What Are the Main Investments in Sales Productivity? Part 3: Developing Frontline Sales Managers

The growth and development of people is the highest calling of leadership.”
— Harvey S. Firestone

“Where have you or do you plan to invest to improve sales productivity?”

That’s the question we asked the participants of our 2014 MHI Research Institute Sales Performance and Productivity Study. In the last part of this series, we discuss one remaining data point: 55% of our participants consider the deployment of dedicated sales manager training and development programs as a focus this year.

The leverage effect of frontline sales managers (FSMs) defines their huge impact on sales execution

The frontline sales manager’s role is where sales execution happens. Think about their average span of control in your organization, and you will quickly realize how huge their leverage effect is. This role decides where salespeople sell, to whom they sell, how they sell and often also which parts of the portfolio they sell. What makes the role so demanding is the need to continuously balance between areas that are often competing against each other: customer, people, and business. The FSM triangle offers a framework to deal with this challenge. FSMs have to become a frontline coach, a leader and a business manager at the same time. It is more than evident that the FSM’s role is different from a sales role and different from other management roles. What about their training and development?

Integrated FSM development don’t seem to be a top priority

Eleven percent of our participants indicated that they had already implemented sales manager development programs in 2013 or earlier. For another 55%, it was or is a priority in 2014/2015. What the numbers say is that the topic is somewhat a priority but still not a top priority – comparing this 55% to the 81% and 82% of investments for salespeople. If we truly understand the FSMs’ relevance and their leverage effect in any sales organization, these priorities have to be changed.

Leaders are not just born… they have to be developed

“The most dangerous leadership myth is that leaders are born – that there is a genetic factor to leadership. This myth asserts that people simply either have
certain charismatic qualities or not.
That’s nonsense; in fact, the opposite is true. Leaders are made rather than born.”
–Warren G. Bennis

What happens is that poorly developed frontline sales managers drive top performers out of the organization and promote mediocre performance from those who remain. This is not acceptable for any sales leader with ambitious performance goals. World-Class Sales Organizations understand that developing FSMs is a wise investment with a huge leverage effect to add growth and effectiveness to the top line. They understand that the costs of doing nothing is much bigger.

Holistic development programs for FSMs are mandatory to drive productivity

The challenge to develop world-class FSMs is to design a holistic program based on three pillars:

  • First, the program has to reflect the three areas – customer, business and people – and how to balance them, which requires an additional focus on building adaptive competencies.
  • Second, the program has to address the FSMs’ specific focus – managing the right activities and coaching the right behaviors, based on leading indicators. That’s why general management programs don’t apply.
  • Third, the FSM development program must have an interface to sales force enablement regarding the “people” area. This is where coaching comes into play. The FSMs’ coaching approach should reinforce the overall enablement approach to driving adoption. Therefore, the FSM coaching approach has to be derived from the same design point as the customer’s journey.

 

 

Related blog posts:

Investments in Sales Productivity – Part 1 Sales Enablement

Investments in Sales Productivity – Part 2 Sales Operations and Technology

What Triangles Have To Do With Frontline Sales Managers

Frontline Sales Manager’s Mantra: Managing Activities and Coaching Behaviors

Frontline Sales Managers: Key Role, but Poorly Developed and Enabled

What Are the Main Investments in Sales Productivity? Part 2: Sales Operations and Technology

“Stressing output is the key to improving productivity,
while looking to increase activity can result in just the opposite.”
–Paul Gauguin

“Where have you or do you plan to invest to improve sales productivity?”
That’s the question we asked the participants of our 2014 MHI Research Institute Sales Performance and Productivity Study.
In Part 2 of this series, we continue with the investments in changing the coverage model (62%), the compensation and quota strategies (60%), deploying new CRM systems (48%) and new sales productivity applications (54%).

