What impact does your first line of sales management have on overall revenue and sales performance? Based on 25 years of high tech enterprise sales experience, I submit that ensuring that your sales coaches can effectively coach is equally if not more important to your bottom line than ensuring that your sales reps can effectively sell.
Ironically, the focus within sales performance research always tends to fall on sales performance at the individual sales rep level. Most of the stats you read talk about individual sales rep quota attainment rates, sales rep attrition rates, sales reps ramp up cycles but there is little to no mention of the sales manager’s impact on all of those things.
Let’s examine a typical high tech software (B2B) company first line sales manager. He or she probably has somewhere between 5-7 sales reps working for them. They may or may not have responsibility for the sales engineers or the sales development reps depending on the way the team is organized. An average annual sales rep quota ranges from $1.5-$2.5M, so let’s estimate that the sales manager is responsible for $10M in annual quota for his or her team.
Invariably there will be different levels of sales rep performers on each team. Each team probably has new sales reps (due to either replacement or expansion) that need to get ramped up and fully productive. How does the front line manager invest their time to optimize their team revenue? What a lot of sales managers do is invest most of their time with the high performers on their team or the high profile opportunities. While other sales reps on their team are left to struggle and figure things out on their own.
They can’t afford to teach by doing which is what far too many first line sales managers attempt to do. They were usually high individual sales rep performers which led to them getting promoted into sales management. But just because you can effectively sell a solution, doesn’t mean you can teach someone else how to effectively sell that same solution. Far too often we see first line sales managers basically acting like the sales rep on deals. This doesn’t scale because you can’t be in 5 important sales meetings at the same time and the sales reps on the team aren’t learning how to sell more effectively when you take the wheel.
Rather some will get frustrated because they aren’t learning and they don’t have a sales coach who can coach well, so they leave the company in search of a better sales coach in a new company. The most common reason why sales reps resign from companies is due to their perception of sales management. Anecdotally I hear this all the time from sales reps that have worked for me over the years as the primary cause of leaving a job for a new one. They may not tell HR that as they don’t want to burn any bridges, so the company doesn’t identify the problem. How many times do you find top performing sales reps that were promoted into sales management that struggle and eventually go back into indiviudal sales rep jobs because they were not good coaches/managers?
We are brought in to companies that have problems ramping up new sales team members effectively or are not engaging and selling as effectively as they believe they should. During our discovery phase with new prospects, they are generally very well versed on the aforementioned individual sales rep stats. In fact, they can regale you with specific numbers, percentages and failure points at the individual sales rep level but typically struggle with honestly answering questions about their sales manager’s impact on their sales performance.
We emphasize that any effective sales enablement program is only as good as the sales management team that should be reinforcing it in the field with their sales reps. If you are only focusing your sales enablement efforts at the individual sales team member level, then you will simply never achieve the same levels of performance that companies do who help teach and reward their sales managers on how to be an effective coach.