Unlocking a Sales Professional’s Potential by Improving Frontline Sales Manager Effectiveness – Part 2

Developing Frontline Sales Manager Effectiveness: Coaches Need Coaching, Too

In Part 1 of this “reflection,” I was trying to better understand the pain points of a dissatisfied customer, and I realized that our initial solution — a video practice platform designed to get sellers to watch an “example” of what good looks like, practice, and then submit their “take” for feedback, coaching and certification was too narrow, episodic, and out of seller and manager workflow.

I revealed a narrative around this customer’s Rep A, who after 15-months in the role had plateaued in his development and settled into being a very average middle to low performer, and Frontline Sales Manager A who needed to coach the seller but simply couldn’t find the time and didn’t know where to begin.

What if you could…

  • Arm your frontline sales managers with a seller development dashboard outlining— by seller — the stages of the sales process that were most challenging and which skills they needed to focus on with each seller.
  • Point out specific coaching paths to assist frontline sales managers in developing the right behaviors and skills.
  • Allow sellers, frontline sales managers, enablement, and leadership visibility into the progression sellers are making on key behaviors and skills the organization identified as critical to advancing sales cycles.

How effective coaching begins — the new “Metrics that Matter”

sales manager effectivenessPerformance based metrics are at the core of our traditional sales management approach. Gap to goal, pipeline volume, pipeline velocity, win rate, ASP — you know the drill. And while these metrics are important — and can certainly profile a seller’s performance — they provide little to no insight into how to change a seller’s selling behavior.

I know…if a seller isn’t making enough sales calls, but their win rates are above average, just make more sales calls. I’m referring to middle performers — the sellers that are average across the board. They float somewhere between 45% – 85% of plan, overestimate their forecast, moderately complain about the top performers getting too much recognition, don’t appear to be at risk for leaving and creating an open territory, and seem to leave the office in and around 5pm-ish.

While this may come across as an indictment of the middle performer — it’s not. These sellers aren’t getting coached or developed, they’re simply being overlooked. What’s interesting is WHY they’re getting overlooked. It’s not because frontline sales managers aren’t working hard — it stems from two key factors (assuming respect and relationship are present — without them coaching is a non-starter):

  1. Frontline sales manager time in the field observing sellers is too few and far between
  2. Frontline sales managers lack a framework to effectively assess their sellers

If the average frontline sales manager has 10 – 12 direct reports (assuming no open headcount), somewhere between 4 – 8 are middle performers. You’d agree that most sales managers would be lucky to get one day in the field with one seller per month. Do the math. Even if they went on three sales calls in one day, the chance of observing a live sales situation where a particular selling behavior is being demonstrated is highly unlikely. More often than not, the sales manager is fighting to get to goal — and when the seller stumbles, the sales manager takes over the call. This is the reality.

As an example, most sales managers experience the greatest degradation in the pipeline at the Discovery phase in the sales process — early in the sales cycle — and see conversion rates improve the further they progress. Let’s assume the manager allows the seller to conduct the Discovery call — how is the sales manager assessing the seller? What are the basic characteristics of an effective Discovery call?

Suspend the potential urge for debate and allow me to submit what we generally determined to be the basic attributes of an effective Discovery call:

  1. Setting an effective intro and agenda (evidenced by a solid pre-call plan)
  2. Leading with insight – provocative based selling
  3. Diagnosing a need
  4. Aligning a relevant use case
  5. Qualify and close for next steps

sales manager effectiveness-assessWhile these may be simple behaviors and skills, there are 5 – 6 stages in most sales processes — each taking time to develop to a high standard. We are taking this step towards improving sellers by providing frontline sales managers an assessment frame to assist in “what to look for.”

There’s a reason why Michael Jordan isn’t a basketball coach. He actually doesn’t know what makes him great. He doesn’t realize his shoulders are square to the hoop when he shoots, his left elbow is tucked into his side, and it’s his index finger that leads his follow thru. Simple example but hopefully you see my point.

Which stage of YOUR sales process has the poorest conversion rate…and why? In my experience — based on 20+ years of building and scaling sales organizations — you will NOT find the answer in your traditional metric based dashboard. The key to improving traditional metrics are through a new set of metrics…we need to be looking at behaviors and skills.

Leveraging a combination of Human and Artificial Intelligence, CommercialTribe does the heavy lifting of listening to recorded calls (via any web-conferencing technology) or creates simulated selling environments to observe sellers. Beyond the observation, CommercialTribe has authored a series of assessment maps and competency libraries to help identify specific areas of focus. It’s the assessment framework we’ve realized has been a key missing element in frontline sales manager coaching. We’re now providing the “what to look for” across each stage of the sales process and providing coaching paths to make the untenable role of the frontline sales manager a true coaching and development role.

I welcome any and all comments and am eager to hear how others are thinking about seller development and effective coaching. If there’s interest, I’m happy to publish examples our assessment maps and competencies (skills and behaviors) — perhaps this becomes an open source project of sorts.

Good Selling!!

