Six Steps to Better Sales Manager Coaching

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Improve your sales manager coaching skills in six actionable steps

As a sales manager, you aren’t just responsible for direct interactions with customers. Studies have shown that your coaching skills have a direct impact on the overall performance of your team, transforming their sales successes. Becoming an effective sales coach can help your entire team do a better job of reaching your target audience, increasing conversions, and improving customer interactions. These strategies will make you a more effective sales coach.

Step One: Observe Your Team

sales manager coaching observeA critical part of any coaching experience is observing the key players–in this case, the members of your sales team. In order to provide effective advice to the members of your team, you need to see how they’re interacting with customers. Get to know their personalities and their skills. See what they’re doing right and where they need a little extra work. In some cases, you may discover that the members of your sales team have more capability than you realized, including techniques that you may want to pass on to other members of the team. In others, you may find that they’re lacking some basic sales skills that you’re able to provide as a result of your observations.

Note that during your observations–which should be frequent and spread across your sales team so that you can get a good idea of how each member of the team interacts with your customers–you should avoid taking over calls or interactions. You should leave the customer interactions in the hands of sales team members so that they can develop their skills, rather than getting in the habit of sitting in the back seat or handing things over to you.

Step Two: Schedule Coaching Sessions

In order to become a more effective sales coach, you have to have time to work with the members of your team! Make sure that you’re scheduling time into your workday to work with members of the sales team and provide them with the new information they need in order to be successful. In order to provide more effective feedback, make sure that you’re taking into consideration their accomplishments as well as their shortcomings. Congratulate sales team members who are able to meet their goals with enthusiasm and reward progress. The more regularly you work with members of your team, the easier it is to offer feedback that will allow them to make small corrections, ultimately improving their overall performance.

Step Three: Develop Practice Strategies

For some people, the art of sales comes naturally. They’re able to effortlessly make connections with customers, provide them with the information they need, and coax them to make the right purchase decisions. In other cases, however, you may find that the members of your sales team need more practice in order to meet their sales goals. Just like you would in any sport, give your team members the opportunity to practice outside the “game”–that is, when they’re away from the customers who need to make critical buying decisions. This may include offering video-based training, providing sales team members with content to read, or working through scenarios with them in an effort to improve their understanding of customer needs.

Manager to Seller 1-1 meetingStep Four: Develop One-on-One Meeting Habits

Sure, it’s easier to address your entire sales team at once. “Everyone” needs help with a certain aspect of sales, whether it’s upselling or closing the deal. Unfortunately, this strategy can leave your sales team struggling to gain the vital skills they need in order to improve their sales results. When you develop a habit of 1:1 meetings and interactions, you can substantially improve the performance of your sales team and give them the individual attention they need to make real progress. With a single meeting, you can improve an individual’s performance for up to two weeks, making this a valuable investment of your time.

Whenever possible, you should have a clear plan in place before stepping into a meeting with the members of your sales team. They should have a good idea of what to expect from your meetings, and you should both be able to follow the basic structure of the meeting. You should also avoid canceling meetings if at all possible as this can leave your sales team feeling undervalued and as though their performance isn’t important.

Step Five: Keep It Simple

When you’re in the middle of a meeting, it can be easy to shove too much into a single interaction. You want to share as much information as possible with your sales team, after all, whether that means giving them an arsenal of new tools or providing them with information about new sales goals or incoming products. It’s important, however, to keep your individual meetings short and sweet. Avoid giving team members too much information to sort through, which can lead to confusion or a focus on the wrong pieces of information. Your meetings, instead, should retain focus.

Step Six: Discover What Motivates Your Sales Team

When you work with athletes, it’s important to know how to positively motivate them–and that’s just as true for working with your sales team. You need to know how to motivate your employees: what incentives they want, the type of advice they need, and what feedback model works best for encouraging them to perform their best. Each member of your sales team is an individual and may have individual preferences in this area, so you’ll need to learn how to customize your dealings with your employees to the way that motivates them most. As you discover what motivates them, however, you’ll find that it smooths your interactions with your employees and makes it easier to meet your goals.

If you’re struggling to motivate your sales team, becoming a more effective sales coach is the best way to meet your goals on the sales floor. As a sales coach, you aren’t responsible for the sales themselves. Rather, you’re responsible for providing the tools and motivations needed by the people who interact with your company’s customers every day. By utilizing these steps, you’ll discover that you’re in a better position to encourage your sales team and provide them with vital feedback.

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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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3 Sales Readiness Initiative Secrets The Best Enablement Leaders Swear By

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Improve the results of your sales readiness initiative with these critical reinforcement elements

Let’s begin with a quick talk about what sales readiness means. Sales readiness requires more than just training. It means that you have assessed and certified that your sales team has developed mastery of the new messaging, product or solution, geography, or buyer persona. Salespeople have proven that they are ready to go-to-market and begin speaking with potential customers. Most sales readiness initiatives will include a company (or unit) wide “required” webinar, and then perhaps an on-demand video that presents the new material to the team. Some enablement organizations will even go so far as to include online learning and quizzing through their LMS to assess if sellers paid attention to the material.

