Episode #6: "Habits of Highly Effective Sales Managers," with Walter Rogers

Hosts: Tim Clarke & Tiffani Bova

Effective sales leadership requires building trust and communicating a vision that people will buy. But the pressure placed on sales managers often pushes their focus toward managing things first, and people second. Join the conversation with Walter Rogers, CEO and Co-Founder of Cloud Coaching International, as he shares the habits of highly effective sales managers.

Read the article that inspired the conversation: “Habits of Highly Effective Sales Managers

Tim Clarke: Thank you for joining the Quotable Podcast. Today we're joined by a very special guest. Walter Rogers, CEO and Co-Founder of Cloud Coaching International. We're talking today about the things highly effective managers do.  Welcome, Walter.

Walter Rogers: Thanks so much. Pleasure to be here.

Tim Clarke: I'm Tim Clarke, product manager at Salesforce, and I'm joined today by our guest host, Tiffany Bova. Tiffani is the Global Customer Growth and Innovation Evangelist with Salesforce. Welcome, Tiffani.

Tiffany Bova: Thanks for having me.

Tim: Walter, just to get us kicked off, maybe you could tell us a little bit more about your background and also what Cloud Coaching international do.

Walter: Cloud Coaching International is a sales performance transformation firm that I co-founded with Tony Robins. We've got about 300 hundred people worldwide, serving some of the largest brains and companies int he world. Our specialty is really bridging the gap between processed technology people and most importantly, often overlooked psychology, because it's psychology that typically impedes progress and stops true breakthroughs from occurring.

Tim: Obviously, one of the articles that you've written for Quotable is called "The 16 Do's Highly Effective Sales Managers." There's a great number of tips in there for sales managers. We don't have time to dig into all of them today. But as we go through the next 25 minutes, we'd love just to pick out a cover of the key areas.

You particularly one to start off with, one of the phrases you put in there is that there is a time to manage and a time to lead. I'm sure enough of our listeners that targets for their teams, support them in their deals, and they feel that they're leading, but I'd love to explore this in a little bit more detail. What do you feel that they are missing?

Walter: Tim, thanks for the question. There's really probably no bigger disconnect in sales manager's life that bridging the gap between managing and leading. It's become axiomatic. In fact, I talk about managing things versus leading people, but the pressure that's placed on sales managers oftentimes skews their focus towards managing things.

What do I mean by things? Things refer to anything that is measurable, or deliverable, or controllable -- systems, processes, quotas, plans, deadlines, data, metrics. These are all things. When a manager becomes aware that the things are not measuring up, there's often a tendency to treat the sales team members as things too, as in one more set of buttons to be pushed to control the process.

At that point, the sales manager starts issuing directives. "Do more of this, do less of that." The problem with this approach is that people are not things. Technically, they can't be managed. You just can't control them, or order them around, or redefine their process and goals, and expect them to perform better.


You need to really get into their hearts and minds in order to lead. You need to be able to build trust. Leadership involves communicating a vision that people can catch and buy into.

Most of all, leadership with a sales team involves taking the time to get to know your team members well enough so that they have a clear understanding of what motivates them, what they're good at, what they struggle with, and where they need help so you can come alongside them and help them succeed. I'll give you a few examples of a contrast between managing and leading.

Managers are authoritarian often time and transactional-focused, where leaders and charismatic and transformational-focused. Managers and work-focused, they appeal to the head. Leaders are people-focused and appeal to the heart. Managers see comfort and avoid risk. Leaders see change and manage risk.

Managers are often time short-term in their thinking. Leaders are long-term in their view. Managers tend to avoid conflict. Leaders tend to use conflict to create better solutions and get to a better outcome. Managers often time want to be right. Leader want what is right.

Managers take credit, leaders give credit. Managers assign blame, leaders take the blame. There are pretty large differences. Both sets of skills are required, but managers that don't also lead oftentimes, more often that not actually, don't really get the best out of their people.

Tiffany: Walter, would you say lead is also or the same as coaching and managing, thinking about that from a leadership like putting in the coaching hat as well? Would that be part of that?

Walter: Coaching is absolutely a part of leading. It's what allows an individual to provide real-time feedback to someone else so that they can themselves improve their performance in a way that's meaningful to them and communicates to them in a way that's meaningful to them, versus in a way that's meaningful to the manager.

Tiffany: When you think about that, promoting the high-performing sellers has been something many companies lean on. It doesn't mean they're great managers or great leaders or great coaches. They're just great sellers. What do you think about promoting those high-performing quota killers, the sellers that are really out there knocking down the numbers and moving them into management positions?

