When I started facilitating, one of the first workshops that I conducted was for the sales arm of a large global manufacturing company. This training was part of a multi-day national sales meeting, and my session was one of many that were spread throughout the hotel. I remember this day, not as a success story, but as an early example of why training sales managers first is so beneficial.
What surprised me then, and still does now, wasn’t the attitude or conduct of the participants, rather the never-ending email distractions being served to them by their busy sales managers.
I imagined these leaders sitting in an adjacent room, pounding out their electronic missives in a never-ending stream of busywork - an effort deemed to be more important than the thousands of training dollars being spent on their teams. It wasn’t the distraction that the email provided, but the message being sent to the people in the classroom, which was that the content being delivered that day was not important.
Had sales management been included in the training in the first place, they would have understood the significance of the material, and the need to give their team space so that they could learn it properly before being thrust back into their everyday work lives. And that’s just one of the reasons why training sales managers should be done before training the sales team.
Why you should consider training sales managers first
Companies that train sales managers first stand a greater chance of leveraging the educational investment being made with their team, for the following 3 reasons:
1. Sustainment: The content delivered in the room has a greater chance of sticking if it’s being actively monitored and reinforced in the field. According to Anders Ericsson, author of Peak – How to Master Almost Anything, and an expert on what it takes to develop world-class abilities, “Even the most motivated and intelligent student will advance under the tutelage of someone who knows the best order in which to learn things, who understands and can demonstrate the proper way to perform various skills, who can provide useful feedback and who can devise practice activities designed to overcome particular weaknesses.”Who is better positioned than the sales manager to fill this role, provided they’re trained on the content first?
2. Alignment: While lack of sustainment can slow the effectiveness of training, company processes that are out of sync with the new behaviors being taught can stop the initiative in its tracks. While sales managers aren’t necessarily designers of process, they can communicate instances where the work reality doesn’t fit the training, and act as influencers to help create alignment between the two. Ultimately, sales managers are the linchpin to behavior change.
3. Engagement: There are lots of reasons for leaving a sales job, whether it’s money, a better product or service to represent, or even a chance to move forward in your career. What you seldom hear about, however, is the employee who leaves a sales manager after that individual had made them better at what they do. By training your managers first, you enhance their ability to make a positive impact on their people, which will create greater employee engagement, and hopefully retention.
What’s the best way to get sales managers involved in your training efforts?
There are three areas where a sales manager can directly influence the success of your training spend: content design, coaching, and accountability.
1. Contribute to Design: If alignment with company processes and procedures is one of the success measures for your training project, then giving managers an early voice at the table when the program is being designed can help to prevent potential disconnects between content and the realities of the actual sales job.
2. Invest in Coaching Skills: If your sales managers are going to provide the expert tutelage that Eriksson speaks of, they’ll need more than a foundation in the training content being delivered. For managers to be effective, they’ll also need coaching skills that allow them to connect and create an environment of trust, as well as convey feedback that communicates the desired performance parameters in a manner that facilitates behavioral change.
3. Have Sales Managers Present: It sends a powerful message to your sales people when their managers are present during their training session. It says that the material is important, and that everyone needs to take the day seriously. An added benefit here is that your leaders get to see the content once again, improving their knowledge, and it gives them a view to how well it’s being adopted by the very people that they’ll be supporting in the field.
There are many reasons for training sales managers first. Most importantly, they’ll be playing a critical role in sustaining the investment that you’ve made in their team. To maximize your spend, bring your sales leadership into the planning process early, teach them the content first, and give them the coaching skills that will help them to drive their team’s performance post-session.