This is Part III of a series of posts where I'm sharing the three biggest takeaway lessons from The Challenger Sales book. I can say that this last part of the book was the one I enjoyed the most. My career has been in Leadership Development, so I find anything that has to do with that topic captivating, especially if it comes with data in hand.
Check Part I: How to Take Control of the Customer Conversation
Check Part II: 6 "Discrete" Steps to Close Sales
“The front-line sales manager in any sales organization is the fundamental link between strategy and execution—this is where change initiatives and sales force transformation live or die.” The Challenger Sale
There is a wide spread agreement that “manager quality” is the most important key to drive sales reps success. I believe most of us would agree with that, but when Dixon and Adamson, authors of the book, were working on this section they found that three quarters of the organizations interviewed reported that their managers don’t have the skills and the competencies necessary to lead and drive new sales models (WOAH!). They stated that they didn't feel confident about most of their current sales leaders owning those roles. On top of that, they shared to be “even less confident about what to do about it.”
Throughout my experience leading Sales Operations Teams, I learned that great reps don’t necessarily make great leaders, coaches or managers. Out of need and due to the fast growth of the organization, we found ourselves promoting people that were not ready or fit for management positions, but were surely expected to hit the ground running, with little training. It was an extreme situation.
Most companies source new leadership from their talent pool. It's not only the most viable option at times, but it is seen as a great tool for recruiting (it makes a great pitch) and for employee engagement (a future path that promises advancement). People want to work for a company where there’s career progression. In the book though, it is stated that this approach is “the root cause of many organizations’ high manager failure rates”.
My take, not only from reading the book, but also from personal experience, is that this approach is great to solve for now, but it often becomes a nightmare in the long term.
Manager Excellence Attributes
After running the analysis around attributes that contribute to manager excellence, Dixon and Adamson concluded that they fall in three high-level categories: Selling, Coaching and Owning.
There is, of course, a fourth attribute to performance, which they labeled “Management Fundamentals” and they include things that aren’t necessarily specific to sales leadership but extremely important for any leading role like: reliability, integrity, recognition and team-building skills.
To get to the point, the “Management Fundamentals” are things we need to be screening for first. Candidates that lack any of that, should not make it to leadership or be removed for their leading positions.
Focus on Management Excellence
Here are, in more detailed, the three attributes to management excellence displayed in the book:
Selling—Research showed that one of the reason of what makes the best managers better than everyone else is their great selling skills. Sales managers are expected to model great selling behaviors for their teams, offer “unique perspectives to clients” and “be comfortable discussing money”.
Coaching—This is a key element of manager success and is a huge driver of rep performance. Coaching is about the manager working side by side with reps to share knowledge and experience. To evaluate and correct behaviors that hinder high performance.
Owning—Manager excellence is also about providing leadership, direction and guidance. It’s about demonstrating ownership of the business and excelling at managing the overall business.
In the book, the authors state that "sales leadership is mostly about how innovative sales managers are". This is specifically to the collaboration of the managers with their reps on trying to understand what’s holding them back to close deals and how to find innovative ways to move sales forward.
Now, they make the distinction from Coaching, which is “driving performance around known behaviors” and the perfect approach in sales environments driven by predictable paths to success. In the book, it is emphasized (and based on my experience I completely agree) that coaching must be: Ongoing, Customized and Behavioral.
Researched showed that effective coaching is very formal, highly structured and regularly scheduled.
“The unique advantages of coaching stem from how it’s tailored to the individual and systematically delivered at the point of need.”
Do I have the solution on how to drive our current managers to lead through excellence? My approach would be to invest time and resources to train and develop leaders. This approach requires careful planning, patience and a lot of intention to help sales leaders become excellent teachers and coaches of their people and at the same time, a better representation of the organization.
This book review was created to share my biggest takeaways from the book. If you want to go deeper and learn more about their research and many other lessons offered in it, order it and study it. It's under $10 in Amazon and an excellent resource to help you improve your performance and the performance of your teams.
Mariana Jaeger is a Leadership Development and Performance Success expert and has successfully trained, mentored and coached hundreds of people in her career. To learn more about Mariana, click here