Walter: There's a lot of risk in doing that, but there's also a lot of reward if you pick the right people. There's a tendency for individuals to want to get promoted into management because of career advancement. It's just really more often than often not a perception because as we all know, sellers actually make more money than managers in most cases. Very good sellers do.

What we have found is that there is a pretty good technique to begin to test whether or not a seller can actually become a good manager. It's an intermediary step which is actually to put them in a coaching role, to actually assign a high-performing seller a group of other sellers that they themselves can coach and give feedback and input to.

By involving a seller in this coaching role, that seller gets the opportunity to test whether or not management is a role that they really want to step into.

It also give the organization an opportunity to view whether or not that seller has the characteristics and the capability of actually transitioning from selling into management, because coaching is such a huge component of being in management.

Tim: Clearly then when we look at sales management, one of the other key questions we get is around the size of those teams as well. There's been a growing trend that we've discussed to seeing the ratio of reps to managers has really changed. We'd love to get some of your thoughts here around the ratios and perhaps some of the things that are really impacting this as well.

Walter: We used to see the ratio was around eight reps per manager, which is a really manageable number. It's been bumping up. We're seeing ratios now as high as 20 reps for a manager, which is at that point, all you can do is manage. It's really difficult to do much of anything else.

That's being caused by a couple of things. Number one, there's an ongoing scrutiny on cost and controlling cost. Obviously, managers cost money. Organizations are cutting back on their investment in management, which is expands a span of control. It's a bit problematic.

The second part is there's assumption that technology can geometrically increase the number of people that our manager can manage. While technology can connect us in much more meaningful ways, managers can have larger and more distributed teams.

Bumping up to 20 for a manager is simple too high. Our recommendation is typically to try to maintain it at 12 or less. Those teams that are 12 or less tend to outperform those that are substantially larger.

Tiffany: When you think about that coaching and developing as the teams get larger, it can totally be tough for managers to keep a pulse on if people are performing poorly. What are the things they need?

You were just saying a minute ago treating them as things, it's the metrics and the performance that they start to focus on. When the team gets larger and obviously if sales people by nature are competitive or sales is definitely not for you, [laughs] but if you're going to be competitive, what have you found that will help as the teams get bigger for managers from a coaching and developing standpoint to make sure that they're focused on the right behaviors?

Also, foster competitiveness without it getting out of hand because if it's not managed enough, the competition starts to work against you.

Walter: You can just do the math. A manager should have one-on-ones with his sellers once a week. If each one-on-one, let's just say it's an hour, and you've got 12 reps involved on that team, well that's 12 hours in a week in one-on-ones.

Managers got to prep for that one-on-one. It's probably got a little bit of work to do after that one-on-one. Let's just call it 30 minutes on either side. Now you're up to, what is that, 12 plus half, 18 hours of a week that's just devoted to coaching.

As you increase the team size, you get to a point where you simply can no longer manage. You can no longer coach because you just ran out of time in the week. Eighteen hours a week is already consumed. You've got your regular job to do, all your other activities, and so you just don't do a good job at it. Our recommendation again is to try to keep that span of control low.

In terms of how to manage the activity, it's important to have a regular cadence of these one-on-ones, as well as team activities. The one-on-ones obviously should be pre-scheduled, sent in advance. They should preferably not move. As soon as they start to move around is when they don't happen.

The team activity that we have found works extremely well to maintain a competitive but also a collaborative spirit is one that we've identified as the learning huddle. It's really an activity that the team manages, versus the manager itself.

The purpose of it is for the group to gather around a specific topic, account, opportunity, what have you. It is actually led by one of the sellers. The sellers essentially provides an overview of the topic for about 20 minutes.

The remaining 20 minutes is focused on brainstorming around how that topic can come to life inside of each individual seller's world. Then the final 20 minutes is around action planning and commitments.

Doing that roughly once every other week or once a month does a couple of things. One is it creates a spirit of collaboration among the entire team. Secondly, it also provides insight into best practices of what's working and what is not working.

In terms of the competition there's a number of tools obviously that managers can use to publicly display performance and characteristics of each of the sellers, whether that's number of opportunities in the pipeline, the value, the age, all of that.

We actively promote communicating that in a very deliberate fashion -- in a visible and deliberate fashion -- as well as institutionalizing short-burst contests that typically span a month or a quarter, where sellers have the ability to earn some extra either money or recognition or what have you. It also creates also spirit of competition among the team.

