“The Principle of Priority states (a) you must know the difference between what is urgent and what is important, and (b) you must do what’s important first.”
― Steven Pressfield
Investments in sales productivity are often a significant budget item, and sales leaders need to tailor these investments to achieve their business goals. As the results of our CSO Insights 2016 Sales Enablement Optimization Study show, most investments in sales productivity are focused on salespeople, and investing in frontline sales managers is still not a top priority. In the main investment categories of $500-$2,500 per person per year, 53.6% of all training investments are targeted to salespeople; and 41.4% for sales managers. Furthermore, 18.6% of all respondents reported not investing in their sales managers at all, compared to only 6% who reported not investing in their salespeople.
At CSO Insights, we encourage our clients to look at it this way: If an investment in one person can impact the performance of six, eight, or ten salespeople, why would you not prioritize this investment?
Frontline sales managers: key role but poorly developed
Frontline sales managers have a greater impact on sales execution, productivity, and transformation than any other role. What makes this role so demanding is the need to continually balance three often-competing areas – customer, business, and people – in constantly changing and complex selling and buying environments.
Furthermore, frontline sales managers are almost always sandwiched between the competing goals and motivations of their team and corporate executives as well as between those of customers and the internal organization. Their performance is judged on their ability to achieve multiple, often-competing goals at the same time.
Having been the best sales professional in the organization does not automatically qualify an individual to be a top-performing frontline sales manager. The root cause of poor performance is the failure to develop frontline sales managers in their new role. Poorly developed frontline sales managers drive top performers out of the organization and promote mediocre performance from those who remain. This is something sales leaders with ambitious growth and performance goals simply cannot afford.
Investing in frontline sales managers drives results if done the right way!
The data from our 2016 Sales Enablement Optimization Study shows that organizations that make little to no investment in sales manager development fail to achieve even average results. Conversely, those study participants who invested more than $2,500 per sales manager per year experienced far better results. For example, by investing in sales managers, the win rate for forecasted deals could be improved by 9% up to 50.5%.
However, modest investments were not enough. Those respondents who reported making only minor investments in sales manager development saw a win rate of only 43.7%, which was 5.5% below the reported average of 46.2%.
Investments in frontline sales manager development correlated to an even bigger impact in the area of revenue plan attainment, which could be improved by 18.4% up to 106.7%, compared to the average revenue plan attainment of 90.1%.
Coaching is the key to leveraging salespeople’s full potential, but it has to be formalized to be effective!
Coaching does matter. The impact on sales performance metrics, such as quota attainment or win rates, is remarkable. But the impact depends on the coaching approach. And the way organizations approach coaching their salespeople remains an interesting data point. Only 27% of all study participants reported having a formal or dynamic coaching approach. “Formal” means that there is a coaching process defined and that sales managers are trained this way and required to coach accordingly. Dynamic means that in addition to the formal approach, the coaching framework is also connected to the sales force enablement framework.
Almost half of the study participants (47.5%) reported leaving coaching up to their sales managers. But this laissez-faire approach creates no performance impact whatsoever. When coaching is left up to managers, quota attainment was only 53.4%, as compared to the study’s average quota attainment of 55.8%. An informal coaching approach improved quota only slightly better than average. In our study, a formal coaching approach resulted in significantly better than average performance, and a dynamic approach improved quota attainment by an astounding 10.2% up to 61.5%.
These findings show that investing in less than a formal coaching approach is a waste of money if sales leaders want to get better than average.
Investing in frontline sales managers leverages the investments made in a sales force enablement foundation
The CSO Insights 2016 Sales Enablement Optimization Study highlighted another interesting correlation that could be used to leverage synergies between sales performance initiatives. Organizations with an enablement function invest more in their sales managers than those without an enablement function.