 

Coverage model – foundational business management element

Investments regarding coverage model, compensation and quota strategy have to be derived from the business and sales strategy and then adjusted to the sales execution plan to create tangible value for the sales force. Adjusting the coverage model often goes hand in hand with strategic and organizational changes. It is a core design element of an organization’s sales system and one of the most foundational business management elements. Sales operations have to make sure that the coverage model follows and enables the sales strategy and the sales execution plan – how an organization wants to connect and engage with prospects and customers.

Compensation and quota strategy – How should your performance culture look like?

Also here, there is an ongoing need to adjust these strategies based on changing business strategies. But often, it doesn’t happen as it should, and both elements do not support the business strategy well. Compensation and quota strategies are areas where cultural differences come into play – more or less competitive cultures. The strategic versus the tactical focus has also to be considered. When quotas are adjusted several times a year, the tactical focus is the main trigger. That sheds light on what needs to be decided by the sales leadership team beforehand: How should our sales performance culture look? What is it we want to measure, to recognize and to reward?

CRM systems and sales productivity applications

Implementing CRM systems isn’t about technology. It’s always about people, change, adoption and communication. And it’s about sales leadership. All this requires a broad alignment across the entire salesforce: what a CRM system’s value will be for salespeople and how the future workflow will look. Never forget to show which elements will be replaced by the CRM. One of the most critical issues is not creating real value and productivity gains for salespeople. Answers must be more specific than “increase productivity.” In addition, wrong assumptions about CRM systems are out there. Without mentioning all of them, just consider this:

Technology does not replace selling.
Technology does not replace leadership.

Sales leadership is the key ingredient for successful CRM implementations. Change processes have to be led and orchestrated – but not by change management, but by sales leaders! Leading by example.

 

Related blog posts:

What Are the Main Investments in Sales Productivity? Part 1: Sales Enablement

What Are The Leading Investments In Sales Productivity?

 

What Are the Main Investments in Sales Productivity? Part 1: Sales Enablement

“Productivity is never an accident. It is always the result of a commitment to excellence,
intelligent planning, and focused effort.”
–Paul E. Meyer

“Where have you or do you plan to invest to improve sales productivity?”
That’s what we asked the participants of our 2014 MHI Research Institute Sales Performance and Productivity Study. Investments in improving process, skills or competency training (81%) and investments to improve product knowledge, market and competitive intelligence (82%) are the leading investments for 2014 and 2015.

We will focus today on the enablement topics. The other productivity investments in sales operations, sales technology and sales managers will be discussed in Part 2 and Part 3 of this series.

No training without content, no content without training

These investment areas cover both, knowledge transfer and behavioral change. The former is primarily addressed with content services, the latter with training services. But two one-way roads in parallel don’t lead to more productivity. These services have to be connected to create value instead of noise. Connecting the dots is important to make sure that content and messaging for the salespeople are customer-focused and consistent at any time, without redundancies and gaps. Providing content alone is not enabling the salesforce. Enablement has to make sure that people learn how to use different content resources effectively. For sales training, it is essential that the supporting content is available, on-demand. Product training has to be well aligned with enablement content and client-facing content. Connecting the dots sounds simple, but it is a huge challenge, especially in larger organizations where different functions contribute to these services. If so, enablement is ideally positioned to take on the orchestrating role across different functions with the bigger picture in mind and knowing what salespeople need.

Connecting the dots between content and training

Regarding knowledge, content is the leading enablement service (portfolio, industries, competitors, customers, internal, etc.). Training comes into play in two ways: First, product training should build on the internal and client-facing content that salespeople will use later on, regardless which function is responsible to provide product training, as mentioned above. Orchestrating that is enablement’s responsibility. Second, some pieces of content, such as newly designed playbooks, content packages or new ROI or other sales tools, require a “how to use” training service, to make sure that people understand how to use these resources effectively. Short video clips are the first step to making a big difference in terms of value and adoption.

