Our consultants have been busy in 2018. More than 100 ride-alongs and sales call reviews. SKO sessions in eight countries. Surveys and interviews of over 500 reps and managers. Last week we summarized some troubling rep behaviors we’ve seen already this year. Now we turn our attention to front-line sales managers.
Reviewing our January experiences across multiple industries, we found five common sales manager missteps. None of these findings should be particularly surprising. But without a consistent and proactive plan to address these items, your 2018 results are at risk.
1. Blaming the Comp Plan – We continue to hear managers complaining: “Oh, well (insert: cross-sell, referrals, new business, new product sales, etc...) isn't happening because the comp plan doesn't pay reps to do so”. The manager’s job is to manage. If we only expected reps to do what the comp plan told them to do, we'd have sales robots. No need for sales managers at all! Sure, it helps when the incentive plan is aligned. But it's not a requirement to effectively manage performance.
Pro Tip: All comp plans have trade-offs. Understand the potential gaps in your plan and build a strategy to manage through them. For example, if the plan doesn’t address cross-sell, build a cross-sell report. Regularly highlight cross-sell behaviors on your weekly calls. Make cross-sell an ongoing part of the conversation. What gets 'managed' gets done!
2. Managers as Super Seller – “Just set the appointment, and I’ll close the sale.” It’s a phrase we’re hearing a lot. It’s great to see sales managers willing to dig in and help. That beats a passive, unengaged manager any day. But this approach doesn’t scale. It also severely limits the growth and development of reps. If we rely on managers to close all the business, our entire operating model is broken. Too many other important things will go unmanaged.
Pro Tip: Focus your managers on training and coaching reps to close sales on their own. Yes, the sales manager is there to help, but they shouldn’t do the rep’s job. Encourage this by modeling good coaching yourself. The system works when everyone on the team knows and executes their role.
3. Embarrassingly Poor Time Management – Today’s sales managers are pulled in 100 different directions. And bad time management is a major theme we’re seeing. The poorest-performing managers allow internal (non-customer and non- rep-facing) meetings distract them from coaching. The explosion of business intelligence and CRM data has only made things worse. In one of our recent reviews, we found a large group of “analysis-paralysis” managers. Too much time spent compiling, sorting, filtering, analyzing data. Too little time spent coaching reps on how to respond to the metrics.
Pro Tip: Plan your time or your time will plan you. Structure your calendar so you do your most important actions first. One-on-one sessions with reps, field rides, and sales team meetings should be the priority. Schedule internal meetings only after you’ve calendared the important coaching activities.
4. Rear-view Mirror Management – Speaking of time, sales managers continue to spend too much of it “managing” lagging indicators. Outcome measures of performance may be interesting, but practically, they’re impossible to manage. In more than one company we found managers spending multiple hours each week reviewing lagging KPIs. Multiplied across the entire team, hundreds of sales manager hours were wasted.
Pro Tip: Build your model of sales performance that connects individual rep behaviors to leading activity metrics to lagging outcomes. Front-line managers should pay the most attention to tracking and coaching individual behaviors. These actions are the front windshield of your sales system. Direct your team to execute the actions that will truely impact sales outcomes.
5. Management by Home Office – Remember the leadership mantra of the 1970s and 80s – MBWA (Management by Walking Around)? A simple piece of leadership advice emphasizing the importance of face-to-face contact. In our January experiences, we saw a remarkable amount of MBHO (Management by Home Office). Again, a sales manager's core purpose is to coach reps. Yet, with the growing culture of remote salespeople and managers, coaching quantity and quality is deteriorating. Not having enough face time with reps is a major concern.
Pro Tip: Get your managers out from behind their home office desks (or off their sofas!). To gain an understanding of critical selling behaviors, managers need rep face time. Be intentional in planning this activity. Set the weekly cadence so managers are spending meaningful one-on-one time with their team members. In-person interactions build trust, boost morale, and stem voluntary turnover.
We’re living in uncertain times and who knows how 2018 might unfold. But sales managers have more influence than they might think when it comes to their team's performance. Sales leaders, enablement, and managers should focus on these five issues this year. Addressing them early will dramatically increase your chances for success.
Contact us to find out more about how to avoid these and other common sales management pitfalls. We can also compare your practices with our best practice data to help your make the most of 2018.
About The Author
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.