Changing the skills, behaviors and culture of the sales organization is hard. Most sales executives, sales enablement experts and learning and development professionals will agree on this fact. Though challenging, organizations embark on this journey because the potential return on investment from improved sales performance is significant, if done correctly.
What we find very troubling is that many organizations attempt to tackle their sales transformation initiative by starting in the wrong place. They focus on the salesforce.
If they’re trying to change the salesforce, why shouldn’t they focus on the sales professionals that make up the salesforce? Because that isn’t where they will have the best chance of success. Instead of spending the time, money and effort trying to change the sales professionals, we suggest a much more effective approach is to focus on the frontline sales manager first.
I was recently discussing this topic with sales effectiveness guru Mike Kunkle, Senior Director of Sales Enablement at Brainshark. Mike agreed with this idea and clarified the concept this way:
“Frontline sales managers are the most effective lever for enabling the sales force, driving behavioral change, and improving sales results.” – Mike Kunkle, Senior Director, Sales Enablement, Brainshark
Mike went on to add that if he had only a dollar to spend on sales transformation, he would spend 75 cents on the sales managers and then invest the rest in the salesforce. We couldn’t agree more. We have found when delivering sales training programs across large, global organizations and small companies alike, starting with the sales managers and investing in their development is one of the most important things an organization can do to set themselves up for success. The following five factors tell the story.
Training and investing in sales management skills will help create:
The typical rep to manager ratio is 8 to 1. So for each manager you train, they have the potential to impact eight individual sellers. The inverse of this is true as well - a bad manager can negatively impact the quotas of eight reps. Poor management ability and demotivating leadership styles can quickly bring down the performance of a sales team and effect retention as well. Numerous research studies have shown that employees quit because of their relationship with their manager, not because of other job factors or their compensation. In an environment where it is extremely difficult and costly to hire exceptional sales professionals, the last thing you want to do is have bad managers causing them to underperform and leave the organization. Good sales management training programs that include Hiring, Managing, Coaching and Leadership skills can create positive ripple effects in the organization by creating more effective managers and leaders.
#2 A Training Foundation
Laying the foundation for a sales transformation program by investing in the managers just makes good sense. The managers will be the ones who determine day-in and day-out whether the skills get applied, reinforced and coached. If the management foundation isn’t in place, the program will suffer once the reps return to the field after training and are faced with other priorities and challenges. The managers need to have the skills and tools to support the program going forward. Tools such as coaching checklists, job aids, reinforcement guides and ongoing training materials will be important when the full program is rolled out.
#3 Buy-In and Support
One of the most critical components of a successful sales program is what happens before, during and after the actual training. For the managers, they must understand what’s coming before their reps receive training. The managers must see the connection to how the program will improve their team’s performance and what they can do to help ensure success. How the manager acts and what they say about the program can have a profound impact on how the individual reps perceive the program and how they feel about it going forward. Being able to share their enthusiasm, support and personal investment in the ongoing program will send a strong message to the sales team that the manager is behind the change.
#4 A Coaching Culture
It has been suggested through many studies that sales coaching improves performance. A recent CSO Insights report shows that organizations where sales coaching exceeded expectations achieved a much higher percentage of quota than those organizations where coaching was lacking. Any future training conducted for the sales reps will need to be coached and reinforced, and the best way to do this is through the frontline sales managers. Teaching the managers how to coach and what skills to coach will enable them support the larger training program once it is rolled out.
#5 Ownership for The Training
As we discussed in the previous blog “Why You Need to Become the Chief Training Officer of Your Sales Team,” we feel strongly that training shouldn’t stop in the classroom or be the sole responsibility of the Learning and Development organization. To support continuous learning, training needs to ongoing and delivered at the point of need – which can best be accomplished by the frontline sales manager. No amount of investment in classroom sales training can satisfy the ongoing training required throughout the year.
Investing in sales managers just makes sense. The more effective the managers can be at hiring, managing, coaching, training and leading their teams the more successful the sales team will be at achieving their objectives. Training the individual sellers in the sales organization is critical and necessary, but when embarking on a sales transformation effort, start with the sales managers first. Or as Mike Kunkle said, “Make them great, and they'll make many others great.”
About Ray Makela