train one salesperson, you’ve improved one salesperson. When you train one sales manager, you’ve improved that manager’s entire team. Spend as much as you can on sales management training, because the impact on sales performance is substantial and immediate. If there’s any budget left over, then think about training the sellers.
Jason Jordan is a founding partner of Vantage Point Performance, a global sales management training and development firm, and co-author of “Cracking the Sales Management Code.” Jason is a recognized thought leader in the domain of B2B sales and sales management at the University of Virginia’s Darden Graduate School of Business.