Category Archives for "Sales management"

Why can’t we build better sales managers? (Part 3)

I know this may sound crazy, but here are the musings I cannot get out of my head…

  • Is it possible that we have outgrown the traditional role of a sales manager in all but the bottom half of accounts – where deals are the most transactional?
  • Is it possible that a large number of the people who are sales managers today are in that role because of the salary and prestige of being a “manager” – not because they are actually happy in that over-worked, under-resourced role?
  • Is it possible that if we offered to change the role of sales management to (a) a local team leader overseeing more than just Sales in support of top customers or (b) a super seller, leading and coaching a team of peers, that most sales managers would jump at the chance to be in one of those roles?

For the last two weeks, I have slowly been building a case for changing the idea of sales management.

This week, let me lay out what that looks like.

First, here are my main reasons:

  • There is literally not enough time in the week to do everything that a sales manager needs to do (see more here)
  • Customer inputs consistently say that they need a “different” kind of help from sellers – and these areas are often not a priority for today’s sales manager (see more here)

This leads us to a handful of options.

For starters, we can say this is an efficiency problem and hire more managers. If you are like me, the financial mathematics behind that idea immediately causes it to go off the rails. Most sales teams are already optimized in their manager-to-rep ratio. And if they are not, there is likely not enough money to bring that option to life.

On the other hand, we can say this is an effectiveness problem and hire different managers. But the chances exist that no matter who we hire, we will turn them into the same version of sales managers that we have now. Because how we developed and empowered our current crop of leaders will be the same approach for the next. Remember that old definition of insanity (doing the same things and expecting different results)?

I see a critical third option. We have to do different things. In other words, I think it’s a hybrid of both efficiency and effectiveness. We have to evolve the definition of the role of the sales manager. Or more precisely, evolve the definition of sales management.

Consider this: If we design from the customer interaction backwards, we will get a MASSIVELY different model for how to structure the business. Amazon has famously done this, creating an operating model that people are still trying to decode.

Imagine if we were to design Amazon from the top down.

Do you really think Amazon’s logistics and sales functions would be structured the way that they are now? How about the IT function? I seriously doubt that the company would look anything like it does today. Nor would it be anywhere near as successful.

Let’s take the same approach with sales management. And start with a question.

Do customers need sales people who can be part of their entire problem-solving journey? This is a huge question. Most companies are set up to only manage the “buying process” – and even that is a poor definition of what they do. In reality, most sales teams are set up to manage the “sales opportunity process” (even calling it THE sales process, as if that is the only process in sales that matters).

But if we listen to what customers say – and evaluate the strongest, most profitable customer relationships we have – we can quickly see that our engagement with the customer is established long before the RFP. In fact, we will see that we helped write (or at least influence) the RFP. Because we work with that customer very differently. Because our sales people are involved in the entire problem-solving journey.

So, why don’t we make that the core responsibility of sales management? Why don’t we design the role around maximizing the sales team’s success in that entire problem-solving journey?

It would mean that we take a business-within-a-business approach. We treat each sales interaction as our anchor point, and structure the team around supporting those interactions. Make sure that the customer has access to a team of folks – from the sales rep to the logistics person – all on one team. Yes, I am suggesting that named accounts have named teams of support (which includes assigned Marketing, Customer Support, and Operations – plus Sales). And it’s not reserved for just the very top of the account list. We tier this approach until the profitability gets lost in the model. In other words, a local team may support the top local accounts, then share some resources virtually to handle the mid-tier accounts, then hand everything else over to a web site or call center somewhere.

But the sales manager becomes the local CEO of a small business, overseeing everything that drives the biggest revenue. All of the small stuff goes away to someplace and someone else. Corporate centers of excellence have dotted line responsibility for the local functions, but they support the local teams at the end of the day. And sales teams would have their own local coach, a super seller that is responsible to drive sales TEAM success.

This would eliminate siloes and maximize empowerment. This would give the customers that matter the most immediate access to the support they want to pay for – support that they are already paying for. This would enable local leaders to recruit the best talent and place them in roles that are designed for local support, not national.

Wait – pause. What value does a sales manager provide in this scenario? Great question.

I propose that the traditional definition of sales management is (a) limited to sales opportunity management and is thus incomplete in the scope we are talking about and (b) the result of tops-down, Industrial Age thinking and is thus not aligned with maximizing the customer interaction. As a result, revenue generation is capped at best. Conclusion: the traditional role of the sales manager is no longer needed.

What I am talking about is not an old idea. A raw version of it has been done before – and quite successfully (unless non-sales people take over and the drive to generate revenue gets lost). Now, imagine how technology can enable a modified approach today. And imagine what machine learning and AI will enable us to do tomorrow.

I guess what I am really saying is that maybe it’s time to learn from the past.

Maybe the customer has come full circle and needs this kind of selling experience.

And maybe I am completely off my rocker.

What do you think?

I mua. Onward and upward.

By Tim Ohai

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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