This post originally appeared here in the Selling Power blog.
Sales leaders across the globe are worried about sales execution. They are so worried that they are spending billions of dollars and countless hours formalizing the processes they want sellers to follow in order to take the guesswork out of field-level execution.
It’s a smart investment: year after year, CSO Insights’ Sales Optimization Study finds that companies with more formal sales processes outperform companies with ad-hoc processes. This is not surprising given that an effective, widely executed process creates consistency and predictability in performance and results.
But, in all the attention sales leaders are giving to their sales processes, they are overlooking what could arguably be a far more critical process: sales management process. The reality is that, no matter how excellent your sales process is, it is the sales manager who ensures adoption of that process. Frontline managers directly impact what salespeople do on a daily basis and can make or break the performance of a team. Therefore, it is just as important – if not more so – to take the guesswork and ad-hoc approach out of a sales manager’s job as it is to remove it from the seller’s job. Yet we find very few companies are doing this.
A good sales management process – just like a good sales process – creates consistency and predictability for ongoing sales execution. Specifically, an effective sales management process accomplishes three things:
Let’s begin with prioritization of seller activities. Most organizations leave it up to the frontline manager to manage the activities needed to get their sellers to quota. This creates a burden on the sales manager to create paths to results for each seller. An established management process eliminates that burden by codifying which specific sales activities, by role, are most closely aligned with quota attainment – and linking those activities to specific sales objectives. This is the key to effective execution.
For example, a blanket requirement to make 20 calls per week is not specific enough to drive desired results. A major account rep may need fewer calls on fewer accounts, whereas a territory rep might need closer to 30 calls a week. Once the right quantity of sales activities is established, those activities must be linked to desired sales objectives, such as increasing margin with existing accounts or improving customer retention. A good sales management process lays all this out, taking the guesswork out of helping reps make quota by detailing which high-impact activities link to relevant sales objectives in order to achieve results.
The second benefit of a good sales management process is that it helps managers determine which type and frequency of sales coaching will best enable their reps to execute effectively – and it ensures managers provide that coaching. As with quota attainment, most organizations leave it up to individual sales managers to determine the cadence and type of interactions they should have with their reps. This leads to inconsistent and often poor-quality coaching.
Left to their own devices, sales managers tend to default in the direction of field ride-alongs as the best venue for coaching – an unrealistic approach in today’s tightly scheduled, geographically dispersed sales environment. A good sales management process prevents a manager from automatically reaching for this familiar approach by laying out the types of coaching interactions that are most impactful, the frequency with which they should be scheduled, and the right way to structure agendas based on planned topics for discussion. From there, the manager needs simply to follow the prescribed process to improve the quality of coaching conversations – a critical ingredient for sales success.
Finally, it is vitally important that a sales management process includes checkpoints to evaluate progress against desired outcomes. Many organizations use yearly performance appraisals, but that frequency puts managers far behind the curve when corrective action is needed. Quarterly checks – while an increased time burden – will enable managers to identify problem spots and take action much more quickly.
During these checks, managers must take a hard look at what is being evaluated. The most common evaluation for a salesperson is achievement against quota, but this is a rather blunt instrument because quota is usually measured in revenue. Better questions for the manager to ask are: What makes up that quota? Should reps be selling certain types of products at certain margin levels? Should they be targeting certain types of customers? Should they be looking to shorten sales cycles or improve close rates? These types of questions are the best leading indicators of seller progress. By evaluating them quarterly, managers will have a better understanding of individual strengths and weaknesses and, in turn, where a course correction is needed.
All this is not to diminish the importance of a solid sales process. A good sales process, executed consistently, is critical to achieving sales excellence. However – alongside effort to get the sales process established – we would urge companies to take a hard look at their sales management process; because effective sales management, driven by a repeatable process, is the backbone of a high-performing team.