But how does that really benefit the sales team? How does this help them feel confident bringing the new information to market? It doesn’t.

sales readiness initiative boring webinar

You see, salespeople need the opportunity to practice their pitch. They need to be able to take what you’ve delivered and “try it on for size” to make it their own. They have to be able to speak authentically to real people. Watching a webinar and going through a little training isn’t going to get them there.

What your sales readiness initiative is missing is visibility into real sales interactions, calibrated assessments, and informed reinforcement. Protect your investment in sales readiness or transformation with a program that will truly benefit your salespeople and will produce more than just a participation rate statistic.

1. Visibility at Scale

The sales manager “ride along” is about as old as the sales profession itself. Regional sales managers have racked up more airline miles than they will ever be able to use. At the same time, frontline managers struggle to maintain the level of observation needed to keep their team’s conversations effective, while balancing an ever-growing list of responsibilities. And, let’s face it, when you’re in enablement you’re not getting any visibility into sales interactions at all.

The point is that, while visibility in sales isn’t exactly new, the ability for global organizations to maintain high-quality visibility at scale is a growing challenge. Sales organizations are becoming further distributed, while the buying process is becoming ever more complex.

Visibility at scale refers to the central enablement team’s ability to keep tabs on what is being used in the field, to what standard, as well as what is working well for the company’s brand and revenue goals. This provides your enablement team with the information you need to improve the relevance of your sales readiness initiatives.

While no single solution provides foresight 20/20, video and call recording technology provides both enablement and sales leaders a window into what is happening in their reps’ and managers’ daily interactions, without the need to rack up all those SkyMiles.

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2. Calibrated Assessment Activates Coaching

Certification in sales readiness isn’t just about visibility. Mature readiness initiatives use calibrated assessments to systematize sales certification. Assessing a rep’s ability to pitch a certain product or use a specific method in a sales conversation helps enablement and management understand how well that rep is performing. But what happens when you need to scale assessment across 2,000+ reps, account executives, managers, etc. around the globe?

Calibrated sales assessment takes the guesswork out of the equation and provides a usable data set for enablement to use. Calibration works best when sales, enablement, and operations leaders align on what specific skills, behaviors, etc. they wish to see in their team’s interactions. They agree on what is most important and they document these skills in a rubric that provides a level of consistency throughout the certification (and coaching) process.

Calibrated assessments also empower frontline managers with the information they need to become better coaches. When set up correctly, managers can use their reps’ assessments to target coaching with each individual during scheduled 1-on-1 and team meetings for continued improvement.

3. Reinforcement Protects Your Investment

What all this really boils down to is protecting your investment. When your company invests in a new product, rebranding or repositioning, sales training, new messaging or methodologies there is a significant amount of both money and time spent making the idea a reality.

When enablement simply roles out the new initiative in a webinar or an event and stops there, you’re leaving a huge amount of investment to chance. And I think we are all aware that the chances of sales picking it up and running with it from there are pretty slim. Not for lack of desire; rather it’s a change that needs to be managed properly. The adult brain will only retain about 30% of what you teach them, the rest needs to be reinforced through coaching.

Reinforcement must become part of your sales readiness initiative. It’s amazing to me how often I see a lack of it in large organizations. It may seem complex, but it doesn’t have to be. Once you gain visibility at scale that your sales leaders, managers, and you can use to observe how new messaging is being used in practice and in the field, the path to providing training reinforcement becomes clear. Taking that visibility a step further with calibrated assessments that create alignment in your organization enables targeted coaching and development to reinforce the behaviors and messages that are critical to moving your deals forward.

Managing sales readiness initiatives in a global sales organization is never easy. But by adding these three critical elements to your plan, your team will be far more likely to successfully incorporate the desired changes and apply them to improving sales wins in the long run.

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Opening Pandora’s Box Reveals the Truth in Manager to Seller 1:1

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The manager to seller 1:1 is a critical interaction that takes place in every sales organization, and yet it is a black hole for sales leaders

“90 minutes of your time can enhance the quality of your subordinates work for 2 weeks or for some 80+ hours.” – Andy Grove, CEO & Co-founder at Intel

The manager to seller 1:1 meeting is a proven management practice that, when executed well, creates happy, healthy, and productive teams. In fact, the 1:1 may be the single biggest leverage point a manager has to impact team performance.

But today’s overwhelmed and underdeveloped frontline sales manager may not have gotten the memo. The tyranny of managing to the number leads to choosing what’s urgent over what’s important and being reactive versus proactive. 1:1s commonly get pushed, lack preparation and structure, and have no clear outcomes. This dysfunction of such a critical management activity creates a hole that is hard to dig out of.

The desire to help sales managers has led us to study the manager to seller 1:1. In doing so, we’ve come to realize that this may be the single biggest unmet need in today’s sales organization. If you’re ready to open Pandora’s Box, let’s dig in.