Sales force enablement’s foundation provides a great starting point for sales manager development. Based on an existing sales force enablement framework, a coaching framework should be developed, sitting between the customer’s journey and the internal processes. To make frontline sales manager enablement successful, especially coaching enablement, it helps to design the coaching framework as a mirror image of the enablement framework. This connects coaching to the enablement services and promotes adoption and reinforcement.
Coaching is a vital skill that has to be learned from scratch, and a dedicated, formal sales manager development program is a must-have for any ambitious sales organization. This sales manager development program must cover all three areas of the frontline sales manager triangle: customers, business, and people. And, while coaching is only one aspect of the people side of the triangle, it is the most impactful and differentiating one.
Related blog posts:
Frontline Sales Managers: Key Role, but Poorly Developed and Enabled
Why Effective Coaching Requires A Coaching Framework
Coaching Isn’t Just Coaching: Which Coaching Areas Have To Be Considered
How World-Class Frontline Sales Managers Coach Differently To Drive Performance
This article was written for Top Sales Magazine, September issue.
When designing a kitchen, you need to consider your available space as well as your cooking style and the types of meals you most often cook. This allows you to create your culinary masterpieces most effectively by optimizing the processes you follow.
In cooking, just as in sales, technology matters, too. Choosing appliances, such as an oven or refrigerator, with features that support your approach to meal preparation, makes a big difference.
“A fool with a tool is still a fool”
Unfortunately, sales leaders often look at tools differently than do master chefs. They sign contracts for expensive sales technology that promises to deliver results before defining what those results look like in their business context and how the organization needs to prepare. These investments almost never pay off. But, just like a poorly designed kitchen, it isn’t the technology that failed. It is the sales organization that failed to take the time to think through how the technology needs to support their strategy. According to the data from our 2016 Sales Best Practices Study, these systems often fail to deliver. For example, only 28% of All Respondents reported a significant increase in sales productivity due to the use of sales tools as compared to 78% of World-Class Sales Performers.
The functional layer sits between the customer’s journey and the salesperson’s journey.
Before sales enablement can drive performance from enablement technology, the organization must have a deep understanding of the customer’s journey and align internal processes (marketing, sales, and service) to it. As showed in our 2015 Sales Enablement Optimization Study, the better this alignment, the more successful organizations have been across several key performance metrics such as quota attainment (+13 %) or revenue plan attainment (>10%).
There are as many customer’s journeys as buying situations. The key to success is to identify the relevant gates on an aggregated level. When world-class sales performers map their internal processes to the customer’s journey, they ensure that every gate on the customers’ side has an equivalent gate in the internal process chain.
Sales force enablement’s core responsibility is to equip the sales force with the required skills and competencies, the right knowledge, and the right strategies to create more and better business. Within the functional layer, there are three sublayers, each with unique requirements for enablement services:
- Skills and Competencies or “How to Sell”: This bottom layer is independent of the organization’s products and services portfolio and includes all of the general skills that impact sales success, such as communication, listening and questioning, negotiation, presentation, and social skills. These skills are relevant throughout the entire customer’s journey. Training services are the primary enablement service in this layer.
- Expertise: Capability and Situational Knowledge or “What to Sell and How to Sell”: The capability knowledge focuses on what salespeople need to know about the organization’s portfolio of products and services. These knowledge prerequisites should center on what these products and services mean to a customer rather than what they are or what they do. This understanding translates “what to sell” into “how to sell.” Enablement services include various internal enablement tools (playbooks, value messaging guidelines, briefings, etc.) as well as client-facing content assets (success stories, references, presentations, etc.).Situational knowledge is based on the organization’s methodologies and processes. Acquiring situational knowledge salespeople have to connect the dots between their research and the information they get from conversations with buyers in the particular context of a buying situation to draw the right conclusion for the right moment.
- Sales Insights or “How to Coach”: The sales insights layer covers all information regarding the specific customer situation and the analytics related to the current interactions with the prospect or customer. Once sales managers have mastered the coaching skills, the better the data, the better the impact they can make through coaching.
