Monthly Archives: February 2019

Why can’t we build better sales managers? (Part 2)

Last week, I opened with the idea that we have sales management wrong.

Fundamentally, this is because we aren’t thinking/working from the customer interaction backward.

So, let’s talk about that customer for a moment.

According to research published by Demandbase (2018), B2B buyers said that the top five most important variables in making a buying decision are:

  • Deployment time/ease of use (77%)
  • Features/functionality (72%)
  • Solved a pain point (71%)
  • Reviews (65%)
  • Sales team demonstrated knowledge of our company and insights into our problems (64%)

Additionally, they also said that the top 5 winning differentiators of successful sellers are:

  • Demonstrated a stronger knowledge of our company and its needs
  • The timeliness of a vendor’s response to inquiries
  • Demonstrated a stronger knowledge of the solution area and the business landscape
  • Provided informational content that was easy to consume
  • Provided higher-quality content
  • (Note: 76% of all buyers wanted content to be tailored to their company)

Compare that with CSO Insight’s (2018) list of what buyers want from their sellers:

  • Understand me. Know my business.
  • Demonstrate excellent communication skills.
  • Focus on post-sale.
  • Give me insights and perspective.

Some pretty clear patterns emerge.

First, buyers are very focused on getting the kind of clarity that sellers don’t always have. When you add in the data point from Accenture (2018) that buyers are over halfway (57%) through their buying process before they even engage a seller, the narrative is pretty clear that sellers are either (a) not equipped and/or (b) not skilled enough to provide any value when customers often need the most clarity – defining what the heck is actually wrong/blocking their progress.

Second, buyers want to be the center of attention. In other words: no off-the-shelf content, off-the-shelf support, etc. You and I both know that they don’t care about your other customers. They don’t have the bandwidth for that kind of hypothesizing. They want EVERYTHING tailored to their reality – and their speed of life.

Third, buyers want their sellers to engage and support their business before AND after the sales process. In one of the more fascinating bits of the CSO Insights research, 90% of all buyers would be willing to engage sellers earlier if the business challenge was:

  • New for the buyer (34.1%)
  • Perceived as risky for the organization (21.1%)
  • Perceived as risky for the buyer themselves (19.1%)
  • Complex (e.g. impacted several departments) (16.2%)

I think this particular insight is incredibly important because none of those scenarios are limited to just “buying something.” They are all deep, intense, resource-dependent opportunities for a seller (and her team) to engage early and stay engaged long after the buying decision. But far too often, sellers are not successfully empowered for this kind of relationship.

So, what does this all mean to our discussion on the idea of sales management? I don’t know about you, but when I ask people to define the three most important priorities that sales managers must deliver, they are not:

  • Make sure your sellers provide clarity earlier in the buying process
  • Make sure your sellers tailor everything for their buyers
  • Make sure your sellers are empowered to engage and support buyers before and after the sales process

You can argue that Marketing and other functions are supposed to step up here, but if you have ever been a sales manager, you know exactly how hard it is to get consistent support from the other functions in these areas.

Then, when you add how much time it takes to actually do all of this – while also doing all of the other things that Sales Managers have to do (see last week’s blog for more) – and we are right back to my idea that we have sales management wrong. They simply don’t have enough time, if they are doing these three things at all.

What’s the bottom line here? I believe with all of my heart that a sales manager who can successfully do all three of our customer-centric priorities will make sure that the sales team hits its numbers. We just have to figure out how to make that happen (which I will explore next week.)

In the meantime, please share your ideas on (a) whether you see the problem that same way that I do and (b) what you would do about it.

I mua. Onward and upward.

By Tim Ohai

P.S. Here are the links to the research that I referenced – Demandbase and CSO Insights.

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Why can’t we build better sales managers? (Part 1)

I’m beginning to wonder if we have the idea of sales management wrong.

And when I say wrong, I am actually asking if the way that we define sales management is broken. Or better said, obsolete.

It doesn’t take any effort to find a host of voices stating the obvious: sales managers are either over-worked, under-supported, or flat out doing the wrong things.

Maybe even all three.

But, again, that has me wondering.

Traditionally, the role of the frontline sales manager (aka the FLSM) has been defined by two major requirements:

  1. Make sure the team hits their sales numbers
  2. Make sure the team hits their sales numbers

Yes – I wrote the same thing twice. Intentionally.

But that’s true, isn’t it? A manager can do/be all sorts of other things – as long as the team hits their sales numbers.

What is on the list of other things that sales managers do?

  • Do the jobs that other functions are supposed to be doing (Marketing and HR are often blamed as the culprits, but the list is potentially endless)
  • Step in and sell
  • And my personal favorite – non-contributing essentials (the administrative stuff that has nothing to do with selling)

Starting with doing the jobs of other functions, sales managers often have to unsnarl the obstacles that are blocking the delivery of customer value. From troubleshooting a delivery issue to actually recruiting sales talent, sales managers often spend hours each day making sure that things are getting done. Things that other functions are responsible for. Is that the right thing for sales managers to do?

