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The Missing Link In Sales Performance

by David Brock on July 20th, 2017

Every sales executive is constantly struggling to improve the performance of their organizations.  The data on percent of sales people achieving their goals, percent of companies making plan, and so forth is appalling.

Millions of person hours are spent in trying to understand how to drive sales performance.  Billions are spent on tools, training, consulting services all focused on improving the performance of sales people.

In virtually every discussion, every popular blog post, the focus of all sales performance initiatives is the sales person.  Are we getting the right people?  Are we developing the right skills? Do they have the right programs, training, tools to maximize productivity/performance?  Do we have the right incentives/compensation?  How do we get sales people to perform better?

Sales enablement professionals, sales operations, and top executives seem singularly focused on the question, “How do we raise the level of performance–the effectiveness and efficiency of each sales person on our team?”

We keep asking the same question, we keep trying different approaches, we keep spending time and money trying to fix our sales people.  We may see some results, some improvement, often difficult to sustain.

As I look at all these initiatives and efforts, there is one element that is consistently missing.  It seems obvious, it should be leaping out at us, but it’s rare that I see organizations focus on this.

It’s the front line sales manager.

The job of the front line sales manager is to maximize the performance of each person on their team.  It’s what they spend every day (or should be spending every day) doing.  Yet too often we ignore them in our performance improvement initiatives.

Sure they go to the same training their sales people go to.  Absolutely, they are using the same tools we want our sales people to use.  Yes, they are involved in the programs we want our sales people to execute.

But if they are the people responsible for maximizing the performance of each person on their team, what are we doing to help them do that?  How are we helping them learn what it means to drive performance, how they can be effective in working with their people every day?

How many sales managers even know this is their job?  The only reason they are in place is to maximize the performance of each person on their team.  The only way they achieve their numbers is through what the people on their team are doing.

The fastest path to driving consistent, sustainable sales performance is to focus on the people responsible for driving performance in their teams—the Front Line Sales Manager.

Yet, inevitably, enabling the front line sales manager is an afterthought, or we even seek to go around them–establishing coaching resources in sales enablement, or trying to relieve them of their coaching and performance management responsibilities through tools (as opposed to implementing the tools to augment their capabilities.)

If we want to drive sales performance, we need to focus on the people responsible for the performance of sales people-their managers.  We have to:

  1. That we make sure we have the right people in front line management jobs.  Sales superheroes, or managers that hide behind spreadsheets and analysis, or managers who think their time is better spent in strategy sessions and endless management meetings will not move the needle on sales performance. (They may cause a blip, but it is never sustainable.)
  2. Make sure they understand their first priority is their people and maximizing the performance of each person on their team.
  3. Make sure they are trained and equipped to do their jobs:  Making sure they know how to set performance expectations, they know how to coach and develop their people,  that they are actually prioritizing coaching in their day to day work, that they address performance issues early.  That they are recruiting and on boarding the right people.  That they are measuring the right things to help them understand where there are performance issues, but that they can’t be hiding behind the numbers and reports, but those should drive specific action and engagement with their people.  That they have some empathy for the reality of what sales people face every day, and can leverage that empathy in driving engagement, that they are truly being helpful to their people.
  4. Make sure they know their personal success is solely based on their people’s success.
  5. They are actively engaged in the design and implementation of tools, training, programs that we are rolling out to the sales people.  Implementing any new program without the active engagement of front line management in the ongoing reinforcement and coaching will not lead to sustained performance improvement.
  6. Senior managers–the managers of FLSMs need to actively be coaching and developing their FLSMs.

Since so many of our performance improvement strategies simply aren’t working or sustainable, perhaps there’s an argument for changing where we make our investments.  Perhaps we ought to be investing disproportionately in the people directly responsible for day to day sales performance, the Front Line Sales Manager.

 

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9 Comments
  1. At the risk of sounding sycophantic, another good post David. Thanks. Your final point is particularly significant. Everybody in sales roles needs sustained coaching and support, including, perhaps especially, the FLSM.

