Mentoring Sales Managers:

Creating Leaders Who Lead (A Case Study)
by Stew Bolno, MBA, EdM


How does a service provider in the health care business expand market share when they are, already, the leader of the pack? That was the question challenging a firm that does the lion’s share of the business within their industry. The answer was to strengthen the skills of the Sales Managers so that they would be more effective leaders and coaches for their reps.

Although most consulting and training projects are a result of a top-down decision, this unique situation occurred because it bubbled up from the self-perceived need of the Sales Managers themselves. Like many of their peers in all types from all types of industries, they felt pressured in regard to their training responsibilities, communications effectiveness, and prompting the most out of their sales team members. Each Sales Manager had a successful track record as a sales rep. However, all of them understood that the requirements and responsibilities in the role of Sales Manager were quite different than the winning formula behaviors they displayed when they were talking with their own customers on a daily basis.

The nexus occurred when the Executive Vice President of sales read an article in the Team Builders Plus newsletter called, “The Sales Manager’s Coaching Kit.” This prompted a call and a relationship was established. Over six conversations, the consultant and the Vice President defined the mission for the project, clarified the challenges, and agreed on a systems approach to the project. The formalized mission was:

The outcome of this initiative is to clarify the role of the Sales Managers so that they will attain higher revenues within their division while simultaneously strengthening relationships with their sales team members.

The comprehensive 7 Step model included:

  1. Telephone interviews with each Sales Manager at the beginning of the project – to establish personal priorities, clarify the elements of the project, and to create a foundation of trust

  2. Distribution of a 360-Degree Feedback Survey – to obtain perceptions for each Sales Manager while creating a baseline for comparison after the training

  3. Completion of a behavioral profile – to determine the behavioral tendencies of each sales manager (assets and liabilities)

  4. Pre-seminar consultation – to provide feedback to each participant based upon information retrieved from the sales manager, peers, boss, and sales team members

  5. Training – a customized sales coaching workshop including:
    a. Strategic Planning for sales managers so that role awareness and preparation for coaching reps is strengthened
    b. Develop skills that enhance communication and trust between sales manager and rep
    c. Style-based behavioral language system to broaden behavioral adaptability and flexibility

  6. Post-training Coaching – to ensure that action plans are implemented, modified, and geared towards a successful outcome for each Sales Manager

  7. 360-Degree Feedback Survey – to create a pre/post comparison that enable all parties to measure and celebrate success

The results of the process enabled us to evaluate this project as an unqualified success. A comment by the EVP of Sales was “This has been an amazingly busy year with some tremendous opportunities to take the organization to a new level in the lab industry."

Upon receipt of the final 360-degree feedback reports, the consultant reviewed the data that was based on pre and post-assessment results and communicated observations to each Sales Manager, such as:

  • “In this recent survey, each and every category ,rating provided by your Sales Managers, exceeded the highest rating you recorded from the initial survey.”

  • “Your fellow team members rated you higher in every category except one.”

  • “In the category of Sales Knowledge, you increased your rating by 1.5 (on a 10 point scale). Your boss rated you down by a small amount. It may not be highly significant. However, if your knowledge base is, indeed, deepening and expanding, you would be wise to make your manager aware of this fact.”

  • “In the categories of Developing Others and Communication, you rated yourself lower than last time. Is this a ‘glitch’ or are you just being hard on yourself. Either way, your Reports downgraded you, albeit a small amount, as well.”

  • “In your areas of Interpersonal Effectiveness and Providing Direction, you increased your self rating, yet your Reports did not view it in the same way.”

  • “In the categories of Team Leadership, Leading Change, Interpersonal Effectiveness, and Communication you rated yourself less effective from the initial survey. However, in each of these areas your Reports rated you slightly higher than they did prior. Perhaps, with new awareness, you have become a tougher self-critic.”

  • “Your reports rated you higher in every category by a significant percentage.”

Without this type of feedback, there is no clear way of gaining a broad and objective method of measuring success. Comments like those above, when compared to the reality of sales revenues, provide a clear understanding and awareness of the sales manager’s efforts.

Those who would criticize training and professional development often point to the relative “uselessness” or “immeasurability” of soft skills effectiveness. However, when the organization is willing to apply surveys, metrics, and pre/post measurements to the human side of management, just as they do to financial and marketing matters, individuals and organizations grow and thrive.