The single greatest trend in software technology over the last 20 years (Salesforce.com was founded in 1999) has been the adoption of Software as a Service (SaaS) applications by corporations. On a daily basis, employees use a variety of SaaS applications to more efficiently manage their accounting, human resource, marketing, and sales functions.
As an example, a typical sales professional may rely on six or more SaaS applications (i.e., the sales stack) including
- Email (e.g., Outlook, Gmail)
- Business applications (e.g., Word, Excel, PowerPoint)
- CRM (e.g., Salesforce, Microsoft Dynamics)
- Sales Engagement (e.g., Outreach, SalesLoft)
- Virtual meetings (e.g., Zoom, Skype, GoToMeeting)
- Team messaging (e.g., Slack, Chatter)
This widespread adoption of SaaS applications has led to sky-high valuations of SaaS companies. While most companies strive for a 5 – 10% growth rate, SaaS businesses must grow at an accelerated rate to maintain their lofty valuations.
In many cases, pre-IPO SaaS companies are held to ARR (Annual Recurring Revenue) growth rates of over 100%, and the expected annual growth rate for SaaS companies that have recently gone public exceeds 50%. Even the very largest SaaS companies (e.g., Salesforce, Workday, LogMeIn all have annual revenues in excess of $1 billion) are still expected to post double-digit sales growth.
These hyper-growth environments put extreme pressure on sales organizations in terms of hiring, onboarding, training, coaching, and managing their sales teams. In addition, SaaS businesses typically have highly specialized sales roles that focus on specific business objectives. While the actual titles may vary, a typical SaaS company will have sales roles that include:
- Business Development Representative (BDR) – Identify and qualify new customers and/or opportunities
- Account Executive (AE) – Sell into qualified (or what are perceived to be qualified) opportunities
- Account Manager (AM) – Manage large or strategic account relationships with a focus on growth within the account
- Customer Success Manager (CSM) – Emphasis on renewals and upgrades
- Sales Engineer (SE) – Focus on aligning solutions with “use cases” (pre-sale) and implementation (post-sale)
While growing and developing talent is critical for each of the above-listed functions, the greatest challenge typically falls on the frontline sales managers. This is because accelerated growth rates result in the promotion of top sales performers into sales management roles.
While these individuals have instant credibility based on their sales success, they generally have little to no sales management experience and, as such, struggle with this transition.
The importance of frontline management was recently highlighted in an article by Sam Walker in the Wall Street Journal, “One Fix for All That’s Wrong: Better Managers,” that cited a Gallup study noting the compelling positive impact quality management has on employee productivity and engagement.
When it comes to sales management, the need for better managers is particularly acute since these managers are responsible for the following key functions that all impact sales results:
- Hiring – always easier when you have the right people on your team
- Performance Management – creating a culture of accountability around sales behaviors and results
- Pipeline Management – opportunity management and forecast accuracy
- Sales Coaching – personalized coaching to improve selling skills
- Sales Leadership – maintaining a positive, highly-engaged team
Unfortunately, the sheer number of priorities at SaaS companies often leaves sales managers trapped in a daily grind of focusing on urgent tasks, attending meetings, and submitting reports as opposed to training managers to unleash the full power of their sales teams.
The good news is that sales managers can learn to transcend the daily grind by learning, applying, and adopting sales management skills and techniques. This is especially true at SaaS companies where managers are expected to deliver extremely ambitious sales results.
By adopting a program that provides the manager with the knowledge, skills and tools to be successful, the organization can help new sales managers make the transition to becoming a high-performing sales manager much more rapidly and with better results.
About Norman Behar