Why You Should Invest In Frontline Sales Managers First

7ali0ryyq6s-pumabg“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.

How to Design a Sales Coaching Framework

himdks_0cse-sylvain-guiheneucImagine 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.

Going Forward

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

Building A Case for Frontline Sales Manager Development

shutterstock_255409549If I were to play a note on an instrument, you wouldn’t immediately classify it as music. Even several notes, played at random, would still just be noise.

It’s only when notes are assembled into a specific arrangement that they can properly be called music. In the hands of a master composer, these assembled notes can tell a compelling story.

That’s the same with building a business case for frontline sales manager (FSM) development.

Foundation: Four main reasons to invest in frontline sales managers

  • FSMs are the linchpin to performance: They have the biggest leverage effect in any sales organization, based on their span of control. Additionally, they have to navigate multiple priorities at the same time, across three often competing dimensions — customers, business and people — in a constantly changing and complex environment, sandwiched between leadership and the sales team.
  • Coaching can increase win rates by 9%: Coaching is not a required capability for individual sales professionals, but it is the key leadership capability for FSMs to develop salespeople’s untapped potential. Our CSO Insights 2015 Sales Management Optimization Study shows that coaching, closely connected to the sales process and methodologies, can improve win rates for forecasted deals by 9%.
  • Shifting the FSM’s focus: As sales leaders shift their focus more towards what’s coming into the pipeline (see CSO Insights 2015 Sales Management Optimization Study), FSMs have to shift their focus as well to the early stages of the customer’s journey, to prospecting and creating new opportunities. Furthermore, FSMs also have to walk away from only measuring results to managing the right activities and coaching the related behaviors throughout the entire customer’s journey.
  • Forecast accuracy is key to sales effectiveness: Organizations with higher forecast accuracy have better revenue plan attainment (2014 MHI Research Institute Sales Performance and Productivity Study). The better the forecast, the more focused an organization is on the deals they can win, and the deals they want to win (e.g., resources, investments).

Additional components: key influencers, data in context and current FSM maturity

Based on the four main reasons to invest in FSMs, three additional ingredients are required. A group of key influencers and early supporters must be created. Ideally, this group will consist of sales enablement/training, sales operations, and HR professionals as well as a few high-performing and interested FSMs. The reasons for FSM development as detailed above must be connected to the organization’s context by mapping the business strategy to the current sales execution plan. This will help identify strengths, gaps, and weaknesses. Additionally, the organization’s current FSM maturity level should be assessed to establish a starting point for development and to identify priorities. The CSO Insights FSM Maturity Model can provide guidance.

Composing the Business Case

Just as a piece of music has structure, so does the business case for prioritizing FSM development. The “right” structure depends heavily on the audience and setting, in this case, the sales leaders’ personalities and preferences and the organizational context in which the case is being made. However the case is structured, it needs to answer these questions:

  • Why should we reprioritize investments? The answer to this question connects the dots between sales strategy, current sales challenges, ongoing strategic initiatives and the FSM assessment results and conclusions. Bringing data in the organization’s specific context, that’s the key challenge here.
  • In what are we investing? The business case must provide at least high-level details of where sales leaders are being asked to invest and what will be delivered. For many organizations, this is a rough outline of an FSM development program (modules, sequences, content, etc.) that is based on the initial assessment and connected to the organization’s challenges.
  • How much do we need to invest? Sales leadership will need to know how much they are being asked to invest in FSM development. Most organizations find it helpful to break this down into an average per FSM per year. Details on annual investments can be found in the CSO Insights 2015 Sales Management Optimization Study. These investments should also be mapped to the expected results.
  • How will we develop and deliver the program? What combination of e-learning, m-learning (mobile learning) and classroom training will the program offer, and how much time will FSMs need to spend in training per year? Additionally, how will these programs be developed and delivered – with internal resources, with partners, or completely outsourced?
  • How will we measure success? Metrics has to be defined for both the expected behavioral changes and the business results. For example, if the initial assessment determined that coaching needed to be formalized and the related coaching capabilities developed, then coaching must be measured, e.g., coaching time, frequency, purpose and quality. Then, the expected business impact, such as increasing win rates, can be measured and put into context.
  • How will we get there? Not only is a common vision of success required; sales leadership also needs to be shown how they will reach their destination. The roadmap should outline the different developmental phases for each of the different FSM target groups, including pilots and roll-outs across additional regions and business units.

Logically, it makes sense to invest in FSMs, as they are the linchpins to sales performance. However, sales leadership’s natural bias toward investing in individual sales professionals is a hurdle that must be overcome. This requires a compelling business case composed of research and a thorough, current state analysis that shows sales leaders how reprioritizing investments can help them reach their business goals.

 

Related blog posts:

Frontline Sales Manager Challenges – Same, Same, But Different!

What Triangles Have To Do With Frontline Sales Managers

What Driving Licenses have to do with FSM Development

Frontline Sales Manager’s Mantra: Managing Activities and Coaching Behaviors

How the Frontline Sales Manager’s Mantra Drives Sales Effectiveness and Productivity

Frontline Sales Managers: What Are Their Key Capabilities?