The Purpose of the Manager to Seller 1:1

Manager to Seller 1-1 meetingWhy are we here? Without a clear purpose, there’s no alignment on what would make the meeting successful.

This is where the issues start. Because managers themselves aren’t sure what the purpose of the 1:1 is. They know that every manager does them, and they are supposed to, too. But why? And how does it fit into their goal to get their reps to their number?

Most frontline sales managers have not been trained on how to run a manager to seller 1:1. So they make it up as they go along. Often, each 1:1 is a bit different. In my experience, the typical flavors of a manager to seller 1:1 are:

  • Forecast review
  • Pipeline review
  • Deal review
  • Coaching

But what if I told you the most common type of 1:1 isn’t any of these. It’s actually all of them combined into one meeting!

Successfully executing any of these interactions with a seller requires practice and discipline. Trying to accomplish them all in one meeting is downright impossible! The discussion jumps from topic to topic and quickly becomes a disaster that is a testament to the fact that no one is sure what the purpose of this meeting actually is!

Managers must establish a set agenda for their 1:1s and develop a cadence with their team that allows them to focus on each of these interactions separately at various points in the month and/or quarter. Get this simple, but often overlooked, piece right and you are on your way to better 1:1s.

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Failure to Take Off and Land

Without a clear purpose, we’re off to a rough start. But a well-structured agenda will still make this meeting work. Extra credit if the manager has transferred ownership to the seller to own the agenda and it’s documented in a way that creates clarity and structure.

Without an agenda, the meeting is likely to meander aimlessly into irrelevance. Fear not, you can still make it worthwhile if there are clear actions items that come out of the meeting. Actions could include:

  • Submitting a revised forecast
  • Executing on agreed upon pipeline goals
  • Inviting manager to a call
  • Drafting an email for review
  • Scheduling an internal meeting

If you are a sales manager with 8 to 10 direct reports, this can be pretty hard to keep track of. Don’t be surprised if these actions float into the ether, never to be seen again.

After establishing a purpose, take off and landing the meeting tend to be the lowest hanging fruit to be addressed that will also provide the biggest payback.

Manager and Seller Should Feel Good

“If I had an hour to solve a problem, I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.” – Albert Einstein

A sales managers’ list of tasks includes rolling up the forecast, managing the pipeline, and closing business. That’s the easy part! What differentiates an average sales manager from a great one is their ability to remove roadblocks for their sellers. But while the manager may parachute in to save the day from time to time, this is not a scalable strategy for success. Helping the seller come to his or her own realization to solve a problem is.

When a manager is using the appropriate mix of guiding versus telling, the seller learns not to come to the manager for a solution, but rather with a problem that can be solved together. The same basic discovery and active listening skills that make for an effective sales conversation are a manager’s friend in the 1:1. There is typically at least one issue that, if solved for the seller, would make a big difference in the coming week. Isolate and focus on it.

If this sounds like more art than science, it is. But it’s also critical. A manager can get the mechanics of the 1:1 right, but if there is no trust the seller will be more likely to see the manager as in their way rather than a partner.

One simple way to find out is to ask! How was this meeting? Was it useful? Why or why not? What should we keep doing or start doing? Seeking feedback is an unnatural but highly effective way to instantly make this meeting better.

Conclusion

With limited direction outside of “get to your number”, it’s no wonder the average sales manager can get lost. When manager to seller 1:1s lack a clear purpose, fail to take off and land effectively and don’t feel good for either party, it’s a recipe for dysfunction.

Think of it this way: if your sales calls were to resemble anything like this picture, would you expect to sell anything? I don’t think so.

The manager to seller 1:1 is the key force multiplier moment an organization has to lift sales team performance, and it’s time we start facing that reality head-on.

 

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How To Improve Sales Team Performance with 4 Easy Adjustments

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Benchmark data spotlights four fundamentals to improve sales team performance

There are some basics to every sales call that most sales teams tend to take for granted. Sales and enablement leaders assume that their teams are highly capable of executing the fundamentals of a sales conversation. They lack the visibility into daily sales interactions to really get a good snapshot of how these fundamentals are used in the field. As a result, when met with the question of how to improve sales team performance, they will fixate on adjusting activity levels, offers, messaging, and/or processes to improve outcomes.

Michael Jordan said, “Get the fundamentals down and the level of everything you do will rise.”

Companies make huge investments in big sales transformations, consulting, methodologies, etc. when the end result is going to be the same. When a team lags in performing fundamental skills, no messaging strategy is going to have the intended impact, and sales performance fails to hit expectations.

The data from our 2018 Sales Team Performance Benchmark Report spotlights a critical need for optimization in four fundamental sales skills. This data is based on the observation and assessment of over 32,000 sales calls over a range of company sizes and industries.

1. Setting an Effective Agenda

how to improve sales team performance_Agenda100% of your reps should be able to set an effective agenda at the beginning of each call or meeting. This is a fundamental, yet simple, area of improvement to focus on in your team and will have a clear impact.