The technology layer is derived from the functional layer by translating the functional areas into different technology categories and creating a set of systems capability requirements.
- Learning Management Systems: This layer includes training and learning management systems for all available learning formats. Capabilities should include content creation for the training services to be provided as well as functionality for assigning, conducting, and tracking sessions and the issuing of certifications.
- Sales and Marketing Technology Solutions: The next layer includes a variety of technology solutions. The focus here is on enablement technology, but marketing automation and SFA/CRM systems are essential as well, and ideally, all three systems are integrated.
- Sales enablement content management solutions (SECM) handle a wide array of content types from internal enablement content up to client-facing content. The best content management systems provide a broad range of functionalities including management, distribution, and access, as well as analytics for content usage and effectiveness in sales interactions. SECM solutions handle a wide array of content types from internal enablement content up to client-facing content. These solutions should also provide a broad range of functionalities including management, distribution, and access, as well as analytics for content usage and effectiveness in sales interactions. However, to drive world-class performance, the system must go beyond and adhere to the “Be Inspired” principle. This mechanism provides content suggestions to the salesperson—when they need it; where they need it—based on the particular selling scenario and customer’s journey stage.
- Sales Analytics Systems: There are three types of analytics in this layer: descriptive, predictive, and prescriptive. In dynamic, ever-changing B2B sales environments, sales analytics become more and more important. They improve strategic decision-making among sales leadership. And they also help salespeople gain as much relevant information as possible about targeted prospects and existing customers so they may engage them in the most meaningful, relevant, and valuable way.
Sales enablement technology is a significant investment. To make the most of it and drive the performance improvements they are looking for; sales enablement leaders must collaborate with their colleagues in sales operations. Before purchasing any system, they must define the functional layers to derive their technology requirements.
Questions for you:
- How do you make decisions on sales technology in your organization?
- How do you connect the dots to create a bigger sales technology vision?
Related blog post:
This article was initially published @ Top Sales Magazine, August 2016
What is world-class? In sports, it is easy to define. World champions and Olympic medalists are world-class. But what is world-class in sales? Revenue performance? Maybe, but how do you get there? What are the behaviors that drive world-class sales performance?
At CSO Insights, we are passionate about all things sales performance. We research sales performance from different perspectives, including behavioral and metric perspectives. We investigate, for instance, the roles of sales process and sales management, the growing impact of strategic sales force enablement, and the roles of technology and compensation.
Our CSO Insights 2016 Sales Best Practices Study has just been released. “Drawing Back the Bow” is this year’s cover story. It creates an umbrella theme for the 12 behaviors that have the greatest impact on sales performance.
For the thirteenth year, this study identifies those behaviors that have the biggest impact on sales performance, measured by well known key performance indicators such as quota attainment, qualified opportunities, new account acquisition, YOY existing customer growth or average account billing. Top performers in these areas do a few things differently. They focus on what matters. They focus on the top behaviors that have the greatest impact on sales performance, collectively and consistently. And that makes a huge difference.
The world-class segment is only 7.7% of the overall study population of more than 1,700 respondents, 1,200 of whom work in complex sales. But they achieved 21% better sales performance.
A sales performance difference this large cannot be ignored by any sales leader. Now, what are these top behaviors that drive sales performance, and what does it take to become excellent at those behaviors, to become a world-class performer?
From the top 12 behaviors we have three behaviors that were also top behaviors last year:
Sales and marketing are aligned in what our customers want and need (World-Class 94%, All Respondents 39%)
The key differentiator to successful sales and marketing alignment is this: being aligned to “what our customers want and need.” And that means beginning with the customer’s journey as the main design point when addressing this challenge. Here are four steps to improve sales and marketing alignment in a “customer-core” way:
- Shared vision of success: A shared vision describes how the organization creates value for the customers and how success will be measured. Following the customer’s journey makes it easier to create this vision, and revenue contribution has to be one of the measures of success for both sales and marketing.
