Are You Asking Your Sales Managers to be Sherpas?

For decades, sales leaders have compared reaching plan to the act of summiting a mountain. Each year is a long journey, requiring preparation, hard work, discipline, and teamwork to reach the goal, just as is required to summit Mount Everest. There are just under 1,000 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 raging 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?

Most organizations start by looking at their CRM for this answer. But according to SiriusDecisions, “the #1 reason reps fail to hit quota is their inability to articulate value.” Sales is a saying business and without a scalable way to observe what is coming out of your reps’ mouths, you will be guessing based on lagging indicators. And without some type of supplemental oxygen to anticipate this problem, you will run out of coaching capacity the same way climbers run out of air.

When sales managers have this visibility and know where to go, they can actually start to think about targeted interventions—code for allocating coaching capacity.

You need a way to observe and assess behavior so sales managers can turn from reactive to proactive. When sales managers have this visibility and know where to go, they can actually start to think about targeted—code for allocating coaching capacity. Instead of spending time coaching reps who keep missing their number (and they can’t quite figure out why), sales managers can preemptively strike with reps who aren’t demonstrating the ability to communicate value in a way that advances sales cycles, improves win rates, and increases deal size. It is the behaviors that will drive the results, not the other way around.

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, it’s 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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