    I was speaking with a client a couple of weeks ago who is a Front Line Sales Manager. We were having a conversation around exactly the issues that you cover. We spoke about the challenges of limited time.

    Perhaps inevitably he asked the question that I’m sure you’ve heard many times before. “Should Front Line Sales Managers have sales quota themselves?”

    I’d be really interested in your observations and whether you are aware of recent research on this issue?

    What might your thoughts be on a proposed Point 7 in your list: “focus the FLSM exclusively on enabling and achieving results from their team”?

    • Thanks so much Peter, I’m flattered. Great questions, some attempts at answers:

      1. Should the sales manager have a personal territory/quota. I devote Chapter 6 of Sales Manager Survival Guide to this. The short answer is No. It puts the sales manager in an untenable position. If their job is to maximize the performance of their team, a personal territory compromises that ability–severely. Think of it another way, it takes 100% of a person’s time to manage a territory. It takes 150% of a manager’s time to do that job (the book shows that math). The math of both just doesn’t work. From a pragmatic point of view, sometimes you have to do that. But only with the understanding the default position should be biased to the sales team, and the manager should work to justify an additional head to cover the territory as quickly as possible.
      2. Regarding your proposed point 7. It’s a stronger statement of my number 2. In principle, I agree, the problem I have is “exclusively.” If that work includes, getting things done for their people internally, removing internal roadblocks/barriers, fighting for and promoting their people internally, then we are perfectly aligned (some would see that as different).

      Thanks for the great questions/observations. Regards, Dave

      • Thanks for these observations Dave.

        The strength and evident clarity of your position on the wisdom of sales leaders’ quotas is particularly valuable given the range and depth of your experience.

        Yes, we’re in complete agreement. My sense is that as part of an “exclusive focus on enabling and achieving results from their team”, a key element of the sales team leaders “enabling” is fighting successfully for all of the resources and support that their team members need to be effective.

        I’ve recommended that my client has a look at these comments and gets his copy of your terrific book!

        Peter

  2. Dave,

    Thanks for sharing. I am 100% with you on the FLM being the key to driving sales performance in sales organizations.

    The key, as you mentioned, is developing great sales coaches. The problem is that training fails to create skill mastery.

    Most companies don’t invest in sales management training, the companies that do are not get the results they expect because training fails to create great leaders/coaches.

    Only companies that support their sales managers with coaching and mentoring will get the best ROI on FLM development.

    Just my 2 cents.

    Cheers,

    Steven

    • Absolutely Steven. It’s the responsibility of senior managers to coach and develop their FLSM. If they aren’t they aren’t doing their jobs in helping the FLSM perform at the highest levels. Thanks for making sure that was said.

  3. Well said Dave! Unfortunately, most sales leaders are salespeople who got promoted but were never trained on how to lead a sales team. To me, the Sales Manager is the lynchpin of the organization and the only salesperson who doesn’t need an effective Sales Manager is a superstar. Unfortunately, most salespeople aren’t superstars. Want to improve sales? Invest in Sales Management training and coaching! Thanks for sharing this crucially important concept.

  4. Piotr Czub permalink

    Hi Dave,

    I fully agree with all of the issues raised in your article. However in my opinion one very important question is missed. I’m in business more than 30 years already. The key question is: do they (sales people) feel that they are respected by the company and the people working there? Maybe for you it is obvious, but during my career I noticed many times that huge number of senior managers don’t understand it.
    If you show sales people your respect they surprise you. If not … then we have again the same questions: what to do in order to get some improvements? All incentives, trainings, coachings, consulting services are important, but without their souls (their souls we may have only respecting them) we will never be fully satisfied. They need the respect much more than any other tool or action.

    Cheers,
    Piotr

    • Good observations Piotr. I see this as a big issue, too few people in the organization, particularly some of the top executives understand and respect the job of the sales person.

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