What the Best Sales Managers Do
Front-line sales managers hire and influence reps’ training, direct rep action plans and continuous execution from day one, offer (hopefully) feedback to reps and so reinforce effective selling behaviours, and are critical to the success or failure of sales-focused growth and transformation efforts.
These supervisors have a disproportionate influence on performance, and those who report to them are aware of this. In a global survey of over 1,000 sales managers and sellers in sectors ranging from medical devices to professional services to technology and pharmaceuticals, we discovered that top-performing sellers are 83% more likely to view their managers as helpful in assisting them in meeting their performance goals. For vendors with fewer than five years of experience, the outcome is even more striking: In comparison to new sellers who did not have an effective manager, they were 240% more likely to be top performers. Having strong sales managers pays well, yet this raises some crucial questions: What is a top-performing manager, and what do these managers do?
Identifying High Performance
In any role, the transition from “doer” to “manager” is tough. You go from being chosen — usually for your success as an individual contributor — to becoming the new person at the bottom of the managerial ladder who has to learn the ropes. Sales managers must accomplish this while learning about their employees, assessing various strengths and limitations, connecting with others in the organisation, executing new administrative responsibilities, and meeting targets.
To identify top performers, we concentrated on factors over which sales managers had a lot of say:
At least 75% of their vendors fulfilled their annual sales targets. This is significant because sales estimates and the team’s ability to satisfy projections influence so many other resource-allocation choices in businesses. Most organisations, on the other hand, deploy production, service, and other assets in reaction to successful business development activities – the organisational reality behind the old adage that “nothing happens until you make a sale.”
Their teams won more than half of their suggested sales to prospects. This is an important characteristic of a cost-effective sales team. The selling cycle is the single most important driver of cash out and cash in for most businesses.
Their teams kept premium prices. Pricing is a critical moment in business development, and according to this study, sales managers are not seen as top performers when their employees discount their way to higher win rates.
Using these criteria, 18.7% of respondents qualified as top performers, with the remaining 81.3% constituting the remainder of the sample. Consider victory rates to obtain a feel of the impact of different performance levels. Sellers who reported to top-performing sales managers won 72% of the time, compared to 47% overall. Consider a firm of 200 sellers, each of whom pursues 25 chances every year (roughly 2 per month), with an average transaction of $150,000. Annual revenue is $352 million with a win rate of 47%; 57% indicates revenue is $427 million; and 72% means revenue is $540 million. It’s difficult to see gains of that scale in other activities short of a blockbuster new product.
What the Best Sales Managers Do
The study looked at 100 abilities and behaviours from several job categories in sales management (see Figure 1). The success of top-performing managers may be described in three words: rhythm, roles, and discussions.
When compared to other sales managers, top performers are 51% more likely to have a regular coaching cadence with the people who report to them. The coaching themes, in turn, represent that rep’s unique combination of strengths and limitations.
Coaching is sometimes confused with discussing outcomes, which is a lagging sign. They coach on an ad hoc basis, focusing on issues after they have occurred, and switching from one topic to the next without regard. This is confusing for the person receiving feedback and contradicts a major learning principle: people develop their behavioural abilities (rather than absorbing new knowledge) by identifying particular areas for improvement in advance and then practising that skill with focused feedback. Top-performing managers are proactive, understanding that consistent follow-up on an issue is critical for behavioural change.
There is also evidence that great achievers are better coaches in terms of quality. For example, while all managers in the sample gave deal coaching at statistically comparable rates, top-performing salespeople are 63% more likely to indicate that their boss excels at deal coaching that results in wins.
Smart leaders recognise this influence and work with managers to improve their coaching abilities. “We identified that to make a meaningful change, we needed to focus at the sales manager level,” says David Coventry, vice president of Optus, an Australian leader in telecom goods and services. Our strategy was based on providing focused coaching to sales managers in order to assist them prioritise actions that would have the greatest impact. They established precise plans of action for their teams, acquired seller engagement, and built a strict accountability mechanism to ensure that everyone followed through. The outcomes have been quite promising. We increased by 15% over the previous year, and connections increased by more than 20%.”
A shift in professional identity is essential to the journey from salesperson to manager. Successful salespeople educate themselves about their clients, goods, and jobs, as well as how to care for themselves. Top-performing managers learn to care for people and take ownership of group behaviours and outcomes. They accept their forecasting, territorial planning, and successful leadership roles. According to the findings, top-performing managers are 52% more likely to succeed in territory planning and organising how sellers manage pipelines, and 42% more likely to conduct meetings that sellers regard as beneficial, rather than time taken away from prospecting or closing sales.
In other words, these managers are in charge of things. Consider how much leadership advice boils down to “hire the best people.” Many organisations’ “strategy” for business growth is to hire historically top-performing sellers from other companies, pay them well, and then let them do their thing. However, in the absence of good managers, the result is frequently disappointment and high turnover. Talent is important, but so much of sales performance is dependent on carrying out the objectives outlined in a company’s plan and developing the internal and external relationships necessary to do so.
Top-performing managers hasten the process of socialisation. The acceptance of a job offer does not result in a return on talent. It’s all about developing and allocating talent, which great sales managers do through area assignments, forecasting, and other responsibilities.
Influence is conferred as well as gained in any organisation. It necessitates not only skill and accomplishments, but also the recognition of others as bringing value. Sales executives are no exception. Top-performing executives exceeded their targets, but so did others. The best performers were perceived as effective by their sellers, who valued the talks with those managers. As a result, top-performing sellers were shown to be substantially more likely to devote more of their time to coaching each week.
People do not have mind readers. Conversations are how managers create trust and assist salespeople in taking the appropriate steps, learning, and improving. Top-performing sales managers are more likely to thrive at conducting conversations with sellers about discovering opportunities, building accounts, managing customer contacts, and improving pipeline. These dialogues assist salespeople in developing abilities, achieving outcomes, and remaining focused and motivated. Sellers evaluated top-performing managers as 71% more successful at motivating, owing primarily to the quality of their group talks.
Interaction is essential
Deadlines, frequent crises, performance demands, and hundreds of choices that must be taken in market time characterise life in every sales organisation. As a result, most sales managers find themselves pulled in several directions, focusing on coaching one month, a new training project the next, and a motivating speech the following quarter. These are all admirable goals, but without a framework for success, the frequent outcome is managers who are global mediocrities.
There is no such thing as abstract performance in business; there is only performance in this firm, implementing this plan, and operating in these market circumstances.
According to sellers, important determinants of managers’ efficiency across sectors include: effective coaching, recruiting, encouraging sellers, and territory/pipeline management. Forecasting and territory planning should be aligned with strategic goals, and coaching should be used to build behaviours that will produce projected outcomes. As a result, reps are more responsive to the manager’s coaching and training activities, establishing a virtuous cycle in which those managers get a reputation as a good place to work (because their reps succeed) and become talent magnets, drawing reps with abilities and coachable personalities.
It’s evocative of Andrew Carnegie’s response when asked, “Which element is most important for business success: brains, capital, or labour?” “Which leg of a three-legged stool is most important?” he replied. Sales productivity and top-performing sales managers are driven by the right rhythm, responsibilities, and dialogues.
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