Setting an agenda establishes a mutually agreed upon purpose for your meeting, ensuring that the time the prospect spends with your sellers is uniquely relevant and valuable to them. This helps build the relationship by signaling that your seller respects their time and has something valuable to share with them in return.

How to Improve Your Sales Team’s Agendas

  • Write it Down: Have your sellers draft their agenda for a given interaction type and review it with you in their 1:1. The agenda should remain 90% the same for any conversation of that interaction type.
  • Roleplay: Have your seller roleplay setting an agenda. Ultimately, sellers fail to set an agenda because they get excited at the beginning of the call, and then before they know it, they are straight into discovery. Give them the opportunity to practice so it becomes second nature.
  • Monitor and Recognize It: Provide feedback (positive and constructive) to your sellers on their agenda every time you attend one of their meetings to continue to reinforce positive habits.

2. Telling a Client Story

how to improve sales team performance_ClientStoryOur brains are wired to seek out stories. Stories give us a glimpse into what our lives could be like if we make the same choice that others have already. A client story gives your prospect tangible proof of success and assures them that, as a customer, they will be in good company. It also helps establish trust and provides third-party validation to your solution.

It is relatively easy to teach sellers how to tell an effective client story during a sales calls. Sellers should be equipped with available stories that align with customer needs, profiles, industries, pain points, etc. Given the information, your sellers then need to practice incorporating the story and making it their own. If appropriate, it is also often helpful to provide slides that sellers can include in their decks that help illustrate the key points of each story.

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How to Improve Your Sales Team’s Client Stories

  • Tell Your Sellers a Story: The hardest part of creating a story is having a compelling narrative and arc. If you have client stories that you have found to be successful in your selling, document them and share them with your sellers.
  • Practice Your Story: Have your sellers practice their stories. Like most things, stories improve over time. Consider adding a “story hour” portion to your team meeting where, each week, a seller brings a client-facing customer story and shares it with the group.

3. Differentiation

how to improve sales team performance_DifferentiationHow important is it to your business that customers understand the differences between your solution(s) and those of your competitors? Very important, right?

Differentiation is a core sales skill that leadership expects all sellers to be able to do. But that expectation is being taken for granted when 47% of your sellers are not able to articulate these differences! They are actually creating more harm than good by taking calls with your customers and prospects. In fact, we found that a full 6.29% where providing absolutely no differentiation at all!

More often, we find that sellers talk about features, rather than specific benefits to the client. To effectively differentiate, sellers must be trained to focus on customer needs and how your solution is uniquely capable of filling that need. Features and pricing do not differentiate your solution from your competitors.

How to Improve Your Sales Team’s Differentiation

  • Play a Game: Is it a feature or a benefit? In one of your team meetings, prepare five to ten index cards with examples of features and benefits of your product. Have team members pick a card from the pile and determine if it is a feature or a benefit.
  • Show and Tell: If you record sales calls, find an example of strong differentiation based on value and an example of a feature dump. Play both clips and have your sellers discuss what they think went well and what did not as a group.

4. Value Proposition

Fb_SpotLighthow to improve sales team performance_ValuePropYour strategic team worked hard to create a value proposition that clearly states how your solution helps your customers. It’s pure gold and ready to be shared with the world. But does your sales team know how to articulate it to your prospects and customers? You have about a 50/50 chance.

Delivering the value proposition in a sales call is critical to establish why the prospect should care about what you are trying to sell. But, in this environment, it needs to be delivered appropriately. Many sales teams have the value proposition scripted; most sellers can recite it in their sleep. But only about half of them can deliver it in a way that is engaging and highly relevant.

How to Improve Your Sales Team’s Value Proposition Delivery

  • Certify: Value propositions should be consistent across sellers. Establish and confirm that all sellers have the knowledge by certifying them on your value proposition.
  • Practice In-Workflow: In an effort to move beyond a flat delivery that often occurs with scripted content, start each of your 1:1s by having sellers tell you the value proposition.

How can you improve sales team performance? By relentlessly focusing on improving and optimizing the fundamental sales skills reps need to be successful. Without that commitment, investment in big, sexy sales transformations, rebrands, consulting, messaging, etc. is just a huge waste of money.

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5 Sales Team Performance Fails Guaranteed to Make You Miss Quota

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New benchmark research highlights 5 sales performance fails that contribute to sales teams missing quota

Infographic_5 Sales Performance FailsWe are all well aware of the statistic that 53% of salespeople fail to hit their quota—and many claim that number will only continue to climb. I don’t think many sales leaders need to be told that, though. You’re living that reality every day. You know that attaining your revenue goal continues to ride on the shoulders of just a small segment of your sales force.

Those star sellers carry the rest of the team, while your enablement and management organizations struggle to onboard, train, coach, and develop an almost continuous stream of new hires, who are thrown into the revolving door with little hope of ever breaking from the middle of the pack. You tell yourself that this is just how it’s always been done, all while sales performance fails to improve quarter over quarter.

