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How to Remove Variability in the Sales Management Process to Improve Sales Results

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If you lead sales teams, you know that variability is the enemy of success. In this post, we'll discuss how to remove variability in the sales management process to improve sales results. We'll also provide some tips on how to manage sales variability on an ongoing basis.

As a sales leader, when executing (week to week, month to month, quarter to quarter) your goal is to remove variability from the sales process in order to engineer predictable results.  Imagine if your sales reps decided they would vary the number of sales appointments they completed.  Or if each of them decided to use a different pitch or demo.  What if every rep on your team decided to throw your sales process to the wind and just wing it? 

While the examples could go on, the ability to predict sales results is arguably a function of how consistently you execute your sales process.  The conventional approach we take to ensure a standardized sales process is to run the management process (aka the management operating cadence).  The execution of the sales process is governed by a series of recurring management events such as the pipeline review, the forecast review, 1:1's, etc; all designed to ensure our sales teams are executing against your designed sales process.   

But wait...if I have a management operating cadence, why do I still have <50% of my reps at plan, poor forecast accuracy, and higher than anticipated turnover (aka unpredictable results)?  

In short, there is a ton of variability in the execution of your sales management process...and you can't see it.  The truth is, the approach first-line sales managers take to their respective assignments varies dramatically from one manager to the other.  

While revenue intelligence players like Gong and Clari have made the variability in the sales process visible, the same cannot be said for your management process; you simply measure the sales activity expectations of your reps differently than the management activity expectations of your managers.  In fact, most don't measure the management process at all.   

Some common sources of variability in your sales management process include:

  • A non-defined or poorly defined management operating cadence.  Said differently, your sales managers are not all on the same page.  This is especially true when managers are brought in from other organizations and are running what they know...another playbook.
  • Your reporting does not support the objectives of the management event.  In some cases, you're not providing enough data and in others, there's too much data.  Most front-line managers do not understand how to interpret the data in your current systems or they struggle to find the right data for specific events.  
  • Your management operating cadence outlines events, yet they're all internal events...there are no stated expectations for how much time managers should spend in the market (aka the ride-along or call-along).  This data point will shock you - we've found that first-line managers spend <5% of their time in the market conducting a ride-along or call-along.    
  • Little to no direction is given to which reps managers should bias their time.   Left to their own devices, first-line managers bias working with high-tenure, high-performers at the expense of new hires and mid-performers.  
  • There are no expectations for 2nd line managers to inspect their first-line manager’s execution of the management process.  In fact, the tools that they have are based on the sales process, not the management process.  When there is a pipeline problem, more often the proposed solutions involve greater sales activities, marketing campaigns, and/or incentive gimmicks.  Not often enough do we inspect the quality of the pipeline review, the frequency, as well as the attendees.  

If you were to compare the calendars of all of your first-line managers and how they spent their time this past quarter, what do you think you would see?  How much variability would there be against your defined operating cadence?  And if you were to reduce your sales management process variability by 5%...10%, what impact would you see in your results?

Here’s a way to answer this question:

Think about how many sales calls (Discovery, Demo, etc.) occurred last month completed by your new hires and/or your low to mid-performers.  How many of those calls were supported by their manager?  The answer is probably <5%.  I’ll spare you the mental gymnastics of going through the exercise around the cost of getting a prospect to take a sales call as well as what it would mean to your results if you improved the Win Rate of this segment by 3%, 5%...10%.

(Psst: Listening to a recorded call is NOT a substitute for call partnering with your manager.  The pre-call prep, assigned roles, and post-call debriefs matter a lot.)

As you approach the next quarter consider the following:

  1. Get your managers back in the market.  Our data set suggests front-line managers that spend 10% - 15% of their time per week co-selling in a ride-along or call-along engineer 2x the number of reps at plan and outperform their peers by 200% in overall quota attainment.  BTW - if your average co-selling event is 45-mins - 1hr, this is somewhere in the neighborhood of 4 - 6 appointments per week per manager. Note: not all sales management events are created equal, co-selling has the greatest correlation to % of reps at plan and % to plan than any other event.  
  2. Identify the critical few sales management events and be over-prescriptive in their definition.  Here's a link to a trial account with best practices in constructing your operating cadence.  Your sales managers need to know the What, Why, How, and Systems/Supporting Reports to run each management event.  The critical few (or the walk before you run) sales management events to focus on: Team Meeting, Pipeline Review, Forecast Review, and Co-selling.
  3. Close your data reporting gaps.  Invite your head of revenue ops or someone from finance to help construct what reports should power each event.  Similar to the expectation that your reps can sell every product/service, a similar expectation should be set for a front-line manager to read and understand each management report.  
  4. Align your sales enablement team and train your managers on the core management operating events.  Consider a bi-weekly (mandatory) training that is a deep dive into each event.  While your managers certainly need to possess interpersonal skills, this should be secondary to how they effectively run a pipeline review different than a forecast review, etc. 
  5. Bias your new hires and mid-performers.  While everyone needs a coach, there's more juice in the coach your "new hires and mid-performers" squeeze.  Consider adding % of reps to plan as an additional element to your front-line sales manager comp plan.  

As you can see, there are many factors that can contribute to the variability in your sales management process. By taking a closer look at these factors, you can start to make changes that will have a positive impact on your results.

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