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Are You Asking your Sales Managers to Be Sherpas?

Posted by Jonathan Palay on 4/11/16 9:03 AM


For decades, sales leaders have compared getting to plan to the act of summiting a mountain.  Each year is a long journey, requiring preparation, hard work, discipline and teamwork to reach goal, just as is required to summit Mount Everest. There are just under 1000 attempts to summit Everest each year and only 50% actually succeed. And just like climbing Everest, far too many Sales Managers don’t reach the summit. 

The biggest reason summiting Everest is such a feat is the lack of oxygen on the world’s highest peak.  The human body simply does not function well at high altitude. But success rates have improved significantly from 24% in 2000 and the teens back in the 90s.  Why? Today, 97% of climbers use supplemental oxygen, with advances in cylinder and mask technology the primary explanation for the increased summit success rate.  So who are the remaining 3% of superhuman climbers who don’t use or need supplemental oxygen? They are the Nepalese Sherpas, world-renowned for extreme levels of high-altitude fitness.


It begs the question: Are you asking your Sales Managers to be Sherpas?


It’s no secret that the Sales Manager may be the most overburdened role in the entire company, having to wear three separate hats at once.  Absent any guidance on how to spend scarce Coaching time, Managers inevitably end up punting in the face of the short-term pressures of quarterly, let alone monthly targets.  You may be fortunate to have a few superstar “sherpas” on your team, but the rest of us mere mortals will need some type of supplemental oxygen to make it to the summit. 

So what can you do to help them get there? The first question most organizations ask is how should we support and enable our Sales Managers and the Coaching debate is ranging in Enterprise sales organizations today. 

On one side, you’ve got organizations that subscribe to the Sales Manager as the Coach, expected to spend in some instances upwards of 70% of their time developing their team.  On the other side of the spectrum, companies are investing in an internal Coaching function to support the Sales Manager and offload some of this responsibility.  The only thing we can all agree on is we’ve got to find a way to make Coaching work so Managers can reach the summit. 

No matter which side of the debate you fall on, you may be missing the critical question.  Once you realize that no matter how you’re organized, Coaching Capacity is a finite resource, like oil or gold, the question becomes how are you allocating your scarce Coaching Capacity to the best opportunities?

According to SiriusDecisions, The #1 Reason Reps Fail to Hit Quota is Their Inability to Articulate Value. Sales is a saying business and while basic testing may feel like an answer to direct Coaching Capacity, it can only help you get a feel for what reps know, but it will not address what reps can say. Without some type of supplemental oxygen to tackle this problem, you will quickly realize that you’re going to run out of Coaching Capacity the same way climbers run out of air.

You need a scalable way to increase the saying frequency so your Reps can get better at articulating value without crushing your Sales Managers in the process. Independent practice is a clear winner, because Reps get better on their own time.

Now that your Reps are practicing, you can actually start to think about Targeted Interventions, which is code for allocating your Coaching Capacity.  Today, more often than not, we wait to intervene based on quota attainment, but that’s far too late.  Instead of asking your Sales Managers to spend time coaching reps who don’t make their number, start guiding them to preemptively strike with reps who haven’t demonstrated the ability to communicate value in a way that advances sales cycles, improves win rate, and increases deal size when it counts –– in front of a prospect or customer, at the moment of truth. 

Maybe delivering the number isn’t as daunting as climbing Everest, but it isn’t far off.  If you want to see success rates climb, its time to start thinking about what supplemental oxygen you need to level the playing field for all Sales Managers.  After all, not everyone is a Nepalese Sherpa.


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About the Author

Jonathan Palay

Jonathan Palay is Co-Founder and VP Sales at CommercialTribe.

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Topics: Sales Leadership, Upskilling

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