Services Sales Manager Development

Establishment Alignment Optimization

In discussing sales managers, we include all levels. Specific titles and the number of layers vary, depending on the company but ranges from the immediate supervisors of individual reps to the head of the entire sales department. All sales mangers share two key challenges. First, their success - and usually their compensation - is heavily dependent on the performance of the staff below them, which they can influence but not directly control. Second, they are sandwhiched between and have to mediate the often competing pressures coming from senior management and the field.

As always, the Establishment phase is focused on laying a foundation that will create consistency and provide insight:

Sales milestones defined and operationalized:

One of the key steps for sales management is to identify, define, and operationalize the milestones in the sales cycle. Much of this process, especially identification and definition, can and should be done with senior management and the revenue organization. The buying cycle cn serve as a foundation and guide in defining milestones.

Operationalization of the milestones will be predominately the task of sales management. Operationalization refers to the specific deliverables or confirmed actions that will serve as markers of the milestones. Sales management will have the direct responsibility for training and coaching reps in the markers and in tracking them. Operationalization must be practical and auditable, otherwise compliance will be variable and they will not serve the intended purpose.

Standardized call debriefings and account reviews:

Managers should develop both a regular schedule and consistent set of questions to debrief sales calls. They should also have a sructured means of reviewing accounts. Both should be intimately tied to the sales milestones. With milestones as a foundation, there is an objective means of tracking progress and understanding the dynamics of an acount. During the debriefings and reviews, managers and reps can review the progress to date, identify missing items and goals, and strategize next steps.

Many sales organizations automate at least some of this process by building the debriefing questions and milestones into their Client Resource Management (CRM) system. Some even have reps enter the data through smartphones, tablets, and other mobile devices - making it even more convenient for the reps and improving compliance. This gets key account information into the CRM qicklyand while it is fresh in the rep's mind. Managers are then able to review reps activities more frequently and prepare for meetings. It also provides the revenue organization access to key account data for their tracking and planning purposes.  

Coach reps on what milestones to achieve:

With identified sales milestones, managers focus their coaching of reps on which ones to achieve. This is a significant advance from an exclusive emphasis on revenue. Instead of just telling reps to "go out and sell more," managers can instruct reps on specific tasks (e.g., diagnose more the root causes of what is keeping them from processing orders quickly). The problem with focusing on just revenue is that it provides no guidance, and even is demotivating. Directing reps to achieving milestones is more tangible and teaches reps a methodical approach that will produce sales. Of course, there is much still lacking; but progress in managing resps, like sales itself, is incremental.

The operationalization of milestones provides managers an objective means of gaining visibility into accounts and tracking progress. Managers will begin to see patterns for each rep, what they consisitently can accomplish and where accounts stall because the rep struggles with specific milestones. Identifying the tasks reps have difficulty with will provide guidance in establishing professional devel;opment plans, allowing them to more effectively focus on the specific needs of a rep.

Client Resource Management (CRM) system utilization:

At some level, reps have to provide information about accounts to their managers and the overall vendor organization. For those reports to be accurate requires some amount of account documentation. Today, most companies use some form of software as a Client Resource Management (CRM) system. But the important thing to keep in mind is that CRM is a process whose purpose is to serve business needs, not a technology. CRM software can be complex, providing a lot of features. But at its core, a CRM is merely a database and reporting system. But a CRM can be of tremendous value to sales managers, helping them gain visibility into acounts and understand their reps.

Sales managers should be involved in the design and implementation of the CRM; but they serve an even more important role in its success - compliance by the reps in using it. Any CRM is only as good as the information entered into it. Sales managers are on the front line of the battle to get reps to enter good account information into the CRM. And it is not an easy batltle, as reps are not known for their interest in documenation or willingness to comply with management edicts. Some of the most effective compliance systems are those that build it into the sales rep compensation plan, using a combination of rewards and punishments. Whatever the compliance mechanisms, the time and effort managers put into geting reps to use the CRM will be a good investment - as long as those efforts are effective. 

Sales forecasts based on account activities, prospect profiles, and historical data:

Forecasting at this point is still rudimentary. Because milestone tracking is just being implemented, the status of  an opportunity is derived mostly from the reporting of activities. Those activity reports are combined with historical data and prospect profiles to determine where the opportunity is in the sales cycle, the probability that it result in a sale, and when it is likely to close. The accuracy of the forecasts will be dependent on the quality and quantity of the historical data, and how well reps are documenting account activity. This is a common method and can produce fairly accurate forecasts. But, there are significant sources of error in the system and the precision of the predictive statistics can be refined.

