Are your Sales Managers soaring on CRM – or plummeting towards the ground?

Sales Managers are in an awkward position.

We all know the importance of training when it comes to user adoption of a new CRM system, like Salesforce. But it’s still unusual for Sales Managers to be given any form of special preparation or training to help them manage their team’s use of CRM.

Sales Managers are expected to lead the team in adoption of CRM, yet they’re often beginners themselves. And user adoption depends not just on having the skills to add your sales pipeline information into a CRM system, it’s about interpreting that information to better manage your team.

CRM training goes beyond pure technical skill. It requires Managers to coach their team and drive new behaviours. Your Sales Managers need to be equipped with the appropriate skills and behaviours themselves to ensure they don’t fall flat on their face.

Sales Managers are struggling on their own with CRM

Ignorance

For decades Sales Managers have survived without big data and without dazzling dashboards. They had to trust their own instinct. They had to make decisions with inadequate information, based on scribbles on the back of a beer mat. Now they don’t quite know what to do with the overload of information that’s at their fingertips.

When information is overwhelming, it’s easier to revert to previous methods of survival. Brightly coloured scatter charts and gauges are beautiful, yet bemusing. Whereas you can rely on your own gut. Anything that relies on salespeople entering data correctly is unlikely to be robust. When your meeting matrix shows Jonathon only attended 3 meetings last week, but recent conversations suggest he attended double that number, you start doubting the data. You don’t feel inclined to start troubleshooting why the data is different. You probably don’t even know how they enter the data anyway.

Sales Managers often know less about CRM than their own team. Yet you won’t find many Sales Managers admitting their ignorance.

Fear

Sales Managers didn’t get where they are today without building up their reserves of resilience. Most of them started selling when the Internet didn’t even exist. They relied on acetates and printed brochures to sell their wares. They daren’t share their website address, because they knew it was pretty crummy. They’ve had to manage the embarrassment of not always knowing what’s going on, not having answers immediately available. And having to tell customers they’ll give them a call when they get back to the office. They have been successfully doing business in a world of unknowns. Now the customer may know more than they do. And their team members certainly do. And that’s a scary place to be.

Sales Managers are secretly terrified. They’re terrified of appearing stupid in front of their team. They’re jittery about looking the fool in front of their superiors. They know that they need to be on top of the numbers, but they don’t know how to get a handle on them quickly with this new CRM tool. They are too proud to admit they’re afraid.

Worry

In the past, good Sales Managers didn’t have to worry so much about staff retention. Jobs were considered jobs for life. If you had a good member on the team, you knew they’d stay if you treated them well. Salespeople are a lot more mobile nowadays. If you’re good at what you do, there are more opportunities to move companies. Others may even find it strange if your career remains with the same company for too long!

Today LinkedIn makes it easy to leave. There’s less company loyalty. Weekly job offers are not so unusual. Sales people hear about the latest trends online and may be tempted to try out new things. Plus it’s easy to build your own personal brand with the prevalence of social media.

I think Sales Managers are sometimes worried that if they monitor the performance of their team members too closely, it may appear they don’t trust them any more. So Managers prefer not upset the apple cart. They don’t want to be a slave to the numbers on the dial. They want to retain their autonomy and personal style in how they manage their teams.

Our feelings affect our ability to learn and consume new information. If Sales Managers feel fearful, worried or ignorant, they’re unlikely to perform at their best. Dealing with a new CRM system may not just force Managers out of their comfort zone. For some, they may plunge into the panic zone. But there are at least three things you can do to support your Managers and ensure that their virgin flight into CRM is somewhat more comfortable.

Three ways to help your Sales Managers quickly fly solo

Provide them with a landing place

I’m genuinely surprised by the number of organisations who neglect to communicate to their executive teams why a new CRM system is being implemented. I think it’s assumed the answer is obvious and that they must already know why. Maybe some do. But we all have our own ideas. So some Sales Managers may emphasise one reason, when in truth another is actually higher priority for the organisation.