Coach, Leader And Business Manager: Frontline Sales Managers Need Enablement | See You In London, June 18!

shutterstock_217269409Frontline sales managers (FSMs) are the most important role in any sales organization when it comes to sales execution and driving sales force transformation. Just think about their span of control in your organization. This role can decide what sales professionals sell, where they sell, to whom they sell, and how they sell. This is why frontline sales managers have such a huge leverage effect, why it makes good sense to invest in developing their effectiveness and their productivity.

However, our research shows that developing frontline sales mangers is still not a high-priority investment in sales productivity. Only 55% of sales productivity investments (data from our 2014 MHI Sales Performance and Productivity Study) are dedicated to developing frontline sales managers. At the top of the list (82%) are still investments in the skills, competencies and knowledge bases of individual contributors.

This disconnect has to be solved with holistic frameworks that address the FSMs’ challenging role, where the three key areas of customers, people and business compete for their attention. Our FSM Triangle is one such framework that has proved to be effective in frontline sales manager development. Our FSM Mantra is another valuable framework; it helps shift the frontline sales manager’s focus to what really matters and what they can control directly in their role. And that’s all about managing the right set of activities and coaching the related behaviors. FSMs often feel like they are on a motorway without speed limits: How should they divide their attention between looking ahead and looking behind? So, we will talk about “rear view mirrors and windscreens” – when and where to focus.

Developing frontline sales managers can be done in different phases. But the most important capability that has to be developed right away is coaching. Coaching is a capability that’s not required in a sales role, but it’s the must-have capability that makes all the difference. Not many people are born coaches, but many have become great coaches. To do that, there is conceptual homework to be done; ideally by enablement and training teams to define a coaching framework and coaching guidelines. And the homework has to be implemented successfully.

And then, it’s about enablement technology that can advance coaching capabilities to the next level. Technology can provide leading indicators for FSMs, to help them to understand what activities work or don’t work. Furthermore – and this is state-of-the-art technology – FSMs can see what interactions salespeople have with clients and prospects and how these prospects and clients interact with their salespeople. It’s another very valuable way to adjust activities immediately and focus coaching on the behaviors that have to be improved to ensure sustainable and scalable sales results.

Enabling frontline sales managers is one of the four pillars that lead to the next level of sales enablement, sales force enablement.

Have a look at this webinar or the related slide deck, where I discuss these pillars in a joint presentation with Showpad.

MHI Global Sales Leadership Forum

 

 

 

Join us in London for our MHI Global Sales Leadership Forum, June 18; in association with Top Sales World, sponsored by White Springs and ShowpadI will deliver a keynote on the frontline sales managers’ dilemma and how to solve it, and Pieterjan Bouten, Showpad’s CEO, will show how enablement technology can drive the FSM’s coaching capability to the next level of FSM effectiveness.

Have a look at our Agenda, and check out the additional key notes by Top Sales World’s CEO Dr. Jonathan Farrington and White Springs’ CEO Gary White as well as highly relevant “how to” workshops on funnel management and coaching.

Register here!
See you in London, June 18th!

PS: Jonathan Farrington and I discussed the frontline sales manager issues, prior to our event. Click here to listen!

What If Efficiency Is Not Your Problem?

shutterstock_216328822Training sessions that make sense for marathon runners are clearly not appropriate for sprinters, even if both want to win an Olympic gold medal. The disciplines are different. The athletes’ objectives determine their activities.

That’s the same in professional B2B selling. The business results and sales objectives determine the appropriateness of various sales activities. World-class sales performers take this practice to heart. Our 2015 MHI Sales Best Practices Study shows that the world-class segment clearly defines the activities that are required for each stage of the sales process to achieve their sales objectives (95% compared to only 43% in the “all respondents” category). This trend has increased from 2014 to 2015 by 13% in the world-class segment, but only by 7% in the all respondents category. Having a strategy and knowing the right things to do seems to be a huge differentiator between top performers and others.

Effectiveness comes first. Efficiency without effectiveness does not know what’s right or wrong.

Imagine that your frontline sales managers are focused on a certain number of prospecting calls per salesperson per day to achieve a stretch revenue goal in a few selected industries. But somehow, the conversion rates don’t improve even if the number of calls increases. Let’s assume that the organization has invested in CRM technology, in lean processes, in customer data, in targeted value messaging, etc. But were they effective? Apparently not.

FSM’s mantra part 1: Manage the right set of activities

Efficiency is clearly not the problem here. Effectiveness is. Question number one, which is in the DNA of world-class sales managers, should be, “Are prospecting calls like these the right activity to achieve our sales objectives?” They don’t ask, “How can we make these prospecting calls better, faster, cheaper?” until they are completely convinced that this is the right thing to do to achieve their desired sales objectives. As we know from Albert Einstein, we cannot continue to do the same things over and over again, but expecting different results. It cannot be emphasized often enough that questioning the current state is a fundamental sales leadership approach to developing high-performance sales teams. It’s absolutely essential. It requires sales managers to hold on for a moment, to put themselves next to the situation and to observe and analyze what’s going on and to question if these sales activities are still the right activities to achieve the desired sales objectives. Maybe it was the right approach last year, but is it still the right thing to do?