Could more of your sellers be closing more deals? Based on our recent research, the answer is a resounding YES!

While many sales leaders inspect the activity of their team to understand how to attain their goal, activity management isn’t solely responsible for sales performance. If you have reps on your team who cannot properly articulate your message and move the conversation forward, it doesn’t much matter how many cold calls, discovery calls, or follow-ups they are completing. They don’t have the skills to effectively close the deal and no activity metric is going to get them there.

Every interaction your sellers have with prospective clients is critical to getting them to their goal. That is why we assessed over 32,000 sales conversations and analyzed the results. This analysis unveiled five critical skills that the average sales rep struggles to effectively implement within the sales conversation.

Sales Performance Fail #1: Telling an Effective Client Story

Our brains are wired to seek out stories. Stories give us a glimpse into what our lives could be like if we make the same choice that others have already. However, 59% of sellers do not tell an effective client story within the sales conversation. Client stories are important to your process because they provide tangible proof of success and a vision of what life could be like for prospective customers. They also assure your prospects that they will be in good company, should they decide to move forward with the relationship.

Our assessment did not just focus on the existence of a client story (23% did indeed tell a client story, but failed to make it engaging and/or relate it specifically to the prospect’s situation). In order to be effective, a client story must be tailored to your prospect’s persona, industry, business need, and/or specific pain points. It must also incorporate a compelling narrative and arc to captivate your audience into relating to it.

It is relatively easy to teach sellers how to tell an effective client story. Sellers should be equipped with available stories that align to customer needs, profiles, industries, pain points, etc. Given the information, your sellers then need to practice incorporating the story and making it their own. If appropriate, it is also often helpful to provide slides that sellers can include in their decks that help illustrate the key points of each story.

Get Coaching Tips for Sales Managers in the Full Sales Benchmark Report Here >>

Sales Performance Fail #2: Engaging Delivery

In most companies, sellers are given a script or “talk track” to help guide them through the sales conversation. While this is necessary to optimize your sales process and maintaining your message, sellers do need to learn how to make it their own so they can deliver it in a natural, conversational, and compelling way. This is a key skill that separates top performers from the rest of the pack.

Our assessment found that 56% of sellers are not delivering an engaging message to their prospective customers. While most salespeople can hit the key talking points, features, and positioning marks, few can make them come alive for the person on the other side of the conversation. Many people think this is a skill reserved only for “natural-born salespeople”, but it is absolutely a skill that can be taught and learned—with a bit of practice.

Train your sales reps to do their research, ask engaging questions, tell a compelling client story, and be unexpected. There is nothing like throwing a little curveball into the conversation to bring your prospect back into the meeting and stimulate a reaction.

Get Coaching Tips for Sales Managers in the Full Sales Benchmark Report Here >>

Sales Performance Fail #3: Value Proposition

Your sellers can likely recite your company’s value proposition in their sleep. But that just may be the problem—they sound like they’re sleeping when they try to articulate it to prospects. Our analysis found that, at the end of 50% of sales calls, prospects do not know what the company does or the value that it can provide.

The whole point of the sales call is to clearly articulate what, how, and potentially why your solution solves the prospect’s specific business problem. When sellers fail to engage prospects in your value proposition, they are wasting the most important opportunity your company has to establish an on-going, mutually beneficial relationship.

Most companies will attempt to mitigate this issue with scripting, training, and, perhaps, message certification. But this just scratches the surface. Sellers need to be able to apply your company’s value proposition to specific scenarios that make it relevant and valuable to different prospect’s needs. They also need to be able to deliver it in an engaging manner, not just recite it.

Get Coaching Tips for Sales Managers in the Full Sales Benchmark Report Here >>

Sales Performance Fail #4: Differentiation

After 47% of sales calls, prospects do not have a clear view of how your solution differs from your competitors. The main gap here is that sellers tend to equate differentiation to pricing and features.

Differentiation is a core sales skill that leadership expects all sellers to be able to do. But that expectation is being taken for granted when 47% of your sellers are not able to articulate these differences! They are actually creating more harm than good by taking calls with your customers and prospects. In fact, we found that a full 6.29% where providing absolutely no differentiation at all!

More often, we find that sellers talk about features, rather than specific benefits to the client. To effectively differentiate, sellers must be trained to focus on customer needs and how your solution is uniquely capable of filling that need. Features and pricing do not differentiate your solution from your competitors.

Get Coaching Tips for Sales Managers in the Full Sales Benchmark Report Here >>

Sales Performance Fail #5: Creating a Vision

A full 43% of sellers do not effectively create a vision of use for prospective customers. Without that clarity on how they would use the solution, your prospects likely do not have much urgency to purchase. They know they have an issue that needs to be solved, and they’ve identified you as a potential resource, but if they don’t see specifically how your solution is going to translate to pain relief for their life, they are likely to either continue with the status quo or continue looking for a solution that will fit their needs.