- Shared strategy to create value in every interaction: A shared strategy for creating and delivering customer value is necessary―from first contact and all the way through the buying decision and the customers using the products, services, and solutions successfully.
- Shared marketing, sales, and service processes: Based on this shared vision and strategy, sales and marketing have to agree on a shared sales and marketing process, ideally powered by integrated engagement and selling methodologies. It is essential that these efforts continue after the buying decision has been made.
- Shared technology: Integrated processes require integrated technology from the website to marketing automation to sales enablement to the CRM system. Integration is mandatory to leverage the potential of successful sales and marketing alignment.
Our organization is highly effective in allocating the right resources to pursue large deals (World-class 94%, all respondents 40%)
Allocating the right resources to the right opportunities is a challenge for most organizations because resources are like budgets—there is never enough to go around. In many organizations, it’s still the loudest voice that gets the biggest share. But the right resources should only be placed on the most valuable deals to increase the probability of winning those deals. For example, sales managers evaluating deals should consider the strategic value for the customer and the value for the sales organization. It is exactly this deal evaluation process that is often missing in many sales management approaches. When decisions about investments and resource allocation have to be made, the process of making those decisions should be tied to the sales process and the decision gates the customer must go through.
When coaching sales professionals on leads and opportunities, sales managers should always investigate where the customer is along their customer’s journey. As soon as a deal comes close to the customer’s “change the status quo” decision, the sales manager and salesperson should also evaluate this deal against others. Ideally, this step takes place in a funnel coaching session, as it’s about evaluating this deal in the context of other opportunities being worked by the salesperson or the sales team.
We know why our top performers are successful (World-class 94%, all respondents 44%)
Look at the performance rankings of any sales team, and it becomes evident that not all salespeople are created equal. There are often key performers who regularly appear on the top of the chart. Just how valuable are these individuals?
Firms that excel at knowing who their top performers tend to focus on assessing three things. First, they determine the skills and competencies that sales professionals apply in their daily workflow. Doing so, they not only assess what top salespeople are doing, but also how they do it. And that’s a key finding for any sales force enablement approach, especially for onboarding and coaching. Second, they assess talent, the “behavioral DNA.” Third they assess the cultural fit because not every A-player is an A-player in every culture.
The key benefits of this approach are to understand what makes your top performers successful (we all know who they are!). Then, sales force enablement has to ensure that best practices can be shared and that the hiring process is consistently adjusted based on the latest assessment findings. Furthermore, enablement leaders have to ensure that their onboarding process is tailored accordingly.
Click here, download your copy and check out the other top behaviors!
This article was initially published @ Top Sales Magazine, July 2016
Why do you invest in technology? To drive efficiency? Or is your goal to increase sales effectiveness as well? Often, we simply want technology to help us do things faster by automating steps that we’ve been doing manually. But ultimately, investments in sales technology should also achieve better business results. So it is with investing in enablement technology. As a productivity boost, enablement technology is a prerequisite to achieving your sales performance goals. Ideally, enablement technology builds on a prepared foundation, which would be, in this case, for instance, a “cleaned-up content basement.”
How does investing in enablement technology help?
Looking at all respondents from our 2015 Sales Enablement Optimization Study, the most important goal was “improving salespeople’s access to content and tools” (35%), followed by “sharing best practices across the sales force” (32%), and “improving cross-selling and up-selling” (30%). The list continues with improvements ranked with less than 30%, such as “improving sales and marketing alignment” or “reduce search time for content and collateral” and “improving ramp-up time for new hires.” No surprises in these results so far. Most of these key improvements are focused on productivity only. But let’s first look at the differences in the regions.
Different focal points in North America and EMEA
In North America, the top improvement desired, regardless of respondent category, was: “improving salespeople’s access to content and tools (46%).” Then, the second most important improvement was “reducing the search time for content and collateral” (33%), which is for many people probably the most common immediate result they want to get out of enablement technology. Two improvements were tied for third place: “reducing ramp-up time for new hires” (29%) and “improving sales and marketing alignment“(29%).
