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All growing tech companies want to build a world-class culture, and front-line managers play a pivotal role. What kind of conversations are your front-line managers having with their customer-facing teams?

By Mike Esterday

The company was growing fast. With sales booming, several top salespeople were promoted to manager roles, and the expectations were high. These were go-getters, with strong revenue-producing track records, and it didn’t hurt that the company’s innovative tech products were in demand.

In their new roles as sales managers, these individuals’ success would now depend on how well they could rally their teams. And everyone knows that in a fast-moving industry like, for example, SaaS, you have to dive in and figure it out. Sink or swim. So after being given a crash course in Management 101, they were sent out to make it happen.

But as the market grew crowded with new competitors and economic volatility set in, one thing was becoming abundantly clear: Too many managers were sinking. And the best salespeople were jumping ship.

A sales enablement leader at a high-tech firm shared this story about his own company, but it’s one that’s almost universal in tech organizations. And now that we’re facing crisis-level disruption that’s challenging the mettle of even the most experienced leaders, these front-line managers are at an even bigger disadvantage—and many are drowning fast.

And it’s not just a problem for them.

Beyond Management 101, Sales Coaching Builds Company Culture

All growing tech companies want to build a world-class culture, and front-line managers play a pivotal role. Culture is seeded and grown through the conversations managers have with their people. Especially in a time of massive upheaval and economic uncertainty, we need managers who are at the top of their game, who can keep the customer-facing teams engaged, confident and dialed-in to the broader mission. That’s just not something you can get out of Management 101.

Whether business is booming or the bottom has fallen out, the question every tech leader needs to be asking right now is, What kind of conversations are my front-line managers having with their customer-facing teams?

A vast majority of newly promoted managers lack the interpersonal leadership and communication skills to develop their reps, build their confidence and make them feel valued so that they can deliver real value back to the customers. This is the critical human side of management that often gets plenty of lip-service but just as frequently gets overlooked in the craziness of a manager’s day.

With all the turmoil in the market today, employee engagement, retention and productivity have never been more important to the health of a technology business. And there’s one specific management responsibility that can unlock all three: coaching.

Why Tech Sales Managers Need To Understand Coaching

Gallup’s research on employee engagement found that employees who receive daily feedback from their manager are three times more likely to be engaged than those who receive feedback once a year or less. Yet our own research shows that most sales managers (76% of those surveyed) do little to no coaching at all. Some may feel uncomfortable providing constructive feedback, so they avoid doing it, while many simply don’t know what feedback and coaching really look like.

And it’s not their fault.

All too often, managers not only haven’t been given the opportunity to build effective coaching skills, they also haven’t been on the receiving end of coaching from their own leaders, so there are no role models to emulate. Especially in sales and customer-facing areas, the emphasis on managing activities, numbers and quotas often overshadows everything else. But as one senior sales leader at a tech organization told me, you can’t build a world-class culture on activities and tools alone:

“It’s important to understand what career aspirations your people have and to develop them and give them opportunities to flourish,” he noted. “If people don’t feel valued and supported, they will move on. Managers have to create a culture that people will stay for.”

For companies that have experienced layoffs recently, the message is even more urgent. You’re now left with the best of the best, so you don’t want to lose them. At the same time, you need people to be willing to step outside their comfort zones and take on new challenges. Managers who have both the skill and will to have consistent coaching conversations with their reps will give them a sense of purpose and the confidence to reach higher levels of performance.

The Coaching Skills Every Growing Tech Companies Sales Managers Needs

Managers who are effective coaches:

  • Recognize the difference between people-focused and goal-oriented leadership styles and how to bridge the gap between the two
  • Shift their mindset from solving problems to developing people
  • Believe in the potential of their people to achieve more
  • Understand what motivates each of their team members
  • Know how to help people break through self-limiting beliefs
  • Gain trust, build rapport and ask questions — to understand goals and gain insights into emotions as well as facts

One of the most valuable ways your managers can help their customer-facing teams today is to help them develop a growth mindset. In an industry like technology, there will always be challenges and setbacks. But with a growth mindset, reps will view each challenge as an opportunity to grow rather than a sign they’re not capable.

By equipping your managers to coach, you’re throwing them a life raft that will have a ripple effect across the entire organization. And you’ll help them grow into strong leaders to carry your culture forward.

About the Author
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Bruce Wedderburn

Chief Sales Officer

Since 2016 Bruce has led the Sales organization with a passion for creating impactful results for clients through the successful...
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