With the establishment of core elements, sales maangers can now align their activities with sales reps behavior and the revenue organization. The primary activites to be aligned include:

Coach on how to accomplish milestones:

One of the most important aspects of the alignment phase is that managers advance greatly in their ability to help reps improve their sales performance. Managers accomplish this by coaching reps on the specific things that need to be done to accomplish a milestone. Their is a lot that goes intot that task. First, managers have to be able to diagnose what is going on in an account and what is missing. Having identified milestones and tracking them in the CRM will enable those diagnoses. They also need to assess the rep and determine the areas in need of development. Data fom the CRM will again assist with that. Lastly, the manager needs to be able to coach the rep in new behaviors. It is the last step that is often the most challenging to the manager, because it requires them to describe how their behavior - how they sell.

The most common path to becoming a sales manager is is to be promoted because you are the best sales reps. Not a bad strategy, but it does have common pitfalls. In sales, as in most areas, being able to do something is a different set of skills frombeing able to explain what you are during.

Comprehensive account-specific competitive analysis and strategy:

The revenue organization is responsible for developing a comprehensive library of competitive information and you can read more about it there. It is the sales manager's responsibility to help the rep apply that knowledge to the dynamics of a specific opportunity and effectively execute a plan to deal with the competition. Their work should include both strategy and tactics. The depth and extent of that work will vary, depending on the skills of the rep and compexity of the opportunity. The outcome of specific tactics should be reviewed frequently and revised as needed.

Companies and individual sales reps consistently - almost universally - tell us that the most common reason for them to lose a sale is that the prospect takes no action. Although there can be many reasons for the prospect to take no action, the end result is the same - they did not buy from you. If taking no action is the outcome in a significant percentage of your opportunities, then it must be considered as a competitor and deat with as any other - by developing and executing an effective strategy to get increase the likelihood that the propsect will make a purchase. Getting the prospect to make a purchase is one competitve challenge. Getting them to purchase from you rather than one of the other companies with similar offerings is another.

Formalized criteria for pre-sales services:

Pre-sales services - typically doing discovery and scoping activities - are a limited and costly resource in most companies. To best utilize those resources, they should only be called into qualified opportunities and at the approapriate time. For a variety of reasons, many sales reps are too quick to bring in pre-sales services. To manage those requests, specific criteria should be defined and verified before the resources are allocated. As to the criteria, your organization will have to determine the specifics. But, that determination is typically based on a comparison of historical data and customer profiling with an analysis of that specific opportunity - noting that sometimes political considerations may overrule the quantitative anlysis - combined with a consderation of the cost of the resource. The qualification triad implemented previously will provide most of the data for the quantitative analysis and the the monitoring of milestones will help indicate the appropriate timing. Again, the evaluation plan and the related documentation can be an effective tool in managing this process and determining the appropriate of pre-sales services.

Forecasts based on account-specific qualification criteria:

Sales reps are now using and documenting the qualification triad (functional, financial, and political criteria) to qualifiy opportunities. That information - being objective, documented, and account-specific - can be used to make sales forecasts that are far more accurate. Since all that information is being stored in the CRM, forecasts can be made by running reports. This reduces the amount of time reps and managers spend engaged in forecasting; and perhaps most importantly, reduces the relience on the opinions of sales people in making forecasts.

Comprehensive win/loss analysis:

With all the new data being collected, a more comprehensive analysis of wins and losses can be conducted. The evaluation plan and the related documentation makes it possible to identify the impact of specific activities and where in the cycle sales are being lost. The prospect taking no action is now a formalized competitor. Its causes can be identified, and new strategies and tools developed for future opportunities. The win/loss analysis should also include an assessment of the lead to determine the relationship bewteen lead characteristics and specific reasons for lossess. That information can then be fed back to marketing and the revenue organization so that a full cycle lead analysis can be conducted to refine lead criteria and messaging.

One element that is not often included - or if included, almost never endorsed by reps - is being outsold. These are situations where the manager should help the rep enagage in a critical self-analysis, and admit when and how the rep was putsold. It is in the long-term interests of the rep, manager, and company to be honest and detailed about being outsold. Recognizing and admitting the problem is the frst step to improving it.

With sales manager processes now aligned with reps and across departmental functions, they will fuel each other like never before. New data and coordinated actions enable additional refinements and expansions that further improve the performance of sales managers and contribute to other revenue organization functions. The Optimization solution set includes:

Forecasts based on sales milestones:

Sales reps are now establishing evaluation plans with prospects and documenting the ongoing status of milestones in that plan. That information is an objective and powerful source of information for making sakes forecasts. Time spent forecasting, by both reps and managers, can be dramatically reduced. Forecasting now becomes mostly a matter of running reports out of the CRM, rather than hounding reps - typically during one of the busiest times of the quater for reps and managers - to generate forecasts. And for reps, forecastes are often based on dubious optimism or what they think will appease management, rather than an objective analysis. We have aggregated data from our clients to indicate the probability that an opportunity will result in a sale based on what specific milestones have been completed. You will be able to gather your own data on those outcomes to better hone those probablities to your organization.