Your marketing and/or business development departments have done some heavy-lifting to get prospects to the stage in the buyer’s journey that they are talking with sales. To lose them simply because they don’t have a clear understanding of how it works is just a tragedy!

The solution comes back to being able to tell a compelling story. Integrating a client story into the discussion provides prospective customers with a vision of use. Also, make sure sellers are doing their research and understand the prospect’s business so they can effectively align your solution with prospective customers’ needs.

Could your sales reps be closing more deals? Absolutely.

But the ability to do so will not just come from optimizing your tech stack or requiring more activity. These adjustments will result in only marginal improvements, at best. Optimizing the conversations your sales reps are having with prospects and customers will yield greater returns with a relatively lower amount of investment.

Begin improving your team’s conversation performance by downloading the full Sales Performance Benchmark Report. Discover what skills other sales organizations focus on to improve their sales interactions and gain specific, actionable coaching tips that sales leaders and frontline managers can start using today to improve sales interactions.

 

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How to Master Data-Driven Sales Management

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A holistic approach to optimizing your sales team with data-driven sales management

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”

~ Will Durant, The Story of Philosophy: The Lives and Opinions of the World’s Greatest Philosophers

In sales, it’s the close that gets all the glory. When that deal gets marked “Closed Won” and the gong is rung, for a bright and shining moment the people rejoice.

But, for most companies, making a sale isn’t a one-time event. That one shining moment was preceded by weeks or months of drudgery and hard work. That new customer was once but a glimmer in a sea of data and noise. Then they surfaced through an ad campaign or a cold call, and the struggle to reel the account in ensued.

High-performers make a habit of consistently executing each activity, no matter how inglorious, they need to move leads through the funnel efficiently and effectively. And frontline managers who use a formal, data-driven approach to managing and coaching develop more high-performing reps within their teams.

Some sales organizations focus on managing the activities of their sales teams. They set KPI goals on how many calls to place, emails and InMails to send, and connection requests each seller should complete in a given time period and track to that goal. Other companies focus on conversation management. They set specific standards for how sellers should speak during the discovery call, present the demo, and close to next steps and they track how well each seller stays within their set talk-track.

Truly forward-thinking sales organizations focus on sales manager development to optimize their sales teams. They recognize that the frontline sales manager is the catalyst to improving rep performance, and they take a holistic approach to enabling them with data-driven sales management tools and processes. This approach integrates tracking both activity and conversation data to inform their management and coaching interactions.

Data-Driven Sales Activity Management

leveleleven data-driven sales management_300pxSuccess in sales isn’t just about the close. It’s the consistent, collective activities that each member of your team must deploy on a daily, weekly, monthly, and quarterly basis to keep your pipelines healthy and active. Most of these activities get none of the glory, yet are the foundation of every successful close.

Activity management sets and tracks the rhythm of every sales rep’s day. It’s the number of new prospects, cold calls, emails, follow-ups, etc. that they must execute to guide potential customers through the funnel.

As Bob Marsh, Founder of LevelEleven, puts it, “No matter how good you are at selling, you’re not spending all day closing deals. You’re spending 99% of your time on the behaviors and activities you’re hoping are going to lead to sales.”

Sales activity management provides the data your sales managers need to determine if their reps are performing these activities as expected. This activity data provides your sales managers with visibility into what their high-performers are doing with their time, versus the activity of their mid or low-performers.

Visibility informs your sales managers on how to coach reps to improve the level of activity they need to perform in order to be successful. Data-driven sales activity management also helps sales organizations track and determine what activities create value for your company (and your customers) and which ones do not.

Data-Driven Sales Conversation Management

commercialtribe data-driven sales managementActivity data is critical to improving your sales team’s performance, but it is not the complete story. Conversation optimization closes the gap that is created between efficiency and effectiveness. If two of your reps are making the same number of phone calls and sending the same emails, yet one is outperforming the other by 20%, what is the cause?

Data-driven sales management isn’t just about inspecting activities logged in Salesforce. It also requires cracking open the conversations your sellers are having with prospects and customers to understand where gaps exist within these interactions.

In fact, on average, your reps are wasting 25% of their qualified opportunities once they do get one on the line. This trend is due to several factors

  1. Lack of defined sales process and messaging
  2. Lack of data-driven sales management development and coaching
  3. Lack of a formal sales management cadence

Data-driven conversation management enables sales managers to help their reps make every sales interaction count. It gives managers powerful insights into what their teams are saying and doing within their activities. And it helps them identify what areas each rep needs coaching in to improve each conversation. It also provides your sales organizations with critical intelligence into what your high-performers are doing, so you can apply what is working well to the rest of your team.

Optimize Your Sales Team

A holistic approach to data-driven sales management uses both activity and conversation management systems to give managers and leaders the best view of what variables improve performance—and how to apply them to shift the middle.

