Do you believe that the effectiveness of your front-line sales managers is the key to taking your sales team’s performance to the next level? More and more, companies are coming to this conclusion. I’m not going to bore you with the data from the recent CSO Insights report: Sales Managers Overwhelmed and Underwhelmed (which you should go read). It makes intuitive sense. The “force multiplier” effect is a common way you will hear it described. We can invest in developing the seller or we can develop the manager who is ultimately responsible for developing their 6-8 sellers, and without whom any investment in the seller gets shall we say…leaky. When we realize that value from our investment in the seller is leaking out if not reinforced by the manager, we also realize that that force multiplication can work positively…or negatively.
The economics for developing the sales manager are compelling and if we do nothing, things may actually get worse. Sounds like a problem worth solving!
Now where to begin? That was the question we tackled with a room of Bay Area sales enablement leaders at a Manager Effectiveness Workshop this month. Our three revelations from the event may surprise you.
1. Sales Manager Effectiveness is a Journey
If you have been looking at this problem in your organization then you know it is not one that is easily solved. Unlike enabling the seller from leading the sales call to managing a sales cycle, developing the manager is much less straightforward. Why? Because the only thing the manager actually manages is seller behavior. In other words, it’s a people challenge and people challenges are messy.
One of the ways the journey is best described is turning managers into “sales coaches”. If you think this is easy, then you haven’t spent enough time in sales organizations. Keeping the proverbial train on the tracks is a full-time job. As I’ve blogged about previously, Seller Motivation Needs a Makeover but there are very deep-seated forces preventing that makeover from happening in short order.
In summary, your company will make a commitment to Manager Effectiveness not because a switch can be flipped, but because the payoff is real. Like any journey, there will be bumps along the way, but it is that commitment and subsequent planning that will sustain you to your destination.
2. Understand the Manager Mindset vs. Coaching Mindset
One key question you will need to answer if you are to reach your destination is what does success actually look like? Well for one, you will have become one of the most progressive sales organizations on the planet with the ability to reduce time to ramp for new hires and products, shift your performance distribution curve to the right, and grow and retain top sales talent. That’s what senior leadership cares about. But what does it actually look like?
Let me aim to answer that question by describing what it doesn’t look like.
One organization on this journey set out to survey their sellers and front-line managers on the subject of sales coaching. The question was simple. How much coaching are you receiving (for sellers) and giving (for managers) each month? What do you think the results were?
If you guessed that there was a massive disconnect between the amount of coaching managers thought they were providing versus the amount of coaching sellers believed they were getting, you’d be correct!
How could this be?
Any coaching sellers were receiving was unstructured, in the heat of the moment, and as a result was not interpreted as coaching. Given the chaotic nature of being a sales manager, stopping to be deliberate about having a coaching interaction was not on the priority list.
The hallmark of a Manager Effectiveness Program is moving from ad-hoc to formal sales manager to seller interactions and layering focused coaching within those interactions. With these ingredients, both parties show up prepared, there is a clear agenda, and the seller gets better.
CSO Insights defines coaching as “a process which uses structured conversations to help salespeople develop their performance in the short or long term.” One of the trickier adjustments for most first time sales managers to make is to move from telling their seller what they think the answer is to help the seller come to that conclusion on their own. This illustrates why sales coaching conversations actually needed to be observed, assessed and coached themselves.
These interactions may best be held within the day-to-day workflow of the front-line manager at ceremonies like the forecast or opportunity review, but some companies will also find benefit in creating space for pure coaching conversations that don’t blend in with the old way of doing things.
3. A Development Investment Made IS NOT a Development Investment Scaled
As I sat in the room amongst practitioners aiming to solve this problem, most were at the beginning of the journey. I’m going to define this as their organization realizes Manager Effectiveness is a problem worth solving and, as a result, they have made some level of investment to help the Manager develop their team. More often today than before, this investment will take the form of added people or training dedicated to coaching sellers in need of help. After all, if the average manager does not currently have a “Coaching Mindset”, we can’t put the weight of seller development all on them.
Whether you have one or many overlay development resources, this is a fine investment to make with a big caveat. If not carefully managed, this structure can create dependency, which will prevent you from scaling.
So how should this investment be managed? There are three criteria:
- All seller development needs a closed loop back that engages the manager – this resource becomes a catalyst to learn a “Coaching Mindset”
- A way to observe–assess–coach behavior change – if you use a behavior-based platform this investment instantly becomes more scalable
- Behavioral metrics are added to the sales management dashboard that includes traditional performance based metrics – wins for sales leadership are immediate and show up long before revenue
Once these three criteria have been fulfilled, you are now ready to reach the final destination:
Front-line managers have developed a “Coaching Mindset” and are fully accountable for the development of their team, backed by the support of their manager who makes regular observation and coaching of their own front-line managers a priority.
Any supporting infrastructure that was built does not necessarily need to disappear, but what does vanish is any dependency managers have – they can get help because they can, not because they must. This is what a fully scaled and optimized system looks like that will maximize any development investment made.
If you are on the journey that many are on, good luck! I’d love to hear from you on how it’s going and look to include you in a future event.