Are Your Sales Managers Looking Outward or Inward?

Our 2019 Sales Performance Study and 2018 Buyer Preferences Study confirmed what sales leaders have known for some time: The selling world has become increasingly complex in recent years. There are more decision-makers involved on the customer side of a purchase (6.4 on average), sales cycles are longer (more than six months for a new customer), and the expectations for a sales experience are much higher.

Selling organizations have attempted to adapt to these changes with a range of responses:

  • Adding more sales tech tools (now 10 tools in use on average, with four more on the way)
  • Adding more sellers (9% growth on average)
  • Adding audiences for sales enablement and sales operations to support
  • Adding new products and services
  • Adding new channels to market

The unintended result is trying to address complexity… by adding more complexity. Rarely do these additions sit on top of a unified framework, a holistic sales system. Instead they sit piecemeal on top of the salesperson’s daily activities. For example, according to our 2nd Annual Sales Operations and Technology Study, only 27.3% of sales organizations report that their sales tech stack is aligned to the seller’s workflow.

Sales managers get caught in the middle, trying to untangle the spaghetti of tools, content and processes to make it easier for sellers to sell and customers to buy. As a result, as we compare where sales managers spend their time now vs. four years ago, we see a marked difference. Today’s sales leaders are spending almost two-thirds of their time (64.7%) internally focused (e.g., navigating the organization, creating reports, forecasting) vs. 56.2% in 2015. This shift comes at the expense of market/external focus (e.g., coaching sellers to higher levels of performance with their customers, building and executing market-level strategies).

The purpose of the sales manager role is to be the conduit between the organization, the market and the sales force. So, of course, some internal focus is required and beneficial. However, the continual movement toward internal activity at the expense of preparing the sales force for external activities comes at a price. Our 5th Annual Sales Enablement Study reports that 60% of sales organizations still take an informal or ad hoc approach to coaching (despite strong correlations between formal approaches and results). And the number of sellers making goal, while on a slight uptick after bottoming out in 2016, has creeped up to only 57%.

There unfortunately is no magic number for how much time a manager should spend on certain activities. However, there are several gut checks that sales directors and above should make to determine whether your sales managers may be too internally focused.

  1. Do your managers spend more time forecasting? Or helping sellers increase their forecast? In our 2019 Sales Management Study, leaders reported spending twice as much time on administration and forecasting (34.1%) as they did on coaching their people (14.2%). That’s a warning sign that your managers may be bogged down with adjusting forecasts, reworking reports and dashboards and attempting to temper expectations. Look to your sales operations team to install a more rigorous, process-based approach. Use of predictive data can help improve accuracy and decrease wasted time.
  2. When your managers are external facing, are they working with a multiplier effect? Or are they out selling directly to clients, acting as super salespeople? When asked to rate sales managers on 11 capabilities, helping sellers work on deals was one of the highest-rated items. However, there is a double-edged sword here. While it can be very valuable for a manager to pour extra time into a specific opportunity, the impact is limited to that opportunity. Part of the challenge of transitioning from a seller to a sales manager role is moving from activities where you impact one customer or deal to activities where you can impact an entire market.
  3. Are managers enabled to manage – or just reinforce – seller enablement? In our 5th Annual Sales Enablement Study, we were pleased to see a growing number of sales enablement teams (now 65.5%) includes sales managers as an audience. This is a sharp increase from previous years, yet there is still opportunity. A good portion of what sales managers are enabled with is the ability to reinforce training that is being issued to sellers. This is a crucial part of seller enablement and change management, but it doesn’t develop the manager into a better manager. Put a critical eye to your manager enablement activities, and see how you might add initiatives aimed at managerial excellence.
  4. When was the last time you updated your hiring profile and job description for managers? The market has discussed the differences between sales manager success and seller success for years. Yet chances are, the job profile for your sales manager roles has not been updated to reflect your current realities. In addition, since sales manager roles are so frequently hired from within, few organizations have determined the success profile for sales managers and invested in the ability to assess manager candidates against key competencies and traits.

Sales management has long been known as the hardest job in sales. Sales managers work long hours, have broad spans of control and live in a constantly changing environment. There are no illusions that it will get simpler anytime in the future; however, your leaders may be unintentionally shifting their focus internally to cope with the added complexity. 2020 may be the perfect time to take a closer look and formally redefine what you want sales management to mean in your world.

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