Training on skills, competency and processes is more focused on behavioral change. Content has a supporting function. Nevertheless, salespeople should have access to this supporting content at any time, but in a valuable way. Providing supporting content in small chunks when needed (depending on the stages of the opportunities salespeople work on) creates add-on value. The next step would be to create small, on-demand training modules to refresh what has been learned, depending on the sales person’s selling context.

Stay tuned: Part 2 will cover investments in sales operations and technology.

 

Please have a look at the related blog posts:

Sales Enablement: Auto-Pilot versus Strategic Thinking

Enablement in transactional and complex sales environments

Sales Enablement’s Role in Value Messaging

What Are The Leading Investments In Sales Productivity?

In our 2013 Sales Performance and Productivity Study, the following investments in sales productivity 2013 and 2014 emerged as the top three:

Process, skills and competencies cover the “how to sell” dimensions, whereas the second initiative is focused on the “what to sell” dimension. The third initiative on sales manager training and development covers two dimensions at the same time: The first is to train sales managers on the skills and competencies they need to perform their role most effectively, and the second one is to develop their coaching excellence. Front line sales managers’ ability to coach is what makes the differences in terms of measurable business impact. Depending on their span of control, front line sales managers have the biggest leverage effect in any sales organizations when it comes to sales execution.

To create more business impact out of these investments, two connections must be made:
First, it is essential to integrate the sales methodology in any training or content service that covers product knowledge. Learning skills or competencies, e.g. a new way of delivering value messages, is much easier with the products and services that are sold, than with neutral examples.

Second, the sales manager training and development needs to be derived from the implemented sales methodologies and processes. Coaching frameworks and guidelines have to be tailored according to the sales operations and enablement framework. On the one hand, coaching helps to identify the actual stage of an opportunity to define the right forecast. On the other hand, coaching of opportunities, especially of early opportunities, has to mirror the implemented messaging and engagement principles. Only then can coaching have the potential to reinforce sales enablement and sales training investments on a regular basis.

Help us help you. Invest a few minutes to participate in our 3rd MHI Research Institute Sales Performance and Productivity Study 2014. The SPPS 2014 is focused on sales operations, sales enablement, sales training and sales technology. We want to learn more about the scope and the trends regarding sales productivity in different functions. Furthermore, we want to understand current and future investment priorities. A special focus this year is on the role of front line sales managers and how well they are equipped, and on the different initiatives driven in sales enablement and/or sales training.

What you can expect from the study as a participant

The findings of the SPPS 2014 will help you as a participant to understand those sales productivity core themes and trends, as well as the related investments trends. Furthermore, the findings will help you with data to support your strategic planning for 2015 in your organization.

What’s in it for you – immediately?

In return for investing your time to complete this survey, you will have immediate access to a collection of research published by the MHI Research Institute, the Strategic Themes Digest, as well as an invitation to our participants’ webinar that will feature the results in October.

Click here to get to the study – it’s open through August 1, 2014.

Thank YOU very much for participating!

 

Why You Should Invest In Frontline Sales Managers First

7ali0ryyq6s-pumabg“The Principle of Priority states (a) you must know the difference between what is urgent and what is important, and (b) you must do what’s important first.”
― Steven Pressfield

Investments in sales productivity are often a significant budget item, and sales leaders need to tailor these investments to achieve their business goals. As the results of our CSO Insights 2016 Sales Enablement Optimization Study show, most investments in sales productivity are focused on salespeople, and investing in frontline sales managers is still not a top priority. In the main investment categories of $500-$2,500 per person per year, 53.6% of all training investments are targeted to salespeople; and 41.4% for sales managers. Furthermore, 18.6% of all respondents reported not investing in their sales managers at all, compared to only 6% who reported not investing in their salespeople.

At CSO Insights, we encourage our clients to look at it this way: If an investment in one person can impact the performance of six, eight, or ten salespeople, why would you not prioritize this investment?

