Getting Reps to Quota: A GPS For New Sales Managers

This article was originally posted here in the Selling Power blog.

Imagine one day being dropped into an unfamiliar landscape and told you must lead a team of people to a prescribed destination. There is no map and no further instruction. To complicate matters, you must deal with a constant barrage of distractions and demands along the way.

As unlikely as this sounds, this is essentially what it’s like to be a newly-promoted sales manager. In most cases, high-performing sellers are plucked out of their familiar role and inserted into the manager’s position without any training on how to navigate the new terrain. They are given a task of utmost importance – get their reps to quota – but little to no guidance for accomplishing it. And they are expected to achieve this task while dealing with an onslaught of unrelated requirements such as attending meetings, producing reports, and dealing with cross-functional issues. It’s no wonder many sales managers burn out quickly.

For new sales managers who may be feeling disoriented or overwhelmed in their new position, it can be helpful to think about the role as a GPS system for reps. Just as a GPS guides drivers to a defined destination, a manager can guide his or her team to quota by employing some of the same characteristics of this indispensable technology. Here are three ways in which sales managers can be more effective in their roles by operating like a GPS.

1. Understand the starting point and end goal, then chart the best path to get to the destination. There are lots of ways to get from A to B. A good GPS system knows that simply mapping out the shortest or most obvious route is not always the smartest way to travel. It can be more efficient to get to B by avoiding toll roads and road closures or steering clear of small towns with a lot of stop lights. Accounting for all this, the system will chart the best path to a destination.

Managers must do the same for their reps. They must consider each seller’s starting point, their end goal (quota) and then evaluate which route – which products, which types of customers, which sales strategy – is most likely to enable the rep to attain quota. There is no one-size-fits-all approach. Every salesperson is different. Even when the end destination – the quota – may be the same, most sellers have different starting points, different strengths to leverage, and different territories with unique characteristics to consider.

That’s why it is so important for the sales manager to sit down with each team member and, like a good GPS, chart the best route for that particular driver. Which types of customers should reps target? Which product mix should they sell? How many calls, product demonstrations, and customer meetings should they target? How many proposals should they prepare? With the route clearly mapped, sellers can undertake the journey toward quota knowing each step is taking them in the right direction.

2. Provide just enough of the right type of guidance along the way to keep the rep on track. A well-designed GPS provides just enough of the right kind of information, at the precise moment it is needed, to ensure the driver stays on course. Too much information is a distraction and undermines the driver’s autonomy, while too little guidance can lead to confusion and the driver going off course. There’s a reason we are told to “turn left in 500 yards” rather than in 495 yards, with further instruction at 480 yards, then 470 yards and so on, down to zero.

This is a critical principle for sales managers. To be effective as a manager, it is important to provide just enough of the right kind of guidance so sellers can execute the right activities, in the right way, and in the right timeframe. Too much guidance and reps may feel micromanaged; too little guidance and reps may feel neglected. By establishing the right balance and a cadence of ongoing coaching and guidance, managers ensure their sellers get on the right path and stay on track.

3. Recalibrate when obstacles or roadblocks are encountered. On a long journey, unforeseen challenges are common. An accident shuts down a major freeway, resulting in a massive detour. One-way streets force the driver off the charted path. Construction slows traffic, impacting driving time. For every obstacle, a GPS can quickly incorporate the new information and recalibrate the route, ensuring the driver reaches his destination – even if it’s by a different route than originally planned.

In the same way, a sales manager must be able to recalibrate and adjust a rep’s path to quota as he or she encounters obstacles or challenges along the way. Which metrics and activities do you need to keep an eye on – and when – to determine if sellers are making the right progress toward quota? Usually, they are leading indicators such as close rates, length of sales cycle, product mix, and customer mix. These indicators can provide an early read on seller progress. If they aren’t where they need to be, adjust immediately; don’t wait until a seller misses quota. This is where a regular coaching cadence can help. Through consistent, scheduled coaching conversations, managers can spot problems and help sellers recalibrate so they get back on course quickly.

While there are many aspects of the sales manager’s job, arguably the most critical assignment is getting reps to quota. For new managers without training, this can be a daunting proposition. How do you work with multiple personalities and skills to get them from varying starting points to the end goal? How do you ensure they stay on track throughout the month or quarter? By thinking about the sales manager’s role within the broader framework of a GPS guiding a driver to a distant destination, new managers can better identify the activities and conversations necessary to get their teams from A to B – which should relieve enough stress for everyone to enjoy some of the scenery along the way.