The One KPI Missing From Your Sales Ops Dashboard

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“There are two reasons you can fire a CEO. Firstly, you can fire a CEO because they’ve done something really naughty and they’ve been caught. The only other reason you fire a CEO is they didn’t meet the forecast.” – Neil Rackham, SPIN Selling

And so CRM software was born in the early 90s—the first meaningful piece of technology used by salespeople. As Neil explains in The Story of Sales, Chapter 6: Technology’s Impact on Sales, it was not to help salespeople or the sales process. Many salespeople don’t like using the CRM to this day. It was to deliver forecast accuracy that would give the CEO job security.

Today, use of the CRM goes well beyond forecast accuracy. We can measure activities, conversion rates, pipeline size, pipeline velocity and much more. In summary, there are more and more metrics at our fingertips to determine the productivity of our sales teams. Yet, sales leaders still bias toward the age-old formula:

MORE SALES CALLS = MORE REVENUE

Sales Leader’s Mantra: Do More Sales Calls

“Big shots are only little shots who keep shooting.” – Christopher Morley

Sales leaders are right to pull this quantity lever. Without enough “at-bats” no sales team will deliver its quota. But without another lever to pull, this refrain becomes old and tired. It has been hammered into sellers to keep doing more sales calls to build enough pipeline and deliver their quota. A sales leader who manages from today’s CRM will be tempted to pull this lever again and again. Don’t ever expect to hear a sales leader say: “Guys, congratulations, we’ve got enough pipeline!”

Quality Matters

Sales has been slow to catch up to other business functions who realize more is not always the best answer. But it’s not for lack of effort. What gets measured gets managed and let’s face it, the quality of the sales calls a team is having has traditionally been very hard to measure.

Not so for other functions. Take engineering for instance. The quantity of software produced, often referred to as velocity, is a key measure of productivity. But an engineering leader would never manage a software team without some understanding of the quality of software being produced using a management dashboard. After all, an excess of buggy software is a good way to run a business into the ground.

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A New Lever You Can Pull

Salespeople are tired of hearing the same old “do more sales calls” refrain. Message received!

What they want help figuring out is how to be more effective in the sales calls they have. And there’s nothing in the CRM that teases this out. Sure, we can see that one rep may be more effective than others based on their conversion rates…but why?

Wouldn’t it be nice to have another tool in your management toolbox? Instead of “do more sales calls”, imagine being in front of your sales team with a message that says: “do better sales calls”.

But for this to actually be more than a nice break from the norm, the quality of sales calls needs to be consistently measured. And the way to measure quality is not whether an opportunity gets created or advances. This is the result of a quality interaction, but causation is not sufficient.

Quality is measured by how effectively a seller demonstrates the necessary behaviors to advance a sale within a given stage in the sales process. For example:

  • Discovery is a behavior required at the beginning, accomplished by asking multi-layered questions.
  • Tailored Value or Vision is a behavior required in the middle, accomplished by taking what information the seller has gathered and using it to present how the prospect’s pain will be addressed.

What Gets Measured, Gets Managed

Whose job is it to observe and coach to these behaviors? The frontline sales manager of course. Where should your frontline managers be spending their time? Sales leaders say upwards of 50% should be spent coaching sales teams in the field. Sales managers report in some cases spending as little as 15% of their time in the field.

Why?

For starters, managers don’t have a good way to capture their observations, so they bias toward trying to advance the sale rather than coaching the seller. Second, there is no consistent framework to coach and give feedback, so that is left up to each managers interpretation. Finally, there is no easy way to track progress over time so the value of a managers’ observations don’t build upon one another.

If we could solve these three problems, we’d have a willing participant on the other end to help build this quality data set. And it’s this KPI that is missing on your sales ops dashboard today. It should appear right next to the number of sales calls your team has done and the resulting pipeline being built.

Tired of feeling like the only way to make your number is to keep asking the sales team to work harder. Eventually, this message falls on deaf ears. Maybe it is time to start empowering them to work smarter.

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How Good Managers Use Sales Coaching to Improve Rep Performance

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Being a frontline sales manager is tough. Like any sales job, it comes down to the numbers you can produce. But the production is mostly out of your hands, you’re reliant on your sales team to get the job done. You can only control so much of what happens. If your reps are underperforming—or even if they’re doing an acceptable job, but you think they’re capable of more—it’s often unclear what the best tactics are to improve their sales numbers.

Thanks to research done by Google and CSO Insights, we know that improving the coaching skills of frontline managers does produce a measurable improvement in the performance of their sales teams.

Know What Makes A Good Manager

sales coaching skill developmentIf you want to be a good manager, you need to know what a good manager does. Fortunately, Google recently published some serious work in discovering what good management entails at their own company. The top eight habits they found to be the most effective in management are:

  • Be a good coach
  • Empower your team and resist the urge to micromanage
  • Express genuine interest in the success and well-being of employees
  • Be productive and results-oriented
  • Be a good communicator and listen to your team
  • Help employees with career development
  • Have a clear vision and strategy for the team
  • Possess key technical skills, so you can better advise the team

Before they did this survey, Google had been promoting the most technically proficient employees to managerial positions, so they were quite surprised to find technical skill was the least useful ability for a manager to have.

