In a past survey, the Association for Talent Development revealed a whopping 87 percent of managers become such without prior management training and education. This sets them up for seagull management — they fly in, crap on people, and fly back out. By crap, I don’t mean they necessarily treat people badly. What I mean is they aren’t delivering much value to their people; they’re doing things for them, not to them.

I started consulting in January 1988, and I have never encountered a sales manager who had received prior mentoring. They don’t know what they didn’t know — yet. That means, my No. 1 responsibility is to deliver the truths about their specific weaknesses. To phrase it in a more positive light, I will create the opportunity to blow past sales management and focus them on sales leadership. There’s a big difference between them. Let me explain some duties that are musts for sales leadership.


The first area to investigate is the company’s current mission statement to find out if it is real or just words on a page. It must be a living and breathing document stating what the company stands for regarding its people and clients. While this article is about sales leaders, every manager companywide must receive mentoring about their roles in absolute dedication to the mission statement. If not, employees and clients will believe we’re a joke. In some cases, this is rightfully so.

A mission statement can be a powerful sales education tool. It will surely state that the company will deliver “value” to its clients. That means the sales leader must be bringing value to both the salespeople and clients. As he does so, he has then deserved the right to ask each salesperson, “What personal values have you delivered to all of our target accounts, and what value do you bring that no one else does?” Be prepared for a look of bewilderment as they have never been taught to think this way. But the ball is rolling.

As a company develops a culture of greatness, its salespeople will begin to view it as an entity that everyone believes in. They’ll begin sharing with clients and industry associates how much fun they’re having. It won’t take long before the company’s prestige starts to rise and the amount of high-quality sales applicants approaching the company will start to multiply.

I was vice president of sales marketing for a $60 million firm. The vice president of sales for the largest firm in the industry at $1 billion applied for a regional sales manager position with us. I asked, “Why?” to which he responded, “You’re the talk of the industry, and everyone talks about your value proposition and creativity and the fun everyone is having.”

Per Korn Ferry, 72 percent of global respondents stated they feel culture is, “extremely important,” but only 32 percent state their culture aligns with their strategies. This is job No. 1.


The best time to recruit is when you don’t need anyone. While developing a great sales team, you will still lose some people due to their choices — or yours. So, it’s imperative that you have a bullpen. Recruiting when you absolutely need someone quickly increases your chances of failure. One example from my corporate days involves a salesperson — again, with the $1 billion firm — who really wanted to join us. Over the course of several meetings, I told him, “Don’t go anywhere; it’s just a matter of timing.” Included in our meetings was a dinner with the applicant and his wife, a lunch, and even a dinner at a ski resort. Over this time, it became much clearer what I was getting, and I learned some of his shortcomings. I addressed his shortcomings and advised him how to improve. Why the ski resort? I stayed there, and since he lived nearby, I wanted an atmosphere where his guard went down while his openness became more elevated. I wanted him to talk — not listen to me. I suggest you listen and take notes during the interview. Why do I carry two pens to interviews? A broken pen is pointless.


One of the most, or the most, crucial decisions a leader has is selecting the right candidates. A big blunder I hear often is, “I really like him.” That’s a bad idea. Faulty selection decisions can lead to stagnation, turnover, and starting all over again. Likeability is good, but I’ll choose a hard-driving person almost every time.

When I’m retained by a client, I bring sharpened interviewing and selecting skills. I reverse the talk-listen ratio. By that, I mean the interviewer only speaks 10 percent of the time and the other 90 percent is dedicated to listening intently to what the candidate is saying. When the interviewer does speak, it usually is in the format of open-ended questions, such as “how,” “what,” and “why.” When appropriate, ask the follow-up question, “How do you mean?”

Candidates should be given a skills assessment. I utilize a printed 25-plus-page personality profile by profession that enables me to ask more refined questions. And having a great mentor involved in the interviewing and selecting process is one of the best investments a sales leader can make. The right mentor usually observes and hears different messages than the sales leader. Again, the chances of making a great decision after the interview and the mentor and sales leader have had discussions are greatly elevated. Very simply, an average interviewer alone will deliver average results — and costly ones.


