Help Me Make My Number

Brian Williams, PhD

The pace of sales organizations hasn’t let up in the first five months of 2019. Every CRO, sales ops leader, and sales enablement function we know is working triple time to keep results on track.

For many leaders, a priority always seems to be on maintaining the pressure on results. And this focus often translates into more stuff being thrown out to the field, especially when results are lagging. Over time the barrage of leadership communications and initiatives can come across as frenetic and desperate. “More isn’t always more” when it comes to guiding sales organizations to success. An unstructured approach to enabling the field can have negative consequences.

Over the last two months, we’ve collected survey data from nearly 800 reps in technology, business services, and the industrial manufacturing sectors. We wanted to take a pulse of the modern seller – what’s working, what’s not, and what’s needed to improve performance.

There’s a lot of good news in the results: most sales professionals really do want to hit and exceed their targets. The stereotype of a lazy, undisciplined field rep may be increasingly outdated. The story with today’s sellers seems less about motivation and more about execution.

On the other hand, rep feedback to the corporate functions supporting them is clear: take a minute to walk in my shoeshelp me make my number! These sellers believe that the various corporate initiatives are launched with the best intentions in mind. But by the time they hit the field, the disconnects and gaps can get amplified. For even savvy reps, it can be hard to connect-the-dots. In worse-case scenarios, reps can feel isolated, under-supported in their quest to make quota.

So, what does helping reps make their number really mean in the context of today’s increasingly sophisticated sales organizations? What else can corporate teams do when even the smallest sales functions have invested heavily in programs and resources?

Our survey results suggest improving sales effectiveness is less about the “what” and more about the “how” – a thoughtful approach is important. Fewer blunt instrument strategies, more surgical and smart interventions. To help them make their number, reps in our survey communicated three strong messages:

1. “Help my manager help me.” We all understand the importance of front-line sales coaching. But in many reps’ view, this remains a major area in need of improvement. It’s less about the quantity, but more about the quality of the coaching interactions. The best sales managers support reps in three areas: skills improvement, deal strategy, and pipeline management. But even still, reps say they’re hungry for more meaningful coaching time, not a manager simply checking the box.

What is the sales organization doing to enable quality coaching touchpoints? The goal should be to provide structure, content, and reinforcement strategies. One client refers to this as field leadership routines. The idea is that good sales coaching becomes a steady and consistent pattern of behaviors. Adoption of these routines doesn’t just happen.

It’s sales enablement’s job to equip managers with the toolkit to execute quality coaching. Don’t be afraid to be overly prescriptive in coaching guidance: time allocation, scripted talking points, training activities, and more. Most modern reps are eager for meaningful coaching support. In the sea of sales management initiatives, prioritize helping managers execute fully on this rep expectation and need.

2. “No more logins.” Reps continue to complain about the endless wave of systems and online tools thrown their way. The number of new platforms has increased significantly in the last 2 years. But the complaint isn’t about the concept of technology support per se. The real frustration is how disconnected they appear to the field. Tech fatigue is real, and many reps are increasingly resistant to more.

Sales leaders are cautioned against a knee-jerk reaction to this feedback. Often, it’s not the tool itself that’s the issue, it’s the packaging. Ensure logic and alignment across your systems to avoid a siloed approach when it comes to your tech stack. Help reps and managers understand how any technology benefits their workflow.

Often, this means revamping the messaging used in new system rollouts. Clearly and repeatedly communicate two messages to the field users: 1) how the new ‘thing’ makes their life easier, and 2) how it helps them sell more (or bigger) deals.

3. “Make me smarter on business.” Shifting the conversation from the product to the prospect’s business situation is an obvious priority in complex sales. And this is an area we’ve seen sales teams make real strides. The amount of new training and messaging content to help position solutions that connect with customer issues is impressive.

Unfortunately, rep feedback suggests too many still feel exposed in this area. The insight talk tracks and pre-built decks are helpful, but many say they’re struggling at a deeper level. The reality is, today’s account execs are going toe-to-toe with increasingly senior and sophisticated buyers. They can quick sniff out “superficial insight” or a shallow depth of knowledge around business topics.

The ability to confidently engage buyers around critical business issues can’t be fast-tracked. Take the long view when it comes to building business acumen with your teams. Go beyond memorization of factoids and stats. Teach your reps a broader framework to facilitate quality problem finding and solution development. Help them understand the business drivers behind the stats. The differentiated sales experience expected by today’s buyers demands a new business mindset for reps.

Reps to Corporate: Are You Helping or Hurting?

The simple question for sales leaders arising from this feedback is clear: are you helping or are you hurting? Build a smart enablement plan that truly helps your teams hit the number in 2019. Focus on the core success factors, and refine your actions with the rep’s lens in mind.

Let us help you fine-tune your approach to enabling sales teams with more best practices backed by research. Contact us to learn more ideas and strategies from the best sales organizations.

Brian Williams, PhD

Brian Williams, PhD

Researcher, consultant, and sales leader, Brian uses a data-driven approach to drive sales effectiveness. His clients include leading sales organizations in financial services, technology, healthcare, and professional services. Using insight from academics and change management, Brian helps senior leaders and sales enablement teams understand and succeed in today’s more demanding market. His research has been published in Harvard Business Review and other outlets.