In this guest post Tony Prentice talks about how business leaders can ensure their sales teams have the strategy, information and training necessary to deliver the figures.
One of the most fascinating benefits of running a consulting business is the broad cross-section of industry professionals you get to meet and observe.
Over the past four years I have witnessed first-hand both the unique and the similar challenges and opportunities that face the modern sales professional.
In the surveys we constantly field among clients and non-clients, the most consistent yet startling insight is that only half of all frontline sales managers feel equipped to deliver in their roles within the next year.
This statistic is not derived just from senior sales leaders with 10-plus years of experience but from people tasked with directly managing individuals at the coalface of the day-to-day pursuit of revenue.
Our estimate is that Australia has a population of about 2,500 face-to-face (non call-centre) media sales people, so if our regular surveys are right, that’s well over 1,200 professionals who are feeling they may well miss their targets in the foreseeable future. By the way, this number also stands for sales people outside the media sector.
Post GFC investment in skills and professional development has slowly been turned back on but it’s largely aimed at either the upper echelons of sales leadership or basic skills training for the rank and file.
Rarely do we see a sales leader who has not attended a five-day residential business school program. Often do we see a sales manager who has been promoted from their successful stint as a sales person and parachuted onto a sales management position.
Intense pressure is applied on all elements of a sales organisation and the level of scrutiny, compliance and demand continues to escalate.
To prosper in this high performance environment the 50% of companies whose sales mangers do feel equipped to succeed this year have some common traits.
- Firstly: acknowledgement that the competencies required to be successful in a sales management role differ significantly to a straight sales role.
- Secondly: the business tools required to provide accurate and timely decisions throughout all points of the sales cycle.
- Thirdly: a safe and encouraging environment for feedback and ongoing learning and professional development.
- And last but certainly not least is the evidence and belief in a clear sales plan.
- Increasingly the expectation is that a company’s HR leadership plays a primary role in supporting the sales manager in the competency area but this usually lacks the frequency to ensure cut-through given the HR function is there to partner with the entire business and is usually stretched with both budget and time.
More importantly it is up to the sales leadership to define and explain the set of competencies designated ‘crucial,’ pertaining to the lifecycle and trajectory of a business. The relationship and reliance on the sales leadership to teach and coach is the key to success.
We continue to be surprised by how many sales organisations have an absence of current best practice in relation to the tools of business that are necessary for day to day operations.
CRM, pipelines and forecasting continue to be performed in an ad-hoc or off-line capacity in most of the businesses where sales managers feel under equipped to deliver in their roles.
A lack of business tools also creates an absence of strong processes which then creates a gravitational pull back inside the business and away from the marketplace and its associated revenue.
Time spent by a sales manager in this type of environment can equate to almost two days a week of non-sales based activity.
Creating and fostering a feedback culture can be a major stumbling block in a world of sales where bad news is avoided at all costs and good news is trumpeted loudly throughout the organisation.
An understanding that the revenue result is a culmination of the entire business’ efforts goes some way towards removing the barriers around constant feedback on performance for a sales manager, as opposed to a crisis meeting during adversity or a long lunch on Friday as a reward.
The pay-off for engendering this type of environment is enormous for a sales manager as they can freely communicate and share all issues and opportunities without fear of reprisal. Sales leaders who role model this type of behaviour with their sales managers tend to be more relaxed and have a better night’s sleep.
Sales planning is a high-level skill that requires practice and support to develop.
We never see a business that does not have a well-crafted business strategy document developed by the form’s executive.
However, the further we travel through an organisation the more frequent the absence is of a sales plan to support the overall company objectives.
Without a sales plan in place it is difficult for the sales manager to navigate a path, which leaves them subject to the constant focus of ‘this week’s number’ as opposed to ‘this month’s initiative’ or ‘this quarter’s project milestone’.
A plan is a vehicle that gives the sales manager something to ‘manage’. It can be argued that the revenue is merely a result of the actions from where the sales manager asks the team to focus.
You will already know which 50% you and your sales management team fall into based on current performance or engagement surveys.
The good news is there is always a way to engender a stronger sense of belief and purpose in delivering this year’s numbers.
Tony Prentice is the principal at Prentice & Partners.