Sales Management Process: The New Frontier in Sales Management Training (Part 2)
In Part 1 of this two-article series, we challenged conventional approaches to sales training that concentrate mostly on training sales reps. Here in Part 2, we explain why shifting training to sales managers, in addition to training them on a specific set of topics, is more likely to achieving the desired impact on the bottom line.
Training Sales Reps—The Best Use of Resources?
Old habits are hard to break and buying sales rep training is… easy. Sales and Learning leaders are used to buying sales training. They’ve done it many times. Hundreds of training companies offer sales training. The bottom line is that sales leaders follow a well-worn path, doing what they’ve always done.
As indicated in Part 1 of this series, further investments in sales process or sales methodology geared toward sales reps only provide diminishing returns once an organization has formalized its sales processes. Of course, formalizing sales processes has several tangible benefits, and multiple studies have shown that companies with formalized sales processes outperform companies with ad-hoc or informal sales processes. However, the questions sales and Learning leaders now must consider are these: “If formalizing a sales process has such significant benefits, shouldn’t I formalize our sales management process? And what role does training play in this shift?”
According to a recent joint 2016 study by Vantage Point and the Sales Management Association, training sales managers on sales process is among the least effective training in terms of impact on sales performance. The study revealed that six of the seven most prevalent training topics offered to sales managers reflect topics associated with rep selling tasks, not management tasks. There is an inverse relationship between the most common training topics and their impact on performance. Why this disconnect?
Formalizing Sales Management Processes—More Bang for the Buck
Certainly, there are elements of sales management that are highly formalized within most organizations. Performance appraisal processes are largely formalized. Forecasting activities are highly formalized. Some organizations even have specific expectations regarding the amount of time managers spend in the field with sellers. What is typically not formalized is how the sales manager goes about the day-to-day job of managing a sales team.
The burden on sales managers is immense. A study by Adam Rapp at Ohio University, revealed that sales managers only spend about 32 percent of their time managing their sales team. Most of it is consumed with other activities such as managing information, and administration.
With so little real time to manage their sales teams, the decisions managers make about how to prioritize their time and effort matters. It matters a lot! This is where sales management process comes into play.
The Right Sales Management Processes and Training for Your Company
A sales management process is a set of guidelines that clarifies what good sales management looks like and gives managers decision rules about how to behave. The tricky part is that there is no one set of rules that apply in all circumstances. Just as a sales processes must inherently flex to accommodate buying behavior, a sales management process must flex to accommodate the sales team.
How does an organization go about the task of establishing the right sales management process? How do decision rules and guidelines come into play? There are three types of tasks managers must do well to succeed. A sales management process should equip a manager to make decisions and execute against the following three critical tasks:
1. Focus seller effort on high-impact activities. First and foremost, a sales management process must provide a mechanism for focusing seller effort. All too often, salespeople gravitate toward tasks they like and away from tasks that they don’t. Clarity of the selling task—confidence that the activities sellers are expected to execute are directly related to quota attainment—is the most significant contributor to motivation. It is the job of the sales manager to provide that clarity.
2. Focus manager effort. Just as important, a sales management process must provide a mechanism for focusing manager effort on high-impact interactions with sellers to drive effective and consistent sales execution. In effect, the manager needs a way to determine what types of interactions to have, when, and how. These interactions form part of the sales management process.
3. Assess and evaluate. A sales management process must incorporate a mechanism for assessing seller effort and evaluating seller performance. A manager must have a way to determine if sellers are executing consistently and well. Research from our book, “Cracking the Sales Management Code,” showed that activities are the only things a sales manager can directly manage; however, the right activities executed in the right way should lead to the desired outcomes. A sales management process must incorporate both seller effort and data to determine whether sellers are making the incremental progress needed to reach quota, and if not, what activities to change.
Our joint research with the Sales Management Association revealed that the four sales management training topics with the most impact on company performance were those that fell within sales management processes: planning and analysis, assessing performance, pipeline management, and sales forecasting. When sales and learning leaders ponder how best to equip and train the front-line sales manager, sales management process and training around these four areas should be at the top of the list.
Redirecting company training resources to sales managers and training on topics directly related to the sales management process will enable sales and Learning leaders to drive breakthrough performance gains in their organizations.
Michelle Vazzana is a founding partner at Vantage Point Performance, a global sales management training and development firm. Vazzana is also co-author of “Cracking the Sales Management Code.” She is a speaker on the topic of sales management and leadership and has more than 28 years of successful sales and management experience. Sign up for Vantage Point’s newsletter to stay up to date with the latest sales manager research and best practices.