That’s how long some managers find themselves in leadership before getting any training, reports Training Industry.
Promotions to management often happen based on performance in previous roles over skill proficiency for the new one. This practice helps to explain why CEB found that 60% of new managers underperform in their first two years, negatively impacting their direct reports in the process. It makes sense; after all, having strong sales skills doesn’t automatically provide strong leadership skills.
Even if a salesperson moves from an entry-level role into a non-managerial mid- or senior-level position, that still doesn’t mean they’ll figure out how to reach the next step in their career.
For sales reps who want to take ownership of their career path, coaching them in preparation for promotions offers a massive advantage for everyone. Your reps will want to collaborate because it provides a unique opportunity to get the training needed to advance. 74% of participants said a lack of training is the biggest hurdle in achieving their full potential at work.
Start Planning & Coaching for Professional Development on Day One
Many sales reps begin their careers with little-to-no professional experience. That creates the perfect opportunity to start coaching them both on performance and career development.
Before we dig into how you can forge multiple career paths within your sales organization, we must discuss sales development versus business development.
In much of the industry, sales development and business development get used interchangeably. However, in some revenue teams, these are two different functions.
When sales development and business development are separated, it typically means:
Sales development reps (SDRs) work marketing-generated leads, analyzing and qualifying them before booking the meeting for a closer.
Business development reps (BDRs) must prospect leads themselves.
And those aren’t the only two names for entry-level sales positions. We’ve seen everything from ADR (account development rep) to lead generation specialists and some other funky ones.
Regardless, these are entry-level sales positions, not closing roles. But as HubSpot points out, they still need to understand your industry and how business works. They need to know how to identify decision-makers, product-prospect fit, urgency, and budget considerations—and that’s just a partial list.
The more you develop their skills, the better they can serve your account executives and your company before they even think about getting promoted.
Sales Coaching for Early Career Salespeople Looking for Promotions
One of the greatest advantages of the entry-level seller is they’re highly moldable. You can develop the right skills and behaviors needed to be a successful quota-carrying rep in your organization. And, it’s unlikely they’ll have any bad habits that require additional coaching to break.
Now, there are a limited number of positions in any organization. And you can’t promote everyone. So how do you satisfy reps without running into roadblocks?
In-role progressions. Companies like Seal Software give BDRs mini-promotions to help reps advance. These title changes demonstrate a rep’s skill proficiency and ongoing development. As a rep progresses, they receive a new title and, when possible, new responsibilities such as peer coaching or more lead assignments.
Celebrate these micro-promotions the same way you would the “big one.” Reward reps monetarily (gift cards, lunch, prizes) and give them public recognition and praise (an email to the team, shout out at an all-hands meeting from a senior leader).
Well designed in-role progressions can last as long as two years, giving sales leaders more time to develop and hone the right skills for the next level. It also creates a culture of transparency where:
- Reps understand early on what they need to accomplish to earn a promotion
- There is a clear timeline for promotions, which can cut down on reps leaving because they haven’t gotten promoted yet
- Promotions won’t get questioned due to nepotism or fraternization
- Training for a new role begins long before the title change
These in-role progressions for SDRs also create an opportunity to build a strong coaching culture within the organization. Coaching cultures provide greater satisfaction and show that the company will invest in its reps.
Time for the Big League: Coaching for Significant Promotions Helps Your Sales Department Take Over the World
As they transition out of entry-level positions, your SDRs are facing higher stakes. Before you embark on the path to a big promotion, talk to the rep about their long-term career goals, and find out what gets them fired up in the morning. You’ll see ways you can impact their career trajectory while identifying the best coaching methods for them.
Creating Closers: What Future Account Executives Need from Sales Coaching
For many early and mid-career sellers, Account Executive is the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. But that role comes with a lot of necessary skills and responsibilities including:
- Running presentations and demos
- Personalizing the offer’s value to the prospect’s specific needs
- Navigating objections across the buying committee
- Negotiating deal terms
- Effectively following up with prospects
- Getting the contract signed
Each of these can take years for someone to perfect. And that’s just the tip of the selling skills required to close business. Add in the communication and interpersonal skills needed, and it’s impossible to imagine anyone learning these on their own.