In EMEA things are perceived a bit differently. The top improvement in EMEA was “Improving cross-selling and up-selling” with a pretty high ranking of 52%. In the category of all respondents, this improvement was ranked third with 30%. But looking at North America, this improvement was only ranked ninth with 17%. The second most relevant improvement in EMEA was “improving salespeople’s access to content and tools” (44%) which was overall the number one result and in NA the number two. “Improving ramp-up time for new hires” ranked third with 28% — almost the same as in NA.
Some of these improvements, such as improving ramp-up time, and cross-selling and up-selling, are linked to a prerequisite: the integration of sales enablement solutions with CRM systems. Integration drives adoption and is an enabler for faster searches and better content access because people no longer need to work with multiple systems.
Integration of enablement technology drives productivity and adoption and is an indicator of enablement maturity
“Be Inspired” is an enablement delivery mechanism that requires enablement technology to be integrated with CRM systems. This means salespeople don’t have to go to another system, log in, and search for what they need. Instead, technology suggests content (and related training services) based on the characteristics of salespeople’s opportunities and accounts. To make this mechanism work, a customer-core enablement framework and a properly defined and implemented content creation process are essential. The future vision of success is that salespeople have one collaborative platform they work with. The foundation is often the CRM system that integrates enablement and playbook systems, learning content, and predictive analytics to support them at every stage of their deals.
Now, what does reality look like? Overall, 46% reported having this kind of integration, 41% said they did not, and 13% planned to implement it within the next twelve months. That looks like a pretty balanced status quo with lots of room for improvement. Here, the differences in the regions are much bigger.
In NA, 54% reported having this kind of integration, whereas only 28% in EMEA said so. Consequently, many more respondents in EMEA plan an integration initiative within the next twelve months (24%), versus North America (12%).
Enablement is perceived differently in different regions, and organizations are at different maturity levels. EMEA has an opportunity to learn from those who have already done enablement integrations.
A critical dependency that cannot be fixed by technology: content quality
Salespeople perceive technology and the embedded content as one system, which is valuable for them or not. They don’t distinguish between technology and content quality.
The critical dependency that is often overlooked is the quality of the content. What does that mean? Sales content in a world of rising buyer expectations has to be aligned to, for example, the different phases of the customer’s journey, the relevant buyer roles, and the business challenges that are addressed with your products and solutions. This alignment of content with customer journey forces organizations to assess their entire content landscape to see the gaps, the redundancies and the areas that need adjustment. It’s not to create more work for you. It’s not a luxury; it’s a necessity to achieve performance goals. Organizations with high levels of customer journey alignment achieve up to 9.1 percentage points better revenue plan attainment, and up to 13% better quota attainment.
To provide highly effective content, a “customer-core” enablement content strategy is mandatory, and that requires a “customer-core” enablement framework. Only then are you able to tailor your content services accordingly. Highly effective customer-facing content that covers the entire customer’s journey is a must-have ingredient to remain relevant and successful in an ever-changing, buyer-driven world.
This article has been published first @ Top Sales Magazine June 2016 edition
Imagine salespeople have to learn a new skill, for instance, how to apply newly developed value messages in different customer interactions. In this case of behavioral change, a training session can only be the beginning of a longer journey. Lasting behavior change requires ongoing reinforcement.
This is where coaching comes into play. And frontline sales managers.
Coaching has to be formalized to be effective
At CSO Insights, we define coaching as a leadership skill to develop each salesperson’s full potential. To be effective with coaching, world-class performers build on coaching frameworks. Our 2015 Sales Management Optimization Study showed that a discretionary or informal coaching process did not have a significant impact on win rates, but a formal coaching process did: by nine percent. Ambitious sales leaders know immediately what a nine percent better win rate would mean in their organization. They also know that their frontline sales managers’ ability to coach is a critical element to sustainable sales performance. And yes, they also know that a formal approach to coaching is the differentiating element to become world-class.
