The Coaching Effect Blog

The Coaching Effect Blog

    The Evolution of Sales Management

    by Bill Eckstrom / April 7, 2011

    Editor's Note: This post has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness on May 21, 2020. Photo by Hattie Kingsley Photography. 

    In 2009, Google was wondering why some divisions were performing better than others, so in classic Google form, they went on a metric mission to understand what was happening.  They spent the better part of a year doing interviews, surveys, coding questions and answers, etc. When completed and the report was presented to the VP for People Operations (which is Google speak for HR), his response was “That’s it?  It’s that simple?”

    Google, like most companies, put associates into management and advanced them through management roles due to their deep technical expertise.  What they found in their research is that a manager's technical expertise ranked dead last in what was important to their team’s success. 

    Google missed the fundamental driver of performance: Sales Coaching!Why is something that can be so easy to acknowledge be so hard to execute against? This poses two questions that are critical to explore and answer. 

    1. Why are so many organizations stuck?
    2. What is the solution to better sales coaching?

    As many of you already know, at the EcSell Institute we’ve been putting a great deal of our resources against the science of sales coaching. We’ve affiliated ourselves with people like Dr. Mary Uhl-Bien at the Institute for Innovative Leadership and others. Here is a snippet of what the EcSell Institute is learning. First let's answer question number one. 

    "Why are so many Organizations stuck?"

    Mega trends have changed management. Let's begin by looking at the different eras.

    Agrarian Era:

    This was a time when success was determined by skill, work ethic, some of your intellectual capital and certainly the elements (weather).

    Selling Process: Was a One-to-One approach. 

    Management Approach: Only managed oneself. 

    Leadership: Was not in the vernacular. 

    Coaching: Was not existent. 

    Industrial Era:

    The era was characterized by tools and processes.  System efficiency and discipline were hammered into people.  Keep in mind during the late 1950’s, the U.S. peaked with almost 55% -75% of our economy was manufacturing based.

    Selling Process: One too many.  Mass market and B2B selling was introduced.

    Management Approach: This is the first real moment when the need for management entered the scene.  We needed managers to make sure our people were following the systems and processes that were proven to bring an end result. Focus was on process, not outcome.  Knowledge was power and knowledge was held exclusively by management. Hierarchical organizational structures were introduced. It was about control and command.  Sales achievement was rewarded by promotions. 

    Service Era:

    This era was all about the customer.  1980 economy has fallen to 30% manufacturing. The conversion to service products and a service based economy was in full swing.  Research suddenly recognizes the impact ofthe right human capital. Persoanal strengths are valued and talent-based science/research is introduced. 

    Selling Process: Sales reps were not longer selling widgets and as a result, needs-based, consultative selling became popular and necessary.  It was now OK if the highest paid person in company was a sales person.  People are recognized for their innate ability to sell.

    Management Approach: Still hierarchical, with the focus still on tools and processes. The human relations model is starting to be recognized and adopted by some.  Primarily, sales management still a reward for sales performance even though a pay cut may be involved.

    Leadership: Enter what is referred to as the “Hero Model”.  The dynamic, charismatic, tough leader was the epitome of leadership.  “Change leadership” was also becoming popular.  Leadership effectiveness was measured by ability to adapt to a fast changing marketplace.

    Coaching: Science is now trying to figure out why some Sales Managers are able to get more performance from their teams as compared to their counterparts, who have access to the same resources and products.  The correlation between athletics and business begins to be looked at.  

    SPECIAL NOTE: Today, this is where most organization still reside regarding their coaching, leadership and management approach.

    Now let’s focus on where we need to be...

    Network Era:

    Today only 9% of our jobs as manufacturing based and we have become a networked society.  The buzzwords are “distributed information", "relationality", "connectionist”.  We went from the “customer is always right” to hearing things such as “we just fired a customer” to "the customer had already made up his mind on what he wanted to buy before we ever made a sales call." The customer is now an active part of of the sales process—not just someone you serve.  Customer involvement is the norm  Intellectual capital no longer equals power because  it is now so easily accessed and gained by anyone.

    Selling Process: Because of the networking era, your buyers are very advanced in the sales cycle prior to them doing business with you. Research shows more than ever before, the C-Suite is looking at their vendors as a partnership who doesn’t just provide a product or service, but can help them improve their performance.   Information is immediate and at our finger tips, which makes “knowledge synonymous to power” almost non-existent, though intellectual capital can still bring a competitive edge.

    Management Approach: Hierarchical positions are still needed for effectiveness, but the title “manager” is no longer synonymous with “leader”.  Here are our new definitions:

    Management: Obtaining and resourcing the tools and processes

    Leadership: It is a behavior, not an organizational potion. Research is showing that leadership behavior is needed at all levels in order to maximize performance. It does not just reside in the management levels.  Leadership is “using influence to create change”

    Sales Coach: This term is replacing "sales manager". We define it as "creating a leadership culture and guiding the individuals and the team to achieve organizational results".

    • Coaching is not regurgitating metrics or analytics, but it is those numbers that tell you where and what to coach.
    • Coaching is not just about developing a sales methodology, it is about working with those on your team to execute it flawlessly.
    • Coaching is not about telling your Sales Managers’s to just hit their number, it is about spending time with them and helping them develop into better coaches.
    • Coaching is about understanding each person as an individual and setting up a development plan based on their unique needs and goals.

    Being an extraordinarily sales coach is the first and foremost requirement of anyone in sales management and it is what will make the biggest impact on sales performance. Let's now explore question number two expressed above. 

    What is the solution to better sales coaching?

    Put yourself on the journey of discovery. Our sales management profession is undergoing a major evolution—we are moving toward the "Coach" of people rather than a “Manager” of tools and processes. 

    Sales 2.0, which is all the rage, is about the technology, which certainly is a component of the job.  However, while important, I have never heard a top producer stand up at the annual meeting and thank management for the new CRM system!  In order to maximize performance, you need to focus on coaching people, not just managing the technology.

    Bottom line is this: We believe that organizations need to focus their energy and resources on becoming a better coach. But realize this, great coaching will not magically appear. It will happen with diligent effort and a investment in yourself and your sales management team! Let EcSell help you with this journey. That is what we are all about.

    To read a more in depth piece about the evolution of sales management, check out this white paper

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    Tags: Leadership Research

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    Bill Eckstrom

    Bill Eckstrom

    William Eckstrom is the CEO and Founder of the Ecsell Institute. Bill has spent his entire career in the sales management and leadership arena. In 2008, he founded Ecsell Institute to fill a void he witnessed and personally experienced in the sales leadership profession. He's went on to present a viral TEDx Talk and co-authored the best-selling book, "The Coaching Effect."