Sales Management… Research Reveals the Important Stuff

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Market Research

Ed. We’re welcoming back Jason Jordan of Vantage Point Performance with a second research-based article. This time, it’s sales management that gets examined, and they found some interesting information on how all of you sales managers spend your time, and offer some very cogent observations on how it might be better spent.

We often contend (and do believe) that the sales manager’s role is the most complex in any organization. They are part teacher, part coach, part salesperson, part CFO, part IT director, part marketing manager, part sales support, and perhaps parts of many other roles. Sales managers do a bunch of stuff. But what stuff matters the most?

In our foundational research in our best-selling book Cracking the Sales Management Code, we actually discovered what are the important parts of the sales manager’s role… At least as leading sales forces judge them. At its core, the research was an investigation into how companies are using metrics to manage their sales forces. And metrics are typically expensive and time consuming to collect and report. So if a company is going out of its way to measure something, it must be important to them.

What parts of sales management were these companies measuring then? What is the important stuff? It turns out that it’s simpler than you might think.

The sales forces in our research measured only five aspects of sales management:

1) Coaching
2) Training
3) Equipping
4) Assessing
5) Forecasting

Clearly the first four areas are focused on improving the sales force. Metrics in the study such as Hours Spent Coaching are intended to promote and monitor the most important activity of any sales manager – coaching their reps to higher levels of capability and performance. Almost anyone would agree that coaching is the most high-impact part of a sales manager’s job, though it is also the most under-leveraged. Regardless, coaching is important enough to measure.

Training was also measured quite frequently. Metrics like Training Hours per FTE are intended to track the investment in training by both the organization and the individuals. Again, it’s hard to argue that sales training isn’t important, and so it is measured.

Equipping the sales force is also critical. Metrics like IT Spend per FTE illustrate how the sales force is investing in the tools that salespeople need to do their job. Providing sales force automation, sales collateral, product demos, and other things that help the sales force perform more consistently and productively are key management activities. And so they are measured.

Companies also continually assess their sales reps. The companies in our research collected specific metrics on things like the product knowledge of the reps, but more broadly we know that sales managers are constantly measuring their salespeople in many different ways. And it is important to assess the sales force – How else can you know how to coach, train, or equip them? Better measure it.

The final area of sales management that is important enough to be measured is forecast accuracy. Unlike the first four areas, forecast accuracy is not likely to improve sales performance. In our minds, coaching, training, equipping, and assessing salespeople are far more important activities than forecasting, but forecasting must get done. And apparently it must be done accurately. So it is measured.

One interesting observation we have is this: How much of a typical sales manager’s day is actually consumed by coaching, training, equipping, or assessing reps? 10%? 20%? 0%? If you think of all the things that sales managers do, you can compile a long list of things that are not that important. At least, they aren’t important enough for an organization to measure them. Troubleshooting, fire-fighting, administration, etc. Not measured. And if they were, it would probably be for the purpose of eradicating the activities, not promoting them. Yet, those are the things that consume a lot of time.

Few sales managers we know actually spend a lot of effort on the important stuff. And what a shame. Imagine the potential performance improvement available to the salesperson whose manager’s primary activities are coaching, training, equipping, and measuring them. Organizations know what are the high-impact sales management activities, and they measure them. But they also tolerate other activities which they know are not important. Perhaps urgent, but not important.

Our point is this: Sales management needs to be simplified. It needs to be reduced to the core activities that are known to be important… The activities that will actually drive improved sales performance. Not everything that can get done needs to get done. The only things that NEED to get done are the important things. And these are the things getting squeezed out by the urgent and mundane.

So put a lens on your sales management activities. If they are important, measure them so you can improve them. If they’re not important, discourage them. Time is a fixed resource, so prioritizing the important stuff is perhaps THE key to improving sales.

Ed. (Again) Not much to add to that. The “…forecasting must get done. And apparently it must be done accurately…” statement is absolutely true. Consistent, accurate, and timely forecasts are essential to successful business practice, and one of the core functions of the ASPEC app. The automated forecasting of ASPEC can take this burden off the sales manager.

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