Tim: When we're talking about sales teams, obviously there are different types of sales teams. Some that are focused on very specific sales segments, some focused on inside sales, field sales. From your research and your findings, do you feel that you need different kinds of manager to manage these different kinds of sales teams?

Walter: You definitely need different kinds of managers to manage different levels of experience. When you have a junior team, which is more than likely going to be an inside team, the manager needs to be a little bit more directive in their approach, because these are folks that perhaps haven't earned a lot of the battle scars that more senior people have had. They just need more direction.

In terms of needing more experienced teams, this is where the manager needs to be more of a leader and provide individuals the opportunity to succeed on their own -- give them guidance but not necessarily direct them. The worst thing that you can do is try to strongly direct a seller that's been in business for 20 years. It just doesn't particularly work.

We see the differences in that way. We don't necessarily see the difference in terms of product type or service type in management styles.

Tiffany: Walter, you talk about hiring the best talent you can find. How do you approach finding the right people who fit in an organization? New blood, new skills, out-of-industry. What are the things when looking for the best talent would you say is the right approach?

Walter: Yeah, this is probably one of the single most important things that any organization can do, is to have a very specific hiring process to make sure that they're onboarding the very best talent that also fits the culture of the organization. We see that this process is oftentimes shortcutted or there is no process at all.

We've identified that there's really five fundamental steps in a really good process to get the best talent on your team. Number one is you've got to develop very specific criteria for the role that you're trying to fill. The skills, the experience, the selling environment they're going to operate in, the sales objectives, key performance metrics for the position, cultural characteristics -- all of that. It's got to be very defined.

Because until you know exactly what kind of person you want to hire and why, how could you possibly know if you're going to get the right person?

Number two. Never, ever wait for them to come to you. It is so important to be constantly on the lookout for people that you could add to your team -- always, at all times. Even if your team is fully staffed. Because you never know when somebody leaves because they've been hired away, when somebody leaves because they've just decided to make a career change.

You don't want to be in a position where you're scrambling to backfill a role. Continually surrounding yourself with people that you would love to have on your own team is critical.

How do you do that? You do that by talking to your team and knowing who it is that they now. Great people surround themselves with other great people. Going to industry events. Going to business meetings. Asking your own customers for recommendations around who they would hire if you wanted to get somebody on your team.

It's a constant process and you've got to always be on top of it.

Number three. Know the profile of a top performer. A lot of managers hire sales-makers because they talk the part. But just because someone can sell themselves during an interview, it's not a guarantee they can sell anything else.

You've got to develop a process to actually test them. Some of the characteristics that you want to look for, depending on your company, are curiosity, professionalism, commitment, charisma, dependability, desire, attitude, creativity, flexibility, financial acumen, and technology savvy.

Those are all characteristics, but how can you test it? One of the greatest processes that I've seen, and by no means is this a plug for Salesforce, but I've done a lot of research in this area, is the hiring process that some of the folks at Salesforce use is just fantastic, and here's what they do.

They present a business case to a candidate and they say, "Here's a problem. It's a fictitious problem. Here's a problem that a customer has." They give access to this candidate to information about the company. They give access to this candidate to people that they can interview that are fake customers, so to speak. Then they have the candidate come in and give a presentation to a panel.

Guess what? This is as good as this rep is ever going to be, because this is the honeymoon period. If this candidate comes in and doesn't have a structured agenda, hasn't done their homework, hasn't created a set of slides that's consistent and concise -- it doesn't have to be exact, because they don't work there yet.

They don't have to know everything, but you can immediately see how this candidate is going to perform in the real life, because if you do a sloppy job during an interview, what kind of job are they going to do with your customer? It's going to be worse. It's certainly not going to be any better.

Next, very wary of resumes. Extremely wary of resumes. It's easy to manipulate a resume. I'll give you a real-life story. I will not share the person's name. But let's just say this guy's name is Dave Sprinkle.

This individual has made a career of going company to company with a fake resume and fake tax returns showing fake income for the previous three years in excess of half a million dollars, and has a specific process by which he remains engaged inside of a company for 9 to 12 months, collecting a paycheck without doing any work.

This is all because of his resume, his ability to sell himself during the interview, fake tax returns, and then his ability to fake it throughout the sales process because of poor management of that individual. Be very wary of resumes.

Finally, always hire somebody who is better than you if you can find that person. A manager should never be threatened by somebody's skills being better than his or hers, because that's what's going to make the team better overall.

Tim: Walter, coaching and developing individuals can be challenging, especially when they're really highly competitive. Have you seen any particular approaches that you have found has worked really well?