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Get past “no” and move closer to the sale

No one likes hearing the word “no.” For many people, the word evokes such a visceral reaction that it often affects drive and performance. Salespeople face rejection every day, and giving up isn’t an option. In fact, it can provide an incredible opportunity to turn the “no” into a yes—if you know how.

Successful sellers are never discouraged by rejection— they see it as an opportunity to build stronger relationships, better understand their buyer, and move closer to the sale.

This ebook from the RAIN Group gives you everything you need to masterfully navigate objections and lead productive sales conversations that turn into more closed business. Check it out and discover how your sales team can move closer to the sale. How to Handle Sales Objections

Unlocking a Sales Professional’s Potential by Improving Frontline Sales Manager Effectiveness – Part 1

Moving Beyond Rep Development: Learning as We Go

“Joel is definitely not renewing this relationship” was a recent note I received from a key contact at…ahem…a customer who is now tagged in our customer success application as “Severe Risk”. I’ve been the CEO of CommercialTribe since we founded the company three years ago. And while today we’re fortunate to call some of the world’s most progressive companies customers, the below note is not necessarily focused on our successes, rather in what we’re learning from our failures.

You see I made the early mistake in thinking our initial solution—a rep watches an example of “what good looks like”, practices, and then submits for feedback, coaching, and/or certification—was an answer to a broad spectrum of rep development issues. It’s not, and I’m not upset, angry, or surprised by the customer’s message. We learned our early solution was too narrow and episodic. We were both out of rep and manager workflow as well as we created more work for an already overworked constituency…the frontline sales manager.

As a fledgling entrepreneur, I’m realizing that at our stage value shouldn’t be measured in revenue growth or the number of customers we’ve acquired, but rather in what we’re learning. And, this “reflection” is an attempt to share what we’re learning, which is how to unlock the potential of each rep by improving the effectiveness of the frontline sales manager.

Unlocking rep potential

I had the opportunity to listen to six recorded sales calls based on the above-mentioned customer’s framework. I’ll spare the details around the evolution of our product and get to the point. Today, to unlock the potential of reps, CommercialTribe needs to assist the frontline sales manager:

  • Observe reps across multiple selling situations: modeled scenarios, role play, live call capture, and others.
  • Assess reps with a consistent, timely, and accurate framework.
  • And this is the kicker: Coach the frontline sales managers on specific development paths that enable the rep—and the manager—to get better.

The observations we made across those six calls were based on our emerging Live Call Capture modality. We then assessed each call based on a specific framework and made targeted development coaching suggestions.

The following is the Executive Summary of the result—perhaps with a dramatic flair—yet probably not too far from the truth:

Rep A is at risk of resigning within the next 6-9 months. He’ll leave simply because the volumetric nature of the business will burn him out. Interestingly, it’s not that Rep A finds the activity nature of the role disenfranchising—in fact, he chose to become a salesperson. Rather, despite all of his hard work, he’s not getting any better.

If you were to listen to his first 50 calls (assuming someone had the time), my sense is you’d see an improvement from the first call to the tenth, but then see very little improvement from his tenth call to his 50th. Rep A was elevated from a business development role after four months directly into and AE role, and now after almost 18 months in his current role he lacks several skills you’d expect to see in a rep of his tenure.

From his three calls that we observed, the skills or behaviors he needs to develop are clear:

  • Setting a clear and structured agenda
  • Identifying key priorities and asking effective questions
  • Effectively articulating and contextualizing the the solution
  • Summarizing key takeaways and outlining next steps

While the “what” Rep A needs to develop is straightforward, the “how” is dependent upon his coach…who is also the frontline manager.

Developing better coaches

Manager A is a talented individual, yet could absolutely benefit from coaching assistance and the construction of development plans for each of his reps. But Manager A’s job has become untenable—pure and simple—and denying this fact today makes senior leadership complicit.

In my experience, the average profile of today’s frontline sales manager has them managing 10-12 direct reports—with two open headcount, three net-new hires, four high-performers (one of them is threatening to quit, of course), and they haven’t hit their forecast in the last 90 days. Beyond the personalities, frontline sales managers are challenged with SFDC compliance, accurate forecasting, training, new product releases, marketing campaigns, and, of course, hitting the number.

CommercialTribe customers —all world-class companies—agree, and have made demonstrable changes to invest in frontline manager development. We know this is where CommercialTribe is heading. And in Part 2, I’ll lay out a concrete example of what that looks like.

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CommercialTribe: Transforming The Sales Tech Landscape

Not too long ago, I posted a blog about how rewarding it was to receive recognition in the market. Well, it happened again! Last week CommercialTribe was recognized in a market report released by CB Insights on the 65 Companies Transforming the Sales Tech Landscape.

Investors have poured over $6B into startups offering sales tech solutions. And, with deal counts and dollar amounts reaching all-time highs in 2016, CB Insights created a market map of primarily VC-backed sales tech companies that are changing the landscape of sales and sales enablement.

CommercialTribe was included in the People Development & Coaching category – companies offering products aimed at the direct improvement, education, or incentivizing of salespeople.

You can see the entire list in CB Insights Blog, and also check out our previous listing in CB Insights’ Periodic Table of HR Tech.

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