Empowering your Sales Managers and Elevating Coaching to Increase Revenue.

 

Let me tell you a story.

 

There was a company Christmas Party. It was 1998.  The top salesperson 2 years in a row was sitting at the table enjoying the dessert.

 

The CEO of the company approached the table, and asked to speak with the salesperson at the bar.  Next thing I know out salesperson is being offered after dinner cocktail, and the new International Sales Director position.  The CEO wanted the rep to manage the sales team of 6, plus manage five key accounts he had developed.

 

Who turns down a promotion right?

 

On the way home from the party my wife asked me a question, “Have you ever managed a group of salespeople before?”

The answer was no I had not.

On the way home from the party my wife asked me a question, “Have you ever managed a group of salespeople before?”

The answer was no I had not.

The promotion is a common offer to a great salesperson.  You may have even done this yourself.  It seems logical.  The best salesperson who is earning a great income should be able to get the other underperforming sales reps in line.  Wrong!

 

The smart salespeople who have great success do not want to go into sales management.  Sure, there are exceptions at large organizations where there might be a real career path to a corner office outside of the revenue seat.  The skills needed for success in a sales role, are significantly different than a sales management role. 

 

Back to the story, the salesman waited to tell his wife about the promotion until they were in the car.  Her enthusiasm was a bit less than her husband’s.  She asked, “Have you ever managed a group of salespeople before?”  No, he replied.

 

She continued, have you ever managed anyone in your career? As usual, she had a valid point. 

 

 

 

The excitement waned, but the new International Sales Director was determined to be successful. He knew he had a problem and had to figure it out.

 

 The purpose of this blog post is to help you give your sales managers a fighting chance.

 

The Problem: 

 

Like most entrepreneurs the CEO wanted 2 things from sales: 

 

  1. An accurate revenue forecast,
  2. And a sales engine that consistently generated revenue without their constant attention.

 

 

The CEO made a common mistake.  She assumed the sales seat, and the sales leader or sales manager seat are interchangeable.  In fact, it is uncommon for someone to move smoothly from a high-performance salesperson to an effective sales manager. 

 

And in fact, some sales managers describe their jobs as herding cats.  Chaos!  

 

 

The purpose of this talk is to give your sales managers a fighting chance. 

 

 

I am a salesperson so I can say this without impunity—salespeople are not wired the same way as other employees. We can’t, given that we fail more often than anyone else in the company and are expected to take it and keep moving forward. 

 

As a sales manager, I cannot just say, “OK team – the boss wants us to sell $1.5M this quarter. Let’s do it.”

 

For a sales manager to succeed, the processes and metrics must be clearly defined.  The reps must be measured against expectations that are achievable when they follow a repeatable process.

 

Remember this…Sales managers don’t manage salespeople. They manage a process that measures results.

 

Salespeople need structure and support

 

Sales managers must set expectations for revenue, sales activities, behaviors, and manage a process that measures results. That’s it…Easy right?

 

Let’s start with the basics. 

 

Departments are managed to ensure quality, consistent performance, and that standards are met. With Sales Management, the deliverables are an accurate revenue forecast and a repeatable revenue engine. 

 

There are 3 core elements required for success:

 

  1. A sales process optimized for your business.
  2. A sales manager who provides accountability
  3. A sales manager who coaches the sales team-Consistently.

 

An optimized sales process is the backbone of the sales management system. It is how a sales manager maintains accountability and coaches.The process becomes the language we use to talk about deals and is how we know where we are in the buyer’s journey. They fit together like a hand and glove. 

 

 

Let’s consider a Helix client as a case study to explore how these problems are present in the real world.  I will change the names to protect the guilty. 

 

This case study is about Linda

 

Linda is a CEO of a company that uses EOS; they practice ‘Pure EOS’. They sell a very complicated set of services to niche markets. In addition to the CEO, she is also the top revenue producer and de facto sales manager. PLUS the Visionary, and part-time integrator…a busy woman!