Sales Coaching Framework Defined
The CSO Insights Sales Coaching Framework sits between the customer’s journey and the sales professionals’ journey (sales process). It requires that the customer’s journey has already been mapped to the organization’s sales process. For each gate on the customer’s side, there has to be an equivalent step on the internal side. This mapping is a key prerequisite to creating a coaching framework and the related coaching assets such as coaching guidelines, questionnaires for various buying situations and coaching training sessions for sales managers. Our coaching framework consists of four coaching layers, each corresponding to a different coaching area.
- Lead and Opportunity Coaching: The coach and sales professional examine a lead or opportunity to determine where it is along the customer’s journey and to identify activities that will keep the deal flowing through the funnel toward a successful conclusion. The earlier the coaching begins, the more valuable it is. In the awareness phase, sales managers can help the sales professionals get better at identifying and addressing opportunities, and they can coach them to develop and execute winning deal strategies. Plus, they can spot areas where the sales team needs to stop investing time and effort in deals that cannot be won or will require more resources than they are worth.
- Funnel or Pipeline Coaching focuses on the structure of a salesperson’s or the sales team’s funnel, identifying the most valuable deals that can be won and helping to manage risks and allocate resources accordingly. Funnel coaching also helps the salesperson understand how the shape of their funnel translates into quota attainment and determine how best to improve their funnel performance. During funnel coaching, the sales managers must assess the types of opportunities in the funnel, e.g., many small opportunities or fewer large volume deals, as well as the assumed close dates, stages, and risks of each opportunity. Most importantly, the coach must weigh the value of the opportunities against their probability of being won. Clearly, this coaching area builds on opportunity coaching and can only be successful if there is clarity at the opportunity level.
- Coaching on Skills and Behaviors: In today’s complex selling environments, customer behaviors are constantly changing. As a result, salespeople often have to make significant changes to their selling skills and behaviors. For example, the transactional, product-oriented approach no longer works in many selling scenarios, and sales professionals must adopt a value-based approach that focuses on the customers’ business outcomes. This is an area where sales managers should work closely with the enablement teams. Creating value for prospects and customers requires tailored value messages that are tied to the customer’s journey phase, buyer roles and their business challenges and goals. Enablement’s job is to provide these value messages and the related training, but sales managers must also coach to reinforce what has been taught to ensure adoption. This requires coaching on leads and opportunity and coaching on improving the sales professional’s messaging skills.
- Account Coaching is often overlooked, but it is equally important if an account strategy is in place. It’s mainly about coaching on identifying new business opportunities within the account (lead identification) and mapping the account strategy to the current achievements within an account (also from a customer’s perspective) and making adjustments or changes to strategy, focus area, relationship development, etc. The frequency of account coaching sessions depends on your and your customers’ specific rhythm of the business.
- Territory Coaching is even more overlooked, but equally important in the case of a territory strategy. It’s more than saying “work your territory.” Instead, territory coaching is all about focus: focus on the right targets and customers, and on the most relevant buyer roles. Also, in territory coaching, lead identification plays a key role. As soon as leads are qualified, they are coached by the overall lead and opportunity coaching process as mentioned above.
As soon as such a coaching framework is defined, the missing coaching assets for both content (coaching guidelines, coaching questions, coaching learning content, etc.,) and training (that make up a strategic frontline sales manager development program) have to be created.
In an ideal world, sales leaders understand the huge business impact of their frontline sales managers when it comes to execution, performance, and transformation.
And that’s why they invest not only in their sales managers’ coaching capabilities but also in a scalable platform for performance and productivity that includes a coaching framework as a critical component.
Related blog posts:
How World-Class Frontline Sales Managers Coach Differently To Drive Performance
Frontline Sales Managers: What Are Their Key Capabilities?
Frontline Sales Manager’s Mantra: Managing Activities and Coaching Behaviors