Frontline sales managers: key role but poorly developed

Frontline sales managers have a greater impact on sales execution, productivity, and transformation than any other role. What makes this role so demanding is the need to continually balance three often-competing areas – customer, business, and people – in constantly changing and complex selling and buying environments.

Furthermore, frontline sales managers are almost always sandwiched between the competing goals and motivations of their team and corporate executives as well as between those of customers and the internal organization. Their performance is judged on their ability to achieve multiple, often-competing goals at the same time.

Having been the best sales professional in the organization does not automatically qualify an individual to be a top-performing frontline sales manager. The root cause of poor performance is the failure to develop frontline sales managers in their new role. Poorly developed frontline sales managers drive top performers out of the organization and promote mediocre performance from those who remain. This is something sales leaders with ambitious growth and performance goals simply cannot afford.

Investing in frontline sales managers drives results if done the right way!

The data from our 2016 Sales Enablement Optimization Study shows that organizations that make little to no investment in sales manager development fail to achieve even average results. Conversely, those study participants who invested more than $2,500 per sales manager per year experienced far better results. For example, by investing in sales managers, the win rate for forecasted deals could be improved by 9% up to 50.5%.

However, modest investments were not enough. Those respondents who reported making only minor investments in sales manager development saw a win rate of only 43.7%, which was 5.5% below the reported average of 46.2%.

Investments in frontline sales manager development correlated to an even bigger impact in the area of revenue plan attainment, which could be improved by 18.4% up to 106.7%, compared to the average revenue plan attainment of 90.1%.

Coaching is the key to leveraging salespeople’s full potential, but it has to be formalized to be effective!

Coaching does matter. The impact on sales performance metrics, such as quota attainment or win rates, is remarkable. But the impact depends on the coaching approach. And the way organizations approach coaching their salespeople remains an interesting data point. Only 27% of all study participants reported having a formal or dynamic coaching approach. “Formal” means that there is a coaching process defined and that sales managers are trained this way and required to coach accordingly. Dynamic means that in addition to the formal approach, the coaching framework is also connected to the sales force enablement framework.
Almost half of the study participants (47.5%) reported leaving coaching up to their sales managers. But this laissez-faire approach creates no performance impact whatsoever. When coaching is left up to managers, quota attainment was only 53.4%, as compared to the study’s average quota attainment of 55.8%. An informal coaching approach improved quota only slightly better than average. In our study, a formal coaching approach resulted in significantly better than average performance, and a dynamic approach improved quota attainment by an astounding 10.2% up to 61.5%.

These findings show that investing in less than a formal coaching approach is a waste of money if sales leaders want to get better than average.

Investing in frontline sales managers leverages the investments made in a sales force enablement foundation

The CSO Insights 2016 Sales Enablement Optimization Study highlighted another interesting correlation that could be used to leverage synergies between sales performance initiatives. Organizations with an enablement function invest more in their sales managers than those without an enablement function.

Sales force enablement’s foundation provides a great starting point for sales manager development. Based on an existing sales force enablement framework, a coaching framework should be developed, sitting between the customer’s journey and the internal processes. To make frontline sales manager enablement successful, especially coaching enablement, it helps to design the coaching framework as a mirror image of the enablement framework. This connects coaching to the enablement services and promotes adoption and reinforcement.

Coaching is a vital skill that has to be learned from scratch, and a dedicated, formal sales manager development program is a must-have for any ambitious sales organization. This sales manager development program must cover all three areas of the frontline sales manager triangle: customers, business, and people. And, while coaching is only one aspect of the people side of the triangle, it is the most impactful and differentiating one.


 

Related blog posts:

Frontline Sales Managers: Key Role, but Poorly Developed and Enabled

Why Effective Coaching Requires A Coaching Framework

Coaching Isn’t Just Coaching: Which Coaching Areas Have To Be Considered

How World-Class Frontline Sales Managers Coach Differently To Drive Performance


 

This article was written for Top Sales Magazine, September issue.