Sales Coaching Blog

Sales Managers: The Real Performance Gap

Posted by Bill Eckstrom

December 1, 2014

Bill_Eckstrom_2014_standing1His name was Lenny (name changed to protect the actual person) and he was in the sales department at our local Ford dealer here in Lincoln, NE.  I called and had a simple question, but did not expect this response.

I am getting a new SUV and not only that, I am getting the same SUV I currently own, just the 2015 model.  I know the package I want, the color, but outside of a website I have not yet seen the new model in person.  I like owning newer cars; the way they smell, drive, feel, and fewer maintenance issues make it easy for me to emotionally and logically justify the purchase.  So, with that I mind, here is how my call went…

“XYZ Ford, how may I help you?”  “Hi, may I please speak to somebody in sales?”  “Yes, just one moment please”.  Call transferred...  “Hi, this is Lenny”.  “Hi Lenny, this is Bill Eckstrom calling.  Say, do you have any new 2015 Expeditions on the lot?”. “Ummm, no we don’t.”  Long pause…  “Okay, thanks Lenny.”  “You bet.”   End of call.

While analogies of purchasing autos are perhaps cliché` in sales, (some good, but mostly bad) let’s explore a different view. 

Imagine a similar situation happening in a B2B setting--VP’s Sales would immediately begin to pontificate on the need for better sales performance, improved sales technique and therefore sales training would be the answer.  Wrong!  While most from inside or outside this dealership would comment or berate Lenny’s lack of skills, and while justifiable what it tells me more than anything is the poor coaching skills his boss must possess.  This example of poor sales skills does not beg as many sales questions as it does sales coaching questions:

Why was Lenny hired? 

There are so many instruments today that allow any sales department to identify those who can sell, it is ridiculous to not use them to screen prior to hire.  Though no tool is 100% effective, when combined with proper interview processes and reference checks the “Lennys” of the world will most likely (over 90% effective) be identified before any offers of employment would be made.  If one wonders if this matters…  this Ford dealer will sell one less Expedition due to poor sales management and sales person performance.

Why is the sales manager not aware of this major performance gap? 

The coaching activity that correlates most strongly to a sales rep’s motivation to sell more stuff is—providing sales skills feedback.  To do this a manager/coach needs to be involved in their sales settings.  They need to listen, probe, perhaps show how it’s done, and finally, objectively rate a sales person’s skills against a sales process.  Sales leaders are so concerned with sales people having a sales methodology, they neglect sales managers and how they would benefit from having a coaching methodology. 

Why does executive sales leadership allow poor or no coaching to occur?  Why aren’t similar disciplines and performance expectations applied to sales managers?  Executive sales leaders are happily naïve` and to bring attention to this performance gap would uncover what EcSell, along with organizations like Gallup, are discovering—9 out of 10 of managers do not have the talents or skills to maximize the performance of a sales team.  Not only that, a whopping 7 out of 10 are likely making their teams worse.  That is not a typo, the research indicates that 7 out of 10 sales managers probably inhibit sales.  And, if one were to know this about their specific team it would force some very tough decisions and resulting change.

Some years ago, we discovered that our middle school daughter had limited lung capacity, approximately 30% of normal.  As parents we felt like degenerates for not seeing/knowing this earlier.  The doctor let us know that in spite of her success in athletics her body has gotten used to not having enough oxygen and has adjusted accordingly.  Not until we were able to get her lungs cleared up did we all realize what she was missing—what a difference it made in her performance.  Obviously this is analogous to executive sales leaders who have never experienced the other side, they don’t know what they are missing.  And, as a result reductions in revenue are unknowingly accepted. 

The above is not speculation, it is fact.  We know this because our research shows sales departments do not track what sales managers are doing or if they are effective, and without this data they don’t know how to improve results.  Earlier this year I blogged on some statistics that show how managers are failing at epic proportions and until this sales management talent and skill gap is closed, sales teams will continue to under-perform.  

By the way, a shout out to Lenny’s manager (whoever you are) for providing the ammo for this blog.  Perhaps this experience will allow others to make the changes necessary to close the performance gap. 


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