 

Linda stirs up a lot of opportunities through her relationships and the 3 large accounts she nurtures. She enjoyed having a hand in sales.  It gave her energy to tell the “company story”.  She knew it wasn’t her highest and best use. 

 

Linda’s situation is typical for a company in growth mode.

 

A little more background on the situation –

  • Revenue was $7M and needed to grow by $15M in 3 years.
  • Revenue would not grow unless we could clone Linda…or the next best thing – clone her process.

 

Although Linda was very successful closing business, she had not documented what she did naturally. She was consistent with her approach, but everyone else believed she was winging it. 

 

Linda did not have to think about the process, and that made it difficult for Linda to share her methods with the sales team. There was no way for her to share her sales approach with her team.

 

 

The Bottom Line for Linda?

She needed to address these issues! 

 

  1. Create a revenue forecast she could trust because her advisory board was frustrated and putting pressure on her.
  2. Establish fair accountability with the business development team. She knew it was necessary but was fearful it would be perceived as micromanagement.
  3. Linda needed to confidently hand off strategic relationships from her network to a salesperson.
  4. Accelerate revenue growth, and
  5. Get herself out of the sales management seat.

 

Linda and I started our work by creating an optimized sales process. We optimized my sales process with unique steps tailored to her buyer’s journey. She immediately understood the sales process because it was what she had always done. She knew it was repeatable because it was what she did each and every time. 

 

The process was put into her CRM which allowed us to track the sales activities, expectations, and maintain a healthy pipeline of deals.  A healthy sales pipeline yields an accurate revenue forecast.

 

Linda had a process that the salespeople could follow like a map. The process had 4 stages and each stage had checklists that needed to be completed in order to move forward. When the sales team followed the process they won more often and the buyers understood the company’s value. 

 

Linda was committed, and willing to support the transformation.  It took 9-months for changes to take hold. She lost two of the original sales reps and we added one new rep. The ancillary benefit of the sales process was the shortening of the sales cycle from 87 days to 47 days. Revenue trended higher – ultimately 41% growth YOY.

 

Let’s review Linda’s priorities-

 

  1. Create a revenue forecast she could trust. CHECK
  2. Establish fair accountability with the business development team. CHECK
  3. Confidently hand off strategic relationships & new opportunities from her network to a salesperson. CHECK
  4. Accelerate revenue growth. CHECK
  5. And best of all, Linda was able to exit the sales management seat. CHECK

 

 

You may recall Linda’s wanted out of sales management. I bet you are wondering how she did it? 

 

With Linda’s situation, she wanted out of the role immediately because she had a product launch that was off track.  

 

Given the immediate need, our solution was Fractional Sales Management

 

Fractional Service providers are common:  Fractional CFOs, Fractional CMO, and Fractional HR. There are Fractional Sales Managers across the country. Fractional Sales Management is a great solution when a company needs a skilled sales manager but cannot leverage the appropriate salary for a full-time qualified employee and they don’t have the resource available in-house.

Situations vary, but sales teams with less than seven employees are often a good size for a fractional sales manager. 

 

For Linda, I agreed to step into the role for 6-months. That allowed me to work with the team to iterate on the process and coach them. The 6-months was the time Linda needed to get her product launch completed.

 

During the fractional engagement, Linda became accustomed to sales reporting from a sales manager. More importantly, she was able to trust the integrity of the data and how quickly we could respond to challenges. We also managed two underperforming sales reps out, and added another. The data made this all objective and rational. 

 

Having an optimized sales process in place gives the sales manager a fighting chance. 

 

Coaching and accountability are 2 essential aspects of sales management.   

First, let’s dig into accountability. It is talked about a lot, but I am going to give you a straightforward way to create it.  

Accountability to what? The sales manager must set expectations for the accountability. 