Taking a data-driven approach to formalizing your team’s sales management processes helps build a healthy pipeline, optimize pipeline velocity, and gets your team to goal. Contrary to average sales teams, where each quarter is a mad dash to the finish line, data-driven sales teams consistently sustain quota attainment and revenue growth into the future.

Data-driven sales management is not a one-time event but requires continued observation, measurement, and coaching to develop the behaviors that get your team to goal. The good news for today’s busy frontline sales manager is that sales technology now enables data-driven sales management more efficiently and effectively than ever before.

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How to Build Your Sales Management Cadence

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Great sales leaders have a sales management cadence that sets the rhythm of their team.

The idea of a sales cadence is not new. Sales organizations have been using the concept for years to structure how and when sellers deploy touchpoints with prospects and clients throughout the buyer’s journey. Rarely, though, is a sales management cadence used to build formality into frontline sales managers’ schedules.

In his article, Great Sales Leaders Have Incredible Sales Cadence – Do you?, Josh Horstmann explains that in his experience consulting with a great number of organizations, the one thing that separates great sales leaders from average ones is the quality of their sales management cadence.

What is cadence? Cadence is defined as “The flow or rhythm of events, especially the pattern in which something is experienced.”

Building formality into the flow of your sales team’s management rhythm provides sales managers with the framework they need to succeed and sellers with the coaching and development they need to reliably hit their number.

Why You Need A Sales Management Cadence

sales management cadence why 300pxFrontline sales managers today have a lot on their plates. They are hiring and firing, training and coaching, they have new products and messaging to bring to market, CRM data to maintain, reports to pull, meetings to attend, pipeline reviews, joint calling… The list of activities seems endless and they are all high-priority. In this environment, it is difficult for even some veteran sales managers, not to mention your newbies, to know exactly how much time they should be spending on each task or activity. A sales management cadence provides your managers with a framework for success.

Your sales management cadence also helps you set expectations with your managers so you can focus on optimizing these activities, rather than worrying about whether or not they are happening and to what standard. This level of activity management is often deployed for rep performance management, but rarely for frontline managers. With a documented sales management cadence, your managers know exactly what you expect them to do and how often you expect them to do it. There is no ambiguity nor surprises when the time comes for one-on-ones and performance reviews with your managers.

Finally, a sales management cadence gets your entire sales team pulling together. In his article, Horstmann relates the concept of a sales management cadence to rowing a boat. He writes:

It can be such a struggle – as you fight choppy waters, you can’t keep the boat straight, and your progress is stunted. The key is just to find the right rhythm. Once you find that rhythm, the momentum of your entire team will increase, and you can all ride smoothly. All of a sudden you realize that you’re moving at 100 mph, but it feels effortless. All that you notice now is the cool breeze on your face and all the other teams in your wake.

If you have ever rowed a boat, you know exactly what Horstmann is referring to. That feeling—sometimes fleeting—when everyone is in-sync and cutting across the water almost effortlessly. When you build your sales management cadence, you are putting the framework in place to get to the point with your sales team. It takes work and discipline, but it is possible.

Building Your Sales Management Cadence

sales management cadence tool 300pxTo get your team on the same rhythm, you need to take the necessary steps to lay the foundation, create the framework, and then implement your cadence throughout the team. For established sales teams with tenured managers, this process can take some time. Remember to stay focused on the long-term goal and be patient with the process.

Step 1: Start by downloading this free sales management cadence builder CommercialTribe created to help our sales manager enablement customers formalize their management processes.

Step 2: Determine which management interactions are important to your team. You may want to collaborate with your sales enablement and operations teams to align on what interactions are important to the organization as a whole and determine the desired outcomes.

Step 3: Select the desired frequency and duration of meetings for your team. Should frontline managers be doing weekly one-on-ones, bi-weekly pipeline reviews, and so on? Clearly document the specific cadence of these activities in your sales management cadence.

Step 4: Share your new sales management cadence with managers. Note that it is not enough to simply attach it to an email with the ol’ “have at it”. Sit your managers down and outline specifically why you are implementing a sales management cadence, what it means for them and how they should use it, what your expectations are, and how you will be tracking that they are using it.

Expect to coach your sales managers on how to use your sales management cadence on an ongoing basis. Check in with them during your one-on-ones to determine if they are using it and to what standard, listen to and understand their feedback, and offer course-corrections when needed.

Common Mistakes Sales Managers Make with Sales Management Cadence

1. Managers take over sales calls

Joint calling exists so managers can observe their sellers in action, assess their capabilities, and provide coaching. But this cannot happen if every time a manager joins a call the seller barely speaks. That sales call may go well, but what about the thousands of others the manager is not on? It is OK for a manager to have a clearly defined partner role on any sales call, but taking over calls will ultimately impede seller development.

2. Managers observe too few sales calls

Spending time with their team in real-world calls and meetings is a critical sales management activity. Not only can they help close business, but it also allows managers to be attuned to their sellers’ development needs. Inexperienced managers will just join the calls of their newer sellers and trust more tenured sellers have mastered the conversation. This is a short-sighted view of seller development and coaching.