Promotion on the basis of technical ability or product knowledge rather than communication and people skills. Does that sound like an awful lot of companies to you?

Perhaps you’re one of those managers whose strength is in technical knowledge. If so, you may have already noticed that all of your competence does little to help your employees directly. If it does help, it’s when you’re able to communicate it effectively to your reps so they can put it to use—in other words, be an empowering coach and a strong communicator, three of the traits higher on the list.

Although every point on this list can be discussed in depth, some of them are more self-explanatory than others. For example, there isn’t much to explain in regard to expressing interest in the well-being of your employees. It may help to talk about how you can become more genuinely interested, but the concept is immediately understandable.

Therefore, in this post, let’s stick with the top two: how to better coach and empower your employees.

Good Sales Coaching Equals Empowerment

sales coaching motivationThe great majority of us are most familiar with coaches in a sporting context. The coach is responsible for determining what the players need (knowledge, motivation, skills, practice) so the players can better do their jobs. Nothing really changes when you move this idea into the sales world. Sales managers are responsible for imparting the necessary knowledge, motivation, and skills to their reps so they can close more deals.

And good coaching offers empowerment, not as a bonus, but as a necessity. If your employees expect micromanagement, they can’t act effectively on their own. And you don’t have time to walk them through every slightly odd situation they’ll face! You need them to be good, independent actors if they’re going to meet their numbers. Broadly speaking, there are five areas that you can focus your coaching on to help your reps improve.

1. Help reps discover their motivation

People get into sales work as a job, but not everyone’s primary motivation is money. When money is the only focus of a sales manager, some employees with the potential to be good reps become disillusioned with the manager’s focus and mentally check out.

When you find a rep doesn’t seem to care much about bigger bonuses or the importance of ever-increasing sales goals, don’t write them off as hopeless. Talk to them about what makes them interested in day-to-day life, and find a way those motivations apply to the job. Understand that you may end up with a rep whose motivations don’t align at all with sales, or this particular sales job. If you’re honest with them on that score, your willingness to be honest can be incredibly motivating for them to do their best for as long as they’re on your team. Remember, your job isn’t just to push the biggest sellers; it’s to make sure everyone, top to bottom, is keeping up.

2. Use the rep’s motivation to help define his or her goals

Too many sales managers rely on standard goals to push their reps and ignore the importance of employees’ intrinsic motivations on how well they do their jobs. What does the rep get out of this job? Do they like being part of the company? Is there something about the products they enjoy that helps them engage with customers? Are they purely in it for the money?

Whatever the answer, set an individual goal for the rep based on her motivation. For example, if a new product is released that she’s particularly excited about, set a goal for her to try to sell it to fifty or a hundred people in a certain amount of time. You’re not telling her to make more sales; you’re telling her to talk to people about something she likes, and that personal interest will result in more sales without her even thinking about it.

3. Actively teach reps strategies that will help them reach their goals

sales coaching mentor trainingMany managers see what their reps do wrong and offer corrections. This can work when the rep is ready to hear it, but more often than not, what makes sense out loud is forgotten all too quickly.

If you find a flaw in your rep’s technique that you a) know is losing sales and b) you have a way to improve, don’t settle for repeating yourself until the message hopefully sinks in. Show them what you have in mind, with a real customer and stay with them while they try it themselves. Make the time now, and you’ll save yourself more time later by not needing to say the same thing again and again.

4. Offer direct advice when necessary

Part of empowering your employees involves not handing them every answer they need. Often the best response to a question is to guide the rep towards finding the answer herself. Not only will she better learn the answer she needs at that moment, but she’ll feel better about searching future answers out on her own.

However, you must also recognize when direct answers are correct. For example, an experienced rep will often have everything put together in their minds until the customer throws them a curveball; all you need to do is fill in the blank, and they’ll understand how to incorporate that into their sales technique going forward. Understand the moments when a rep doesn’t need full guidance, just an answer, and those moments of guidance will be all the more effective.

5. Personally commit to coaching and developing your reps

Reps have different strengths. Some are charismatic speakers, some are deeply knowledgeable about the products, and some can ad lib responses to questions better than other reps recite memorized answers. Rarely are they strong in every attribute necessary to close the deal.

It’s easy to say that coaches should help employees shore up their weaknesses. They should, of course, but development is more than that. Acknowledging employees’ strengths reminds them that they are capable people, which creates a morale boost. More importantly, however, by showing that you see their strengths, it portrays you as a manager who sees reps as full people. If you focus on their weaknesses, you can appear to only have an interest in tearing them down, even when that’s not the case. And a rep sees you acknowledge her as a person, you become a manager who wants to help her develop as a person, not just an employee.

A brand-new rep may need help on all five, which is a relatively simple situation. More experienced reps may usually do well, but struggle in ways that don’t obviously apply to one of these five categories; this is your challenge, to know your reps and understand which aspect of the sales business they need help with to better succeed.

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