 

To have what I call Positive Accountability, sales management must tie a personal goal of the rep to the revenue goal.  The rep’s personal goal should be something big that will take some time and money to achieve – a car, a lake house, funding college education, or land for a dream house in the mountains. 

 

With my clients, we do a goal workshop to help give the reps their WHY. The big personal goal becomes the reason to achieve the company goals because the big commission checks fund the WHY!

 

The sales manager sets clear activity expectations to achieve the salesperson’s personal goals which also achieve the company sales revenue goal. The big goals get broken down into monthly, and weekly goals and salespeople are accountable for the expectations set for them by the sales manager.  These metrics will vary based on the company, but the metrics are activities the salesperson can control.  

Once the expectations are set, the sales manager needs a framework to consistently create accountability.

 

The framework I teach is modeled from Mike Weinberg’s “Sales Management Simplified” in 2015.  This is an effective and simple framework that he adopted from one of his mentors.

It goes something like this.

  • The sales manager schedules an accountability meeting with each salesperson once a month. This is a scheduled meeting on each other’s calendar, not a drive-by or casual meeting. I know — another meeting.  Let me explain, this is scheduled for 15-minutes, but often is completed quicker.

 

  • The accountability agenda is always the same and MUST be done Monthly:
    1. Review where the salesperson is compared to the revenue goal. The results.  Met the criteria or did not.
    2. Review the health of the pipeline.
    3. Review the activities and behaviors completed by the salesperson.

 

The meeting is strictly about compliance and accountability which is how we keep these meetings on point and avoid micromanagement. 

If the salesperson is on track with the revenue goals, the sales manager praises the rep and spends a few minutes talking about how this trend of hitting their numbers is how they will achieve the personal goals. 

 

Boom—the meeting is over.

 

If the results are there, they’ve achieved accountability. If the rep missed the revenue results, the sales manager must dive into their pipeline. A healthy pipeline is the next criterion for accountability.

 

For example, If the salesperson has a 30% close rate and a goal of $1M for the year, their pipeline needs 3x their goal because they only close a third. 

The sales manager asks two questions

“What did you advance in the pipeline since the last time we met, and what did you add?” 

 

It’s important to note this is not a coaching meeting. The sales manager is NOT to dive into the details. Simply find out which deals moved forward and what new opportunities were added. New deals should be added and all deals should progress through the process without missing steps.  If the pipeline is healthy, emphasize diligence and the meeting can end.  10-minutes give or take.

 

If the pipeline is in poor condition and the revenue results were missed, the manager needs to extend the meeting to review the activities and behaviors.  It might sound like this.

 

“Bob, I am not okay with you failing.  I am here to help, given you are off track with the revenue goal, and the pipeline looks weak, we need to look at your activity levels.”  

This phrasing shines the light back on the rep and the numbers. It is objective, not personal. The manager must dive into the metrics. Is there enough sales and prospecting activity to fill the pipeline? These expectations were set.

 

A critical point for the success of the sales manager at this point is this: 

They cannot let the underperforming salesperson take the meeting over by complaining or bitching about micromanaging. The only reason the manager is diving into the activities is the results are not there. 

 

The expectations were set and activity levels were agreed upon.  The Rep can achieve the results to avoid a closer evaluation.

 

This framework is simple for a manager to follow, non-confrontational, and supportive of the salesperson reaching their goals. The reps who are performing get positive reinforcement and a reminder that accountability is in place consistently. Underperformers will either improve or self-select out.

Monthly accountability meetings are critical. They are strictly focused on compliance and achieving results. 

 

Let’s pivot to coaching.  Coaching comes in many styles from formal coaching reviews to hallway conversations.  I would like to share 2 techniques that sales managers can use to improve performance.  They work with most employees, business relationships, and even with some teenagers.

 

The first approach is reframing the salesperson’s issue by asking questions that change their perspective.  This requires the sales manager to listen to the salesperson intently and gain a clear understanding of the circumstances.