The majority of B2B entities invest significant resources on product training, but slim-to-no resources are allotted for sales and management training and education. For more success, I suggest that formula be reversed.

The first people I mentor are the key sales managers. Once they begin to understand how to lead, it’s off to the races. I go so far as to provide field education with them as most have never received it themselves. They have to learn about their own deficiencies before telling others how to improve. I need to get them to work harder on themselves than on their people. Do they read books on their professions? They must. I’m now writing a new book on reverse psychology. Please don’t buy it.

Sales training and education often fail due to one primary reason — lack of monitoring the implementation of newly learned skills. That results in training being called what it is — a cost. Each time after I have learners in the classroom, we collectively select the six to 10 new skills that are to be acted on, and we follow-up to learn of successes and temporary failures.

The one aspect that gets more return on investment is one-on-one education. Every sales leader and salesperson is different and has different needs. That’s why one-on-one sessions work so well. Each session is just for Bud or Mary. At the conclusion of the half-day session, we list a minimum of nine specific skills, habits, and traits to focus on. I might add that these sessions are when the truth is laid out because most haven’t been told the truth. Why? The sales manager hasn’t learned how to effectively mentor, and many managers view telling the truth as confrontational. It’s not. Telling the truth is what a sales leader must do. Conversely, not telling them the truth hurts them. I plainly label that posture as cowardice.

One last thought regarding field coaching: Don’t show favoritism. It’s a plague. I’ve witnessed numerous sales managers who spend more time with their favorites when they should be investing their time coaching and nurturing target accounts and target salespeople in each territory. Spend major time on major things and minor time on minor things. Reduce C projects whenever possible to free up time for the emergencies that pop up, like funerals. What? Yes, follow Yogi Berra’s plan to have time for funerals. “You should always go to other people’s funerals, otherwise they won’t come to yours.”

Another big reason to work on the sales manager’s development first is because most good people leave their employer because of managers — not the company. This alone should prompt CEOs to ensure the sales leader is growing.


This is definitely an area for leaders to get better at because studies show that only 1 percent of the U.S. population is naturally creative. And the small percentage of salespeople who develop the creative side of the brain dominate logic-driven salespeople’s results almost every time.

Once the sales manager embraces creativity, she is “fairly” capable of teaching it to others. Usually, my clients leave most of their creativity implementation up to me because getting a logic-driven manager to unlearn straight logic thinking into a blend of creativity and logic is a long-haul education segment that starts slowly. As more people begin to embrace creativity, it becomes a vital part of your culture. And I’ll take creativity and culture over strategy almost every day. A small example of same-old, same-old is that applications, medical forms, etc., ask who is to be called in the event of an emergency. I write, “an ambulance.”


AMA’s survey of the top five most important skills training for an individual are communication at 65 percent; skills specific to roles, 60 percent; leadership development, 53 percent; project management, 49 percent; and interpersonal skills, 48 percent.

Yet, all five areas concern communication to a great degree, but Nos. 1 and 5 are proof that education is desperately needed. Typically, communication is the No. 1 reason for an individual’s ineffectiveness, and it’s also the No. 1 reason for a declining culture.

While you want to be clear, your style, or how you say it, is more important than what you actually say. To the mix, add humor (if appropriate), creativity, and high energy. Just be anything but boring. Prior to Pope Francis visiting Cuba and the U.S., he answered a question about his immense popularity. He said, “Jesus also, for a certain time, was very popular, and look at how that turned out.” True and humorous. Maybe we should ask for training in Pope skills?


Hogan Assessments reported that only 18 percent of human relations (HR) professionals said their companies had enough talent to meet its future leadership needs. But I believe that percentage to be even lower among sales managers due to the limited number of colleges offering sales degrees. Today, you have to extensively search for a college offering sales leadership courses. And have you provided your sales manager with a mentor? I consider that a must-have. As a vice president of sales, I had one.

One of the best ways for sales managers to get their prima-donnas to bring value is by the sales managers bringing value themselves. If their not the best sales managers in their markets, they can be (if you have chosen a progressive top-flight manager.)

Invest in them.

Publication date: 1/30/2017

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