Sales Managers: Talent Development IS the Work!

Sales managers, if you don’t make sales talent development your top priority, then you’re not really doing your job.

There was a rather popular Forbes article a few months ago written by Shep Hyken, entitled, “57% Of Sales Reps Missed Their Quotas Last Year.” The main thrust of the article is to highlight what appears to be a sales performance crisis occurring across a wide range of industries. Based on comments and social sharing of that particular post, sales leaders and enablers around the world are concerned. If that many sellers are missing their targets, then we can surmise most of today’s sellers are not equipped to perform in the complex, fast-moving B2B selling environment we find ourselves in now. It’s a huge problem.

But I see a different sort of crisis. When we first engage with sales leaders in large B2B sales organizations, I notice varying levels of commitment to addressing the talent development needs that clearly exist within the sales organization. Every organization has its share of under-performing sellers, and even average, run-of-the-mill sales leaders are adept at pointing out which of their salespeople suck when asked about the current state of sales performance. Only the really capable, top-performing sales leaders that we meet acknowledge a talent deficit as something for which they are personally and foremost responsible.

Only the really capable, top-performing sales leaders that we meet acknowledge a talent deficit as something for which they are personally and foremost responsible.

Some sales leaders simply don’t recognize talent development as an important part of their role. They essentially outsource the entire process of talent development to their HR partners, recruiters, and trainers. That may not sound like a crisis, but when one considers what it’s like to work in a sales organization where leaders don’t appear to care about sellers’ development, then one begins to recognize the genesis of the 57% quota attainment crisis.

If you were a professional athlete, and your head coach ignored talent scouting, acquisition, and practice regimen or if you were a string virtuoso in a big-city philharmonic whose conductor paid no attention to the evaluation, in-take, and development of its musicians, what conclusion would you come to about your organization’s commitment to your success? You’d think your leaders don’t care, and perhaps you wouldn’t care about developing your talents either.

I know those are examples are ludicrous, and they wouldn’t really happen in a professional sports organization or a philharmonic.

Why does it happen in professional sales organizations?

I don’t know for sure, but I have a well-informed opinion. Based on my experience coaching and advising hundreds of sales leaders over the last several years, I think it’s a simple matter of misunderstanding. Too many sales managers today fundamentally misunderstand their role. They don’t understand that talent development IS the work. So many sales managers were once sales superstars themselves, and they still have the superstar’s mindset.

  • I can achieve this goal.
  • I can do it through sheer force of my will.
  • I won’t take no for an answer.
  • I, I, I… me, me, me….

They don’t understand that talent development IS the work.

But as a sales manager, it isn’t about you anymore. Achieving your goal this year depends not on your capability as a seller but on your sellers’ capabilities. That is why it is so crucial to invest now in the talent you have (or need to have) on your team. That IS the work of a sales manager!

My closing thoughts today come directly from an excerpt of a new book I am writing with Dan Smaida. We will announce the title and official publish date soon. Following are the top three reasons why talent development is Job #1:

  • Small differences equal big results.
    • In sales, a 1% difference in skill can make a 100% difference in whether you win the business or not.
  • Talent development attracts top talent.
    • Great sellers, especially up-and-coming sellers, want to go where they can get better.
  • Development creates a virtuous cycle.
    • Effects reinforce and amplify throughout the system.

If upon some self-reflection you realize that you are under-emphasizing talent development in your organization, take action now. We have some specific recommendations to offer in the new book, and we’ll also share ideas during our Sales Leadership Confab events throughout the U.S. in 2019. At the very least, you can sit down right now and commit to some near-term actions that will make a difference in the development of your people. Don’t wait. This IS the work that great sales managers do every day.