Walter: First of all, got to remember that there are different behavioral styles. You have to communicate with an individual depending on the behavioral style that they have. There's lots of instruments out there. We like one that we use, which we categorize people in doer, talker, thinker, or guardian.

I'll give you an example. A doer likes very quick and action-oriented information, and not a lot of detail. A thinker, on the other hand, loves detail and wants to be able to reflect and think about ideas that surface. If you're a doer, and you're coaching a thinker, and you're communicating with that thinker as if they were a doer, you will be highly unsuccessful in that communication.

Always keep in mind the behavioral characteristics of the individual that you're coaching and mirror those characteristics, rather than mirroring your own characteristics.

Second, there's really three components to creating a breakthrough. There's strategy, story, and state. What's a strategy is...that's the easiest component of all. You can have the greatest strategy in the world, but if you don't act upon it, it's not going to succeed.

The second piece is the story, which is the story that's in people's head. If the story in my head is, "I'm not going to be able to sell because the market is too hard, my price is too high, competition is too strong." Even if none of those things are true, that's exactly what's going to happen. You're not going to be successful as a seller or as a team.

You got, as a manager, be able to control that story that's in your own head first of all. Then in your sales people's story, heads. Finally, the state that people are in. This is probably the easiest component to change and shift and perhaps the most powerful. State refers to the emotional feelings that you have in order to accomplish an outcome.

Typically, the fastest way to get people in the state is have some motion, music, activity. When you have these meetings with a manager and the team, you need to keep in mind is you have the strategy, what's the story, and then how do I get people on state.

Tiffany: Now I feel a little bipolar because I think I'm a little doer-thinker.


Tiffany: I'm not sure how to categorize myself. I'm more doing but when you think about a doer and a thinker, as well as just coaching, and leading, and of those things, one thing sales reps and sales managers both have to deal with is this whole concept of protecting their time.

It's one of your concepts and one of the things you really put forward. Why did you choose to call that out as protecting your time, protecting their time as being so important. Then what do you think the best way to do it is?

All the things we've talked about -- different personalities, different management styles, different level of expectations and capabilities. Protecting time is a big statement, but at point of execution, maybe more difficult. What are your thoughts there?

Walter: I actually learned about that one by observing a mentor of mine. He took over a large sales organization probably, I don't know, 10 years ago now. The first thing that he observed was that there were incredible numbers of emails flowing into his email's inbox, seller's inboxes. There were marketing activities going on. There was announcements from HR. All sorts of noise that were surrounding the team.

I don't know if you know this but on average, each of us consume somewhere around 34 gig of information every single day. To put that in context, that's 100,000 words. To put that in context, that's one fourth of whole one piece, everyday. Inundating all of us through all sorts of communication, media channel, so on and so forth.

As you can imagine that's very distracting. What do you focus on at any point in time? What he did is he actually institutionalized the process whereby no communication could be sent to his team until it went through a communications filter.

There was a person who is responsible for funneling all corporate initiatives through this person. Then that person would select which of those initiatives would actually land on sellers' calendars, on sellers' inboxes and so on.

By following this process, he was able to focus his organization on what matters the most, and was able to continue to grow the performance of that team. I forget the exact numbers, but I think it was 20 or 30 percent growth. It's a simple technique that can be used. I find it to be very, very effective.

Tim: Walter, we're really up on time here, so we'd love just to get some closing thoughts from yourself that we could leave with some of these sales leaders that are listening in.

Walter: Tim, it was really a pleasure to join you. I just want to leave our listeners with one thing, which is you've got to develop a culture of learning in any sales organization -- learning about your customers, learning about new skills, learning about yourself, learning about your team. As soon you stop learning is when you stop growing. Learning is really the product of three things -- explanation, imitation, and repetition.

That principle is what made John Wooden probably one of the single most successful basketball coach in all time. He won 10 national championships at UCLA including four back-to-back undefeated seasons because he believed and made a part of his culture that simple principle.

Out of the 151 home games that the Bruins played under his leadership, they won 149. It is difficult to argue against this record of success. It was because of explanation, imitation, and repetition.

What we oftentimes see is that very successful sales teams stop focusing on learning. They assume that they're great, and so they stop developing the skills that made them great. What makes people great is the continuous development of skills.

Tim: Thank you very much, Walter, for sharing of your insights today. Obviously, check out Walter's article on Quotable, "The Habits of Highly Effective Sales Managers." Thanks to Tiffani for being our guest co-host. Thank you very much again, Walter.

Walter: Thank you.

Learn from the best. Sell like the best.