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

2 Comments

  1. This whole series of material from Tamara, on the subject of sales managers, is much needed and right on point. I have seen pretty much all of these behaviours played out consistently in organisations in the US and Europe.

    One area that would benefit from further consideration is that of behaviour change for FSMs. Get them in a room to discuss these topics and they will each accept some new direction, but will largely feel that they are the ones, individually, getting it right. With the introduction of any new way of doing something, especially something as sensitive as telling a sales manager that they are doing it wrong, must start with acceptance of the current state, and agreement on how we all got there.

    This is a fantastic series on sales manager development, and one that can truly help organisations develop a differentiated sales force.

    • Thanks a lot for your feedback and inspiration! You are right, the most challenging part is to initiate behaviour change across the group of sales managers. In my experience, sales managers are the most challenging role to work with, but the most rewarding role if you can get them on the same page.

      To address the current challenges of this role, I often use the driving license analogy. We all remember how conscious we were driving on the motorway, in the city, in a roundabout, etc. when we just got our driving license. Now, many years later, we are just driving. We are not even thinking about the different steps how to drive. The driving capability is now in our unconscious mind. The difference is that sales managers never got a driving license, they had to figure it out on their own. Whatever they figured out on is now in their unconscious mind. And that’s not based on a common framework as e.g. the traffic regulations. So, these unconscious approaches are not comparable, not scalable, and maybe not the most effective way to do this work.
      Bringing the various sales manager challenges regarding customers, people and business and the actual purpose of the role back to the conscious mind is one of the key prerequisites to initiate behaviour change. Then, the necessary level of awareness is established to address a dedicated development program. Such a program should provide sales managers with principles, mechanics, activities and behaviours to better navigate the dynamics of customers, business and people. It should also help them to readjust their focus, to implement the “FSM Mantras”.

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