3. Frequently rescheduling or canceling internal meetings

For sales managers, there is always a critical call to join or activity that feels urgent. The temptation is to push regularly scheduled internal meetings to “fight fires”. Instead, sales managers must set the expectation that recurring internal meetings are the most important events on the team’s calendar.

4. Internal meetings lack purpose and agenda

When sellers don’t know what is expected of them and the manager is not prepared, regularly scheduled internal meetings end up wasting time. If this happens enough, trust erodes and everyone takes the time together less seriously.

5. Trying to do too much in one meeting

A sales manager’s favorite catchall is the 1:1. This (often weekly) meeting may be part forecast review, part pipeline review or part deal review—sometimes all at the same time! While lack of time is a real challenge, each of these meetings can be meaty subjects in and of themselves. It’s helpful for both manager and seller to separate these conversations into different meetings to create clarity in how the time will be spent.

The impact of building (and, importantly, maintaining) a sales management cadence is improved sales performance through clarity, structure, and consistency in the interactions between your frontline managers and their sellers. Once your team hits its rhythm, you will experience a renewed flow.

 

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5 Steps to Sales and Enablement Alignment

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Develop a high-performing sales team that will crush business goals with sales and enablement alignment

Though sales and enablement are technically on the same team, working toward the same ultimate goal, the two functions in many organizations have grown apart. The reasons for this disconnect vary, but the solution to aligning sales and enablement in your organization is relatively simple. Start creating a stronger, more relevant partnership by focusing on these five keys to sales and enablement alignment.

1. Build A Relationship With Sales Leaders

Communication is key in sales and enablement alignment, and the best way to improve communication is to build a relationship with sales leaders. The best way to begin building this relationship is by scheduling a meeting with senior sales leaders to discuss the sales team’s quarterly and annual goals. Understanding the goals and objectives your sales team is working toward will help you discuss how enablement can help influence those goals and build a highly relevant enablement plan.

Also, establish regular meetings with sales leaders. These ongoing meetings will help ensure your enablement team is on the right track, gain insights into how sales is tracking toward their goals, and inform any shifts in planning or tactics that may be needed. Keeping the line of communication between enablement and sales open helps build and strengthen your relationship and improves enablement initiative relevance, planning, and uptake.

2. Shared Sales and Enablement Goals

sales and enablement alignment goalsSpeaking of goals, sales and enablement should have shared goals that you are working toward. If your enablement team is measured based on a separate set of goals than the sales team, the disconnect is structural. So often, enablement is measured based on metrics such as training participation and content engagement. But remember: the goal of sales enablement is to help sales sell more effectively. Are your metrics measuring that goal?

Though it is more difficult to calculate, sales enablement must always be focused on making sales reps and managers better. For enablement, this is done through training, content, and tools. But these elements must be highly relevant to the specific needs of your sales team—and, in many cases, individual reps and managers—and they must be limited in the amount of disruption to sales’ day-to-day workflow as possible.

3. Get A Seat At The Planning Table

It’s unfortunate how often sales enablement is not represented at the executive planning table. Without enablement participation in the business’s strategy and planning, how can they set relevant goals and plans?

A powerful, effective enablement organization has a huge impact on the growth of a business. We’ve seen many examples of how a strong enablement organization, closely aligned with a forward-thinking sales team, impacts a company’s ability to achieve long-term growth goals.

4. Understand The Sales Role

On the reverse side, it’s also amazing how often sales enablement has no background in sales. Enablement cannot possibly be effective without understanding the unique challenges and needs of a sales rep and manager. This is a pitfall that many organizations, unfortunately, fall into that results in poor performance and a lack of relevance. A lot of time, effort, and money is invested into initiatives that are never adopted by sales.

Build an enablement team with people who have worked in sales before. Then, try cross-training individuals on both sales and enablement teams so there is a better understanding of what team members do. At minimum, enablement should spend time observing as many live or recorded sales calls and meetings as possible to gain insights into how these interactions run.

sales and enablement alignment in-workflow5. Provide Value In-Workflow

There are times when salespeople need to be taken out of the field for training to “sharpen the saw”. But limit this as much as possible with virtual sales training and through platform certification. Sales teams that are trained and certified using platform technology solutions for assessment and coaching not only spend more time selling, but they become far more effective at what they do. This is because enablement organizations that use this approach have shifted to agile sales enablement to provide just-in-time training and individualized coaching and development.

Using this model, reps and managers receive the training and coaching they specifically need—rather than enablement or leadership’s best guess on what the team as a whole needs. And they get it faster without taking them out of their daily workflow, so they can apply it instantly.

These keys may seem like an over-simplistic view of the varying issues sales and enablement functions within most organizations face today. But focusing on improving each of these areas will improve alignment, enable more effective sales managers, and develop high-performing sales teams that will reach your common business goals.

 

Sales and Enablement Alignment Sales Transformation Checklist