Resource allocation based on qualification level:

The establishment of formalized criteria for pre-sales services was an important initial step. Expanding on that, a similar method can now be implemented for the allocation of all resources that sales reps draw on during the sales cycle. Specifically, resources are only allocated when they are justified - and the justification is determined through the account documentaion and qualification criteria. The policy is straightfoward. When required information is gathered or specified steps completed, then resources are allocated. Certainly, exceptions can be made; but exceptions should be rare. If the exceptions become the rule, then the rules (i.e., policy) needs to be changed. Reps must make the case for any exceptions and be held accountable for their outcome. 

Negotiation strategy and tactics reviewed with reps:

Negotiations are high pressure and emotionally ladened events. Using evaluation plans helps reduce the emotional level of negotiations. The close becomes just one agreed upon step in a sequence of many, instead of the big crecendo that it is often mad out to be. Still, negotiations can be difficult for anyone, and especially for sales reps under quota. What is considered a successful negotiation depends on your perspective. The buyer, rep, manager, revenue organization, and any other relevant part may all have different views on what constuties an effective close. Sales managers are in the middle of managing those conflicts. It is their responsibility to help reps effectively negotiate a close that makes the buyer feel satisfied while meeting the needs of the overall organization.

Preparation is the key to a successful negotiation. Managers should review the strategy and tactics before the negotiation, and practice with them when necessary. The first task in preparing is to make certain that the account is ready to close. The evaluation plan and the related documentation is a useful tool to determine whether all the necessary steps have been completed. The second task is to identify and prioritize the trade-offs - what will be asked for and offered. As to the latter, the revenue organization has already defined and communicated their preferences. An in-depth review of the account history will help determine how those prefernces match up with the prospect's - what would be of greatest value to the prospect and what they may be most willing to give up in return. The final prioritzed list of trade-offs, and conditions for walking, should be clear before negotiations are started.

A final point needs to be noted. Negotiations are one of the most common times for mangers to undermine the authority of reps. Manager's should be cautious and mindful of the repercussions of their behavior. If the manager is present at the negotiation, then they need to have discussed with the rep how it will be orchestrated and the rep should be the one to offer up any concessions. If negotiating alone, reps need to be empowered with the ability to follow through on any commitments offered as a concession or informed off the process for getting confirmation to a commitment. You want to avoid the "let me go back and check that with my manager" approach. If not, then the rep will lose all credibility with the buyer. Those are two of the common ways that managers undermine the authority of reps in negotiations. There are a myraid of other ways that undermining can occur. If a rep's authority is undermined, it will frustrate and demotivate them. The rep will also have difficulty working with that account going forward and the buyer will want the manager to be included in any subsequent activities - at least those of any significance.

Tracking of Customer Success Factors:

Managers should provide oversight of the Customer Success Factors (CSF). That oversight includes both the initial establishment of the CSFs - selected to balance the account goals of documenting the benefits gained and identifying additional selling opportunities with the revenue organization's strategic goals - and the ongoing tracking of the CSFs. Although they are typically not directly involved in the tracking of the CSFs, managers may want to attend review meetings so that they can celebrate the successes or help deal with any disappointments. As with negotiaitions or any other meeting with customers, managers should be cautious that they do not undermine the authority of the sales rep. As a general rule, CSF review meetings are not the setting for the manager to demonstrate their power or to take credit for their contributions to the account. The rep should lead the meeting and be given public recognition credit for any good work.

Peer-to-peer mentoring:

The last way that sales maangers can optimize both performance, both their's and other's, is through peer mentoring. Typically, involvement in the training of reps is a core repsonsibility of sales managers and we will assume that is the case. However, mentoring other sales managers may not be an inherent duty. Serving as a mentor has many benefits. Mentees are the recipient of the sales expertise and organizational wisdom of a seasoned veteran. Mentors are challenged to organize and articulate their knowledge, which helps clarify and solidify how they successfully perform their function. There are also many benefits to the revenue organization as a whole. Continuity is maintained by sharing knowledge and expertise. Mentoring also helps build team cohesion and can identify potential talent for promotion.

It's important to note that our model is a guide, not a prescription. It is used for assessment and planning. By identifying gaps and understanding the interplay of processes and skills, we can help you create a development plan that maximizes both effectiveness and efficiency. You can read more about our developmental model and the benefits of using it.

We provide a comprehensive range of development services to help sales managers improve their performance and increase sales. We can help with any specific development efforts or assist in putting together an overall performance improvement plan. Our services include:

  • Instructor-led programs

  • Distance-learning programs (web and telephone)

  • Individual coaching

  • Curriculum development

  • Self-paced workbooks and other instructional materials

  • Job aids and other support tools

  • Strategic consulting

  • Process mapping and process refinements

  • Change management

  • Project management



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