 

Here is an example.  The salesperson said they cannot make 100 calls a week to prospects. 

 

Now the sales manager asks a question to reframe and create a bridge to a coaching conversation.  

“Bob, I understand the 100 calls can be a struggle.”  Pause.  “What if you could make the calls?   What might happen?”

 

Once the question is asked, the sales manager must sit quietly. 

  • If the salesperson is open to growth and coaching, they will ponder the potential outcomes. 

When the rep enters into a coaching conversation, the sales manager can help and coach on techniques and other ideas for improvement. Remember, the rep has agreed to do this.  If they are open to growth and coaching, they will be willing to talk about what might happen and get some guidance. 

  • If they are not and are not consistently open to coaching – perhaps they are not a fit for the job.

 

 

Here is another coaching framework that I teach This works with salespeople and children.   

It’s great for when the sales rep shows up in the doorway of your sales manager and says, “Do you have a minute?” Most of the time, they have a question.

 

I ask the sales manager NOT to answer the original question. Instead, they are to respond with at least 5 to 7 questions of their own! The goal is to make the rep think about the problem rather than just give them the answer. 

  • The individual will walk away believing they solved the problem on their own. How’s that for some psychology?!
  • They will feel good about the sales manager and they are more likely to remember the solution for the next time they encounter a similar problem.

 

Here are some basic questions for this scenario. Each must be offered with a nurturing tone, and with the intent that one is digging in to help them. 

  • Interesting, have you ever encountered this before?
  • Have you ever encountered a similar situation before?
  • What did you try in the past?
  • Did that work?
  • Why didn’t it work?
  • What does your gut tell you?
  • How do you think you should proceed?

 

If the sales manager stays in the moment and asks a good first question, the path will open up for them. They resist the temptation to just give the answer. 

 

Let’s go back to 1998. 

 

Mark and Larry knew what they wanted:

  1. An accurate revenue forecast,
  2. And a sales engine that consistently generated revenue without their constant attention.

BUT they didn’t have a clear vision to provide good sales management, and neither did I.  This happens all the time.  But it does not need to happen in your company. 

 

Most sales managers struggle with these concepts because they have never been taught or even experienced great sales management. It isn’t their fault.  They do not know what they have never been taught.   They become frustrated and move on. 

 

You now have the insight and can provide your sales manager with a fighting chance by

  • Implementing an optimized sales process
  • work with them on the simple accountability framework
  • encourage them to spend more time coaching the team.

 

Let me put some closure around Linda’s case.  We are 18-months into her 3-year plan. 

 

  • Revenue has grown from $7M to $10.9M. 56% growth. 
  • Her 3-year goal was $15M. Linda has increased that to $17M.
  • We also hired a full-time sales manager.
  • I coach the sales manager, and I do a quarterly workshop.

 

I have another client that sells a product that is highly commoditized.  Jack’s company had too many salespeople. 

  • Optimized their sales process & shortened the sales cycle from 12-months to 9-months.
  • Over 6-months we went from 7 salespeople to 4 salespeople.
  • Reworked the comp plan so they salespeople had an incentive to do what was needed.
  • Trained on sales skills for value, not price.

 Sales costs were reduced by 18%.  Revenue increased by 37%. 

 

Finally, a mid-market company distribution company in Indianapolis had a sales accountability problem.  Great company culture, but the lack of accountability in the sales organization was putting pressure on top line revenue.  Leadership was terrified of accountability being viewed as micro-management. 

  • We worked with the sales manager on the techniques discussed earlier.
  • We completed a goals workshop for the entire team and implemented the following. 
    • Sales managers implement the 15-minute accountability meeting,
    • 1:1 Coaching sessions 2x
    • 1 monthly pipeline review.

 

The sales culture is now based on performance – the entire team is performing well and no one left the organization.

Oh, revenue is trending 11% up over 6 months. 

 

You now have the foundation to build these results.  Go for it.