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The Missing Link In Sales Performance

Author: David Brock

Every sales executive is constantly struggling to improve the performance of their organizations. The data on percent of sales people achieving their goals, percent of companies making plan, and so forth is appalling.

Millions of person hours are spent in trying to understand how to drive sales performance. Billions are spent on tools, training, consulting services all focused on improving the performance of sales people.

In virtually every discussion, every popular blog post, the focus of all sales performance initiatives is the sales person.

  • Are we getting the right people?
  • Are we developing the right skills?
  • Do they have the right programs, training, tools to maximize productivity/performance?
  • Do we have the right incentives/compensation?
  • How do we get sales people to perform better?

Sales enablement professionals, sales operations, and top executives seem singularly focused on the question, “How do we raise the level of performance–the effectiveness and efficiency of each sales person on our team?”

We keep asking the same question, we keep trying different approaches, we keep spending time and money trying to fix our sales people.  We may see some results, some improvement, often difficult to sustain.

What’s Missing? Here’s the Answer

As I look at all these initiatives and efforts, there is one element that is consistently missing. It seems obvious, it should be leaping out at us, but it’s rare that I see organizations focus on this.

It’s the front line sales manager.

The job of the front line sales manager is to maximize the performance of each person on their team.  It’s what they spend every day (or should be spending every day) doing. Yet too often we ignore them in our performance improvement initiatives.

Sure they go to the same training their sales people go to. Absolutely, they are using the same tools we want our sales people to use. Yes, they are involved in the programs we want our sales people to execute.

But if they are the people responsible for maximizing the performance of each person on their team, what are we doing to help them do that? How are we helping them learn what it means to drive performance, how they can be effective in working with their people every day?

How many sales managers even know this is their job? The only reason they are in place is to maximize the performance of each person on their team. The only way they achieve their numbers is through what the people on their team are doing.

The fastest path to driving consistent, sustainable sales performance is to focus on the people responsible for driving performance in their teams—the Front Line Sales Manager.

Yet, inevitably, enabling the front line sales manager is an afterthought, or we even seek to go around them–establishing coaching resources in sales enablement, or trying to relieve them of their coaching and performance management responsibilities through tools (as opposed to implementing the tools to augment their capabilities.

Six Steps to Success

If we want to drive sales performance, we need to focus on the people responsible for the performance of sales people-their managers. We have to:

  1. That we make sure we have the right people in front line management jobs. Sales superheroes, or managers that hide behind spreadsheets and analysis, or managers who think their time is better spent in strategy sessions and endless management meetings will not move the needle on sales performance. (They may cause a blip, but it is never sustainable.)
  2. Make sure they understand their first priority is their people and maximizing the performance of each person on their team.
  3. Make sure they are trained and equipped to do their jobs:  Making sure they know how to set performance expectations, they know how to coach and develop their people,  that they are actually prioritizing coaching in their day to day work, that they address performance issues early.  That they are recruiting and on boarding the right people.  That they are measuring the right things to help them understand where there are performance issues, but that they can’t be hiding behind the numbers and reports, but those should drive specific action and engagement with their people.  That they have some empathy for the reality of what sales people face every day, and can leverage that empathy in driving engagement, that they are truly being helpful to their people.
  4. Make sure they know their personal success is solely based on their people’s success.
  5. They are actively engaged in the design and implementation of tools, training, programs that we are rolling out to the sales people.  Implementing any new program without the active engagement of front line management in the ongoing reinforcement and coaching will not lead to sustained performance improvement.
  6. Senior managers–the managers of FLSMs need to actively be coaching and developing their FLSMs.

Since so many of our performance improvement strategies simply aren’t working or sustainable, perhaps there’s an argument for changing where we make our investments. Perhaps we ought to be investing disproportionately in the people directly responsible for day to day sales performance, the Front Line Sales Manager.


David Brock is president of Partners in EXCELLENCE, a management consulting firm focused on sales productivity, channel development, strategic alliances and more. Read more blogs from Brock here.

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2 Comments

Comments

    Jim Barnet:

    I couldn’t agree more David. I’m Canadian, so of course I’m a hockey fan, and the transformation of the Toronto Maple leafs going from bottom of the standings to playoff contender, sounds alot like the sales performance transformation that many organizations are targeting as described in David’s article.

    What’s the difference for the Maple Leafs? Coach Mike Babcock, best coach in hockey. Sure, the Leafs have upgraded their talent (better sales guys), and they play a better system (sales methodology), and they focus more on analytics, but the primary difference is, they have a coach who knows how to teach players how to play “the right way” and hold them accountable for their performance. Babcock knows when players need teaching, a pat on the back and or a kick in the butt. AND equally importantly, Babcock has the unwavering support of senior management.

    No one player would have helped the Maple Leafs win the Stanley cup. No new system would have made the difference. Analytics, helpful, but not the difference maker. The coach made all the difference. AND the organization is continually investing in ways to support that coach and make the team better. (It’s not a “one time” thing).

    The problem with may initiatives to improve sales performance are 1) they are “one-offs”, like one time sales training, 2) the focus is only on hiring more talented sales people, without the structure to support them and ensure their success, 3) the focus is on ‘motivation’ (skating to the wrong place only faster).

    So I agree with David, if you want to significantly improve sales performance, then developing or hiring a talented front line sales manager is the first place to start, anything you do instead of that, may make an incremental, but not a fundamental and sustainable difference.

    Regards,
    Jim Barnet
    Promys PSA
    Director Sales & Marketing
    Tel: 905-847-6539, ext. 2972
    Cell: 647-239-2942
    jbarnet@promys.com
    t: @PROMYS_PSA

      Dave Brock:

      Jim: What an awesome comment! Clearly, I couldn’t agree with you more. Thanks for taking the time to add to the discussion. Regards, Dave

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