FSM’s mantra part 2: Coach the related behaviors

In this situation, the “questioning process” can reach the conclusion that the activity itself is still the right one, but it isn’t being executed with the right level of quality. Or the questioning process can come to the conclusion that the activities are no longer the right ones to achieve the desired sales objectives. Whatever the conclusion is, it has to be driven by facts and data. Maybe the salespeople had only a foundational training, but not enough practice and no regular coaching to improve the quality and the outcome of the calls? Then that’s what we have: a probably efficient activity that leads nowhere. Activities have to be connected to the desired outcomes to develop a performance culture. Therefore we need to establish a culture of learning and coaching first. In the example above – after the initial questioning process – the sales managers measure and analyze the results of the prospecting calls with leading indicators. And they share the results with the sales team. What did salespeople who had success do differently compared to those who were not successful? Analyzing the leading indicators, e.g., conversation rates or percentage of follow-up calls, with salespeople’s positive and negative experiences should lead to a tailored coaching approach that’s specific to each individual on the sales team. World-class sales managers also make sure that the best practices of top performers are leveraged to improve everyone else. Eighty-one percent of the world-class segment executes this behavior consistently and collectively, while only 32% of the all respondents segment does, according to the data of our 2015 MHI Sales Best Practices Study.

World-class frontline sales managers put it all together – in iterations

World-class frontline sales managers analyze sales activities based on leading indicators as they are happening. They are open to recognizing patterns, learning, adjusting the activities and coaching the related behaviors. And they understand that they are in ongoing iterations of analyzing, learning, adjusting and coaching. World-class frontline sales managers are brave enough to stop an activity if the facts show that it is not the best one to achieve certain sales objectives.

Executing the FSM’s mantra “managing the right set of activities, coaching the related behaviors” leads to what sales leaders are looking for: increasing sales results and productivity to achieve ambitious revenue and growth targets.

This article was initially written for Top Sales Magazine, May 5th, 2015.

Related blog posts:

Frontline Sales Manager’s Mantra: Managing Activities and Coaching Behaviors
Frontline Sales Managers – Balancing Various Priorities
Frontline Sales Managers: Key Role, but Poorly Developed and Enabled

All Things Frontline Sales Managers: See you at the Sales Innovation Expo in London 13-14 May 2015!

Keynote Banner Tamara SchenkFrontline sales managers have a greater impact on sales execution, sales productivity, and sales transformation than any other role. What makes their role so demanding and complex is the continuous challenge to balance between three often competing areas; customer, business, and people. Having been the best salesperson does not qualify an individual to be a stand-up top frontline sales manager. Poorly developed frontline sales managers drive top performers out of the organisation and promote mediocre performance from those who remain. This is an untenable situation for any sales leader with ambitious performance goals.

World-class sales organisations understand that frontline sales managers are not born. They develop their frontline sales managers with an integrated programme that allows them to grow in the role of a leader, a coach, and a business manager. They know it`s not about adding costs to the bottom line, but adding growth and effectiveness to the top line. They understand that the cost of doing nothing is much greater.

In my keynote seminar “Frontline Sales Manager’s Dilemma – Coach, Leader and Business Manager” on May 13th, I will share our latest research on frontline sales management and what to do with it. I will discuss what triangles have to do with frontline sales managers and their individual effectiveness. And we will discuss why frontline sales managers should benefit from applying a specific mantra that helps them to focus on what really matters in their role.

In addition, I will lead a workshop session called “Mastering the Frontline Sales Managers dilemma: with a triangle, a sharpened focus, and a capability framework”; two times on May 13th and two times on May 14th as part of our MHI Global Sales Performance Masterclass. During this session, I will discuss the latest research on frontline sales managers from the MHI Research Institute. Building on these data points, we will discuss the frontline sales manager triangle and how to use it to balance better various priorities with simple principles. The triangle is about shifting complexity from the unconscious mind to the conscious mind to driving the frontline sales managers’ decision-making quality and their individual effectiveness. Sharpening the FSMs` focus on those activities and behaviours that really matter is the second concept that we will share and discuss how to apply it. Last but not least, we will discuss how a capability framework can enable you to reviewing, adjusting, and designing your own frontline sales manager development programmes.

I’m looking forward to seeing you next week at the Sales Innovation Expo in London!

 

Related blog posts:

What Triangles Have To Do With Frontline Sales Managers

Frontline Sales Manager’s Mantra: Managing Activities and Coaching Behaviors

Frontline Sales Managers: Key Role, but Poorly Developed and Enabled

Frontline Sales Managers: What Are Their Key Capabilities?

Frontline Sales Managers – Balancing Various Priorities