Now that automation has changed the role and responsibilities of sales and marketing, how should your managers be spending their time?
Sales management is no longer about monitoring and reporting the performance of the sales team and joining them for occasional customer visits.
We have seen a dramatic shift in sales and marketing functions over the last five years. This evolution is driven by the fact that customers can now be so well researched that they are about 70% of the way through their buying journey before contacting a salesperson. Understanding that shift means that organisations have been forced to integrate their sales and marketing departments to appeal to the new breed of buyer.
These changes have happened at the tactical level. But what about the role of the sales manager? In most organisations, it has not evolved to meet the needs of the new team dynamic.
For many organisations, the current leader of the sales team learnt to sell before sales and marketing automation. They spent much of their office time on reporting, monitoring activity, and sharing that information up the chain. Sales teams played a large part in educating the customer and marketing was a separate function, seemingly more art than science.
In this new era, CRM is widely adopted, and marketing automation is assisting with very early prospecting. It’s so effective that in some organisations, sales people do not go near a lead until marketing hands it over with a qualification score.
Sales managers used to spend a lot of time ensuring that their team did the required activities to generate the required outcomes. Today that monitoring has also been automated. CRM software provides weekly reports of how many meetings were taken, how many customers progressed in the pipeline, the value of the pipeline, and up-to-date revenue forecasting. (As a side note, if your sales manager is still required to do basic monitoring and reporting, you need to take a close look at your sales tools and processes in order for your organisation to reach the next level of growth.)
A secondary role of the sales manager was to support the salesperson on the big deals or in the final stages of the deal. That often meant that the sales manager did joint sales calls with the salesperson, mentored their negotiations, and met with the customer when needed. Today, given the scale and geographical spread of sales teams, that just isn’t practical for a lot of organisations.
So where does that leave the sales manager in an organisation whose sales team is spread around the country, uses a solid CRM, and has a marketing team creating well-qualified leads? Some people would argue that the role of the sales manager is finished.
Instead, the role of the sales manager has changed from manager to coach.
There are now 4 key factors that the modern sales coach needs to deliver on:
Sales coaching, not sales activity monitoring
As I mentioned earlier, the CRM should be providing the monitoring. That automation frees up the sales leader to spend more time alongside their team.
In the old days, the sales manager would accompany the sales person to the important meetings. Today the sales leader needs to coach the sales person on how the meeting should be handled and what to expect.
Coaching means showing the team what to say and do when particular scenarios play out. It’s exactly like being a football coach. They are expected to have the knowledge and foresight to see what might play out and how the opposition might react. The coach needs to share that foresight and set up the plays for his team. The team needs to be coached through what comes next and how they can counter objections. A good coach will identify what is likely to transpire and equip his team with the skills needed to deal with various outcomes or resistance.
Make it safe to get pipeline accuracy
Sales leaders often meet with their team on-on-one to look at their pipeline and progress on deals. But the sales coach sometimes expresses an expectation that the salesperson should already know precisely what to do and have a full understanding of the opportunity. In addition, sales coaches often create an expectation that a sale will progress in a linear manner until the customer says yes or no. The reality is very different. Deals go sideways, prospects go quiet, or it could become difficult for various reasons that they may or may not control. In these situations, sometimes salespeople cannot see a clear way forward.
If the sales person feels any pressure to show control and a clear understanding of their opportunities, they can tend to cover up or not explore the shortcomings or challenges in their prospects. They often feel that by exploring potential challenges, it implies a lack of ability to do their job. The sales coach’s role is to make it safe for their team to openly discuss challenges. Transparency regarding what is going on in the pipeline equates to an accurate forecast.
If the sales coach is to perform their job, the starting point of a coaching session must make it clear that the purpose of the meeting is to uncover the issues and challenges in the opportunities, not in the salesperson themselves. The sales leader needs to make it safe for their team members to be open about the matters they face. The traditional thinking must be flipped. A sales person who frankly says “these deals have a problem” shows they understands the opportunity. A sales person who says, “these deals are under control and on target” is naive.
Interpret data and take remedial action before there is a problem
There is one skill that separates coaches from frontline workers. That skill is foresight.
Workers continue doing their work and when they hit an issue, they address it. Coaches have the foresight to be able to see a potential issue and prevent it before it has a real impact on the business.
Foresight comes from two sources: experience and data. The sales coach needs to be able to use both types of knowledge to keep the business on track, and not only react when there is a problem.
If you are not working with leading indicators, you are not coaching. Accepting that point is often uncomfortable for a lot of sales coaches but the fact is, if you are working with lag in your measurements (e.g. sales results), you’re not adding value.
You need to have clearly defined lead measures for your business. Do you understand lead measures such as conversion rates? Do you have enough leads to ensure you hit a sales target based on your conversion rate? Has there been a change in your conversion rate that could be indicating an issue with the sales process? These are just a couple of examples of lead measures that sales coaches need to understand.
Communicate the vision and show how to achieve it.
You’re right: that sounds like one of those nebulous management terms. It’s the sort of sentence that makes eyes roll.
But in sales, its meaning is powerful, and it is tangible to the customer. If the sales team cannot communicate it, or doesn’t believe it, there is a limited chance the customer is going to believe their problem will be solved by your solution.
Sales people need to be able to clearly articulate:
Why you’re in business
You understand the customer’s needs
You can guide the customer to a solution.
If the sales team cannot demonstrate expertise in those areas, it will play out in various ways like call reluctance, opportunities lost for no apparent reason, lots of website traffic but a low number of leads, etc.
Sales people who clearly understand what problem they solve for their customer and how to articulate it, are far more successful.
It is the role of the sales coach to help their team articulate that vision, make sure they believe it, and show them how it can be achieved.
Best In Show:
There are 4 key factors that the modern sales coach needs to be delivering on:
1. Sales Coaching, not sales activity monitoring
Automate your reporting and tracking, and spend that time coaching the team on the sales playbook.
2. Make it safe to get pipeline accuracy
Ensure your team knows you expect that they will not have all the answers for each deal. Deal transparency equals pipeline accuracy.
3. Interpret data and take remedial action before there is a problem.
Use your foresight and be acting on lead measures instead of lag measures.
4. Communicate the vision and show how to achieve it.
Poor sales activity and results often come from the team not knowing how to tell the company story and uncover the customer’s problem they can solve. Make sure the team can clearly communicate the vision and tell the story well.