It’s imperative that CEOs take responsibility for communicating to Sales Management the vision for CRM. This includes the steps required for making it a core part of the organisation’s culture.

There may be several good reasons, but it’s important to be clear about what the primary reason is. This makes it easier to ensure that one clear message is cascaded to everyone in the organisation.

Educating your Sales Managers in your company vision and defining clear messages that they understand and commit to is crucial to ensuring strong user adoption of your chosen CRM.

Two-Minute Test: CRM communication

Can you tick the following boxes?

  • Our vision for CRM is clearly articulated in writing and accessible to all
  • This vision for CRM has been communicated to our Sales Managers
  • We’ve verified our Sales Managers’ commitment to the vision and their ability to communicate it to their teams

Don’t let them fly alone

Getting sales teams to change their behaviour is an unenviable task. We praise them for being self-reliant. Then we turn the tables and ask them to keep us informed of all their activity in the CRM. So Sales Managers have a difficult path to tread. And the best way we can help Sales Managers is to provide them with a buddy. Someone who can guide them not just in how to use the system, but also in how to derive benefit as a manager from the system.

Recently I was asked to train two small teams in France and Germany how to use Salesforce. It had already been planned that Managers would be trained at the same time as their teams. During initial training, I could sense some resistance from the Managers. They had plenty of reservations that they voiced during training. It became evident that the majority of the Managers were fearful. In the past they felt fully in control. In this new world of Salesforce, they felt out of control. The learning curve was pretty high – new business processes, new dashboards and new devices (iPads). They hadn’t been prepared for that journey.

My suggestion would be to give your Sales Managers training in advance of their teams. And also to schedule individual training sessions with each of them on your CRM. Each Sales Manager has unique skills and experience. You need to provide training that is tailored to their individual needs. I’m now delivering weekly one-to-one virtual training in the mother tongue of the Sales Managers mentioned above. They each have different questions each week, but they are learning what they need as they need it. I truly believe that this additional investment in time and resource has created a great amount of goodwill. They are much more engaged and I can see their confidence growing each week. I believe they now feel back in control, driving the performance of their teams. Rather than shaking a stick at them, you need to work on building the confidence and capability of your Sales Managers. A little bit of encouragement never hurt anyone, I assure you.

Two-Minute Test: CRM confidence

Can you tick the following boxes?

  • Our Sales Managers have a named contact they can call to ask questions about the CRM
  • Our Sales Managers have short, regular, individual training sessions
  • Our Sales Managers have a clear mechanism for requesting new features

Track their progress

Once you see your Sales Managers’ confidence growing, you are bound to see their teams’ performance improve too.

Don’t forget to provide timely feedback. Ask them questions and show concern for their progress. Ask them what else they need. Above all, don’t rush them. Some Managers may pick things up faster than others. That doesn’t mean they won’t ever pick it up.

If some Sales Managers need extra tuition, give it. Demonstrate your commitment to supporting them until they are can free-fall without fear.

Two-Minute Test: CRM commitment

Can you tick the following boxes?

  • We provide our Sales Managers with clear feedback and encouragement on their progress
  • Our Sales Managers are asking more questions related to managing their team, rather than just about how to use the CRM
  • Our Sales Managers are leading all sales team activity interactions through the CRM

Sales Managers are like superheroes, clearing the path for their team to succeed. Not everyone has the guts to do that. High expectations are set with that kind of responsibility. And yet, Sales Managers are only human. They don’t perform well when they are pushed, ignored or left to slowly fail.

Please ensure your Sales Managers are given as much chance to succeed as their team members are. Don’t let your company be the one that neglects its Sales Managers and sees its significant investment in CRM nosedive. Sales Managers who soar on CRM will ensure the continued growth and success of your business.

Vanessa Hunt

Vanessa Hunt

Vanessa is Director at Vanessa Hunt Consulting. Her forte is helping businesses and non-profit organisations improve their sales and marketing. Educated at Exeter University and graduating in French and German, Vanessa has been a training consultant to many of the world's leading tech businesses, focusing more recently on helping organisations realise the value of their CRM platforms.