Neal Benedict
March 3, 2017

There is no shortage of articles that one can find with statistics of how many salespeople meet their quota. One study by the Aberdeen Group said that only 50% meet or exceed quota. Another study by Salesforce.com claims it’s a bit healthier at 60%.  In yet, another study from the TAS group, as many as 67% of all salespeople miss their quota. Not overly encouraging for a business owner considering building or adding to their sales team. Honestly, I have no idea if these numbers are accurate. Sales teams operate in diverse markets, with diverse products and with diverse sales managers who have varying levels of skill and abilities.

As a fractional sales manager, I am often called upon to help when sales have plateaued or have begun to decline. Hence, I admit my bias. I encounter many scenarios where 100% of the sales team is not meeting quota, hence I often start there. When I begin interviewing the team I begin to hear many reasons for the lack of sales performance. The most common are:

  1. Lack of qualified leads
  2. No sales training
  3. Too many “no” decisions
  4. Losing to competition on price
  5. Too many administrative tasks
  6. No documented sales process
  7. Lack of selling tools

While many of these reasons may or not be fully “genuine” it fundamentally isn’t important. Why? Because these are only symptoms of the problem. Not the problem itself. The problem often times is a lack of competent sales leadership and coaching.

It’s all too common for businesses to believe that all of their revenue problems would be solved if they simply found the “right” salesperson. But as we have seen by the numbers above an individual salesperson’s success is a 50/50 proposition.  Now you may be saying “wait a minute, surely most of the numbers cited above are from teams with sales managers already in place.” That is certainly the case. But I identified the problem as lack of competent sales leadership and coaching, not the lack of one altogether.

Our good friends at Ecsell Institute have done close to a decade of research on the value of effective sales coaching. They note a 16% improvement in sales when sales managers improve as coaches. Ok easy enough, be a better coach. Except it isn’t and that’s why so many sales managers are ineffective. However, they take us much deeper into the realm of sales coaching. There are broad areas of focus one must understand to be an effective coach (these should be obvious):

  1. Doing the “right things”
  2. The quality of the “right things”
  3. Frequency of doing the right things at the right level of quality

In order to be an effective coach, you have to do the right things. There are only a handful of high-payoff activities that truly impact the performance of a sales team. Understanding those activities at a very granular level, however, is important. It is insufficient to simply have a sales meeting for example. It has to be structured, consistent and outcome oriented. As a fractional sales manager, my sales meetings have a detailed agenda and timeline that each salesperson understands and comes to expect and in many cases even enjoy.

But you can’t stop at just doing the right things. You have to continually work to improve the things you are doing. As I mentioned above you have to break down the right things into a series of smaller activities where you can focus and dare I say practice. In the book Peak by Anders Ericsson (a book I highly recommend to my sales managers) he describes the process of “deliberate” practice which is a thoughtful approach to focusing on improving one small skill through targeted training. Once you know what to do you need to work on being the best you possibly can through focused practice on skills you haven’t yet mastered.

The third area of focus once you are doing the right things at the highest level of quality is how frequently you are doing them.As a sales manager, I would tend to see myself as Batman. I would rush into various situations such as sales calls on an infrequent but dramatic fashion creating mayhem and leaving a trail of destruction, thinking I had just saved the day. However, your job as the sales leader is not to save the day.It’s to provide guidance and tools on a regular basis so the salesperson doesn’t need help to rescue deals.Think- more Alfred and less Batman.

What Are Sales Managers?

Sales managers have one of the most difficult jobs in the sales professions. They are often confused with CRM jockeys, report generators, jr. product managers or in some cases the dreaded “super salesperson”. Sales management is often not well defined. When the role is not well defined it makes performing that role effectively, next to impossible. But that’s where it starts.

Sales Manager – a role with accountability for providing coaching, guidance, and support for the salespeople on his/her team to overachieve their sales goals quarter over quarter.

Anything that takes a sales manager away from this role should be diligently avoided. However, simply defining the role isn’t enough. You need to provide a roadmap for how effective sales management is done. You need to define specifics. The activity, the frequency, and the quality. This may not be the same for every organization but it needs definition. I know some of you are thinking “what about creativity and flexibility”? In my experience structure isn’t antithetical to creativity. In actuality, it facilitates and sustains it. Painters, for example, don’t simply show up and begin slapping paint to canvas. They often times have very well defined structure in their mind as to what they want to portray. They plan the tools and the process in a very detailed way. Only then can they be creative.

Sales managers (like salespeople) also need coaching and accountability. Providing ongoing support and guidance so they become master coaches is a key factor in developing a high-performance sales culture. I would argue that the investment in your sales managers is even more critical than the investment in your salespeople. Our partners at Ecsell Insitute provide an excellent platform to coach and manager accountability with the One Up Sales Coaching Cloud.

Look to Your Sales Managers

If you are struggling in hitting your sales goals you shouldn’t always look at your salespeople first.  Your sales manager may need the closest evaluation.  Ask yourself:

  • Is their role well defined?
  • Do they understand the role?
  • How are they currently executing that role?
    • What are they doing?
    • How well are they doing it?
    • How frequently are they doing it?
  • Do they have coaching support within the organization?
  • Are they being pulled away to do “non-sales” activities?

Start here and you may realize that by defining the role and the activities of your sales managers you start making rapid progress to reaching your sales goals.