A combination of consistent training and ongoing coaching for skill development will help future and current account executives develop their flair and style of selling—in alignment with your company’s goals, values, and systems. The AEs will master authentic execution that plays to their strengths, empowering them to close more deals.
Nurturing Customer Success Managers through Coaching
While account executives are all about closing deals, customer success and account managers focus on nurturing these deals after signing. Their KPIs are focused on renewals, expansions, and churn, which requires a slightly different skill set than their account executive peers.
CSMs or reps interested in post-close account management will need additional coaching on interpersonal skills. They need to know how to build and maintain customer relationships without coming off as annoying. You also need to arm them for multi-threading, heated support and renewal conversations, and change management.
These reps also need to understand business basics and the unique challenges of their book of customers. They need to be able to identify setbacks and challenges to help customers overcome them—including when their product or service causes those challenges.
And CSMs need sales skills too. While some orgs leave upselling, cross-selling, and referral requests to the sales team, many leave it up to the customer success team.
Coaching reps interested in customer success should focus on building relationships, identifying which products or services will provide the most value, and becoming an expert on your offering.
Managing & Coaching Future Sales Managers
What should you do with a rep who wants your job? Coach them on leadership, giving feedback, and inspiring motivation, of course.
Reps who want to move into management often show a natural desire to help others and will quickly become a resource for their peers on the floor. Encourage this further once you’ve verified they have a deep understanding of the skills and behaviors needed for success in their current role. Invite them to be a peer coach who goes beyond a “great job!” in your conversation intelligence software.
Your coaching should also prepare them for:
- Pipeline management and quota attainment
- Hiring and managing others
- Going to bat for their peers and team
- Strategizing business plans
Sales managers also get tasked with carrying out management’s vision. It’s essential that reps looking to get promoted into managerial roles develop a thick skin.
When you recognize a salesperson you think would excel as a manager, start the conversation early. Find out if they’re interested in management or content as an individual contributor. If the interest is there, continue coaching them on their sales performance while building in the right leadership skills.
And when they do get that promotion, keep coaching them. The best leaders are lifelong learners, and your support will be welcome as they climb their way to the top.
Sales Career Pathing Looks Different in SMBs and Enterprises
Keeping top-performing sales reps at your company is very different in an SMB compared to an enterprise. Unfortunately, the larger the company, the easier it is to keep someone on. There are simply more opportunities and more money.
Smaller organizations have to get creative. Your reps may easily get swayed by better titles, higher salaries or commissions, or even better office locations. To combat this, make sure your reps are receiving consistent coaching and praise, for starters. It’s also critical to understand a rep’s career goals. You can’t give them what they want if you don’t know what that is.
What if There’s Nowhere to Promote Our Salespeople?
Coaching and training are now “key differentiator[s] between companies competing for talent,” explains Training Industry. Therefore, even with no promotion options available, helping your top people grow (and providing generous compensation packages) will increase employee satisfaction, and therefore, retention.
When you face a rep with nowhere to go in your org, be honest with yourself and the rep. If you mutually agree the rep is coming to the end of the runway at your company, see if you can help place them in their next role. Introduce them to your connections and offer to coach them on their resume and interviewing skills.
It may be painful to let them go, but giving them a positive experience will pay dividends. This approach will differentiate both your company and yourself as a sales leader. Your exiting top talent will be glad to continue a long-term relationship as it moves up the ladder, potentially benefiting you and your organization down the line.
Meanwhile, the rest of your sales force is watching, and a positive impression now will help keep them in seat longer.
Wrapping up, here are the key takeaways for keeping top reps at your company:
- Know their career aspirations and goals
- Create in-role, micro-promotions
- Provide consistent coaching and development from day 1
If you do those three things well, reps will stay longer, learn more, and spread the word to their network.