“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.
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This article was written for Top Sales Magazine, September issue.