Next, there is the act of selling. In a positive sense, it becomes the best kind of classroom, where the sales team can watch their boss show them how to navigate complex deals. But just as frequently, the sales manager simply hijacks the deal and delivers the win. Without building any greater team capacity in the process. Creating a repeating loop of that sales manager always being “needed” to land the bigger deals.

Finally, the non-contributing essentials – what everyone in “management” gets to do. From filling out HR and Finance reports to managing inventory, there is not a single thing on that list of activities that generates revenue. But – at the end of the day – “somebody” has to do it.

As long as the team hits their sales numbers.

Now, hear me in this: I am not saying these things shouldn’t be done. As a business owner, I fully respect that operational duties are mandatory and beneficial.

But is it the sales manager’s role?

If I designed from the top down, mechanically, it makes total sense. Because “somebody” has to do it. And that “somebody” might as well be the frontline manager.

However, if I designed from the bottom up, organically, it makes no sense at all.

Let’s stay with the premise that the bottom-line requirement is the same (make sure the team hits their sales numbers).

What do sales people need to be most relevant to their customers? And if they have someone to help them do that, must it be just one person?

In other words, consider everything that a sales rep needs to be most relevant.

  • Tailored marketing support
  • Personalized training and ongoing development
  • Just-in-time operational troubleshooting
  • Technical assistance
  • Feedback on how their business is doing
  • Data and analytics services
  • Strategic direction
  • Empathy – and correction

If we built from the bottom up – starting with the customer interaction – what would sales teams look like? And would they all be led by a single manager? Does the traditional picture of a single sales manager address all of this? I don’t think so.

Is this where AI will step in – replacing tasks that the sales manager currently does so that he/she can focus on different priorities and thus maintain that single point of accountability? Or do we need to redesign based on a service model, with the sales rep/customer relationship at the core?

I will be exploring this idea more in the next blog, but I would LOVE to hear what you think first. And better yet – what are you actually doing?

I mua. Onward and upward.

By Tim Ohai

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Sales enablement best practices, #4 – Manager enablement

Okay. This is not completely scientific, but what I am about to say is based on actual research and years of observation.

The most common word you will hear a sales manager say is “help.”

The research says:

  • Over and over, sales managers receive less training than they need (CSO Insights, 2018; Allego, 2019)
  • Coaching technology is woefully inadequate – and even missing – for over 90% of sales managers (Allego, 2019)
  • The most supported service that sales managers receive is “analytics and metrics” – and that is barely over half of the managers out there (CSO Insights, 2018)

My observation says:

  • Sales managers often weren’t promoted for their sales manager abilities; they were promoted because they were great sellers
  • Sales enablement has over-rotated to just one role – the frontline seller (sales managers are often left to create their own solutions for strategic planning, recruiting, driving high-performance, leadership skills, etc.)

And my own experience says:

  • When I get extra busy, I never have enough time to truly oversee what is being done
  • I can still find myself getting sucked into prioritizing based just on what is screaming loudest (and I know better)

I believe with all of my heart that the best enablement that we can provide to sellers is a great manager. And I am going to guess that you agree with me. So, why don’t we see more being invested in sales managers? Why do managers constantly ask for help as they pursue the never-ending quest of trying to help their own teams?

Honestly, I don’t have a great answer. It boils down to the leadership of the organization seeing that helping managers is a priority over all of the other stuff. And that is a discussion about beliefs.

So, if you work with a leader who doesn’t believe enabling managers is a top priority… you have my deepest sympathy.

But if you do have a chance to invest in – and maybe drive – manager enablement with full leadership support, here is what I suggest.

First, design manager enablement solutions that map to the buyer’s problem-solving journey, then the seller’s problem-solving journey. Note that I am NOT talking about how to sell. I am talking about how to maximize team performance as the sellers help solve customer problems.

Too often, we track how managers oversee sales activities. What we need to track is how managers oversee problem-solving activities – then enable them to do more than track. If you haven’t already mapped out the buyer and seller problem-solving journeys, do it before doing anything else.

Second, architect manager enablement solutions that integrate content, tools, and behaviors. No more random acts of sales manager training without providing the technology and the content for those conversations (sales coaching, anyone?).

The key is that it all works together as a single solution that makes a genuine impact. This also means that if you find an obstacle to building that integrated solution (e.g. the CRM won’t incorporate coaching data with sales data), you will need to SERIOUSLY reconsider if the organization is ready for that solution. Launching something that will not be sustainable is called generating waste…

Third, prioritize your manager enablement solutions based on maximum impact with the least amount of time, cost, and disruption. This is CRITICAL to your success.

Manager enablement is always complex. Therefore, you need to generate quick, sustainable wins and not get dragged down by the complexity. Don’t fall into the trap of prioritizing the biggest – and most – complex solutions as the magical fix-all of your manager enablement woes. It just doesn’t work that way. Instead, build the momentum of a flywheel: small steps that generate bigger ones.

If you haven’t noticed already, I just used the best practices of my previous three weeks’ worth of blogs. And I did that intentionally. For starters, I really do believe that these principles drive amazing sales enablement. I wanted to show how to apply them to a real problem. But I also believe that if you are going to enable anything, enable sales managers first.

Just remember: if you do manager enablement in the wrong way, sales results will most likely go down.

I mua. Onward and upward.

By Tim Ohai

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