For Real Performance Improvement, Put Sales Managers First

Pretty Challenging Stuff
There’s a lot of hubbub about the CEB’s research which led to “The Challenger Sale” book about the newly-identified behaviors of leading, educating and challenging clients, to add more value and win more sales.

I actually started lauding the research through social media before the book was launched, and respect the research, the CEB, their Sales Executive Council, their findings, the book, and all my friends who have jumped on the bandwagon at various stages.

Under the Microscope
It’s great detective and sales analytics work. And in general it’s interesting, fun and practical to do frontline sales research. On my smaller scale, I love doing it and my Performance Lever work is founded on research, diagnostics, analytics, alignment and execution (yea, a veritable cauldron of business buzzwords).

For me, however, while critical, this is about one-third of the picture, or maybe even less.

Not All It’s Cracked Up To Be
To explain, I’ll reference another book I’ve been reading, “Cracking the Sales Management Code” by Jason Jordan and Michelle Vazzana. The six-page foreword by Neil Rackham is alone worth five times more than the price of the book, and the authors’ content is equally impressive and valuable.

Sales Management Should Be Executed
Among many pearls, which perhaps I will later do a book review to share, one of the best is their focus on execution through sales management, which is critical, and the best advice I’ve seen in print in years. Change leadership experts are well aware that real change is best driven by the frontline supervisor of the employees who are required to make the most significant changes. In most sales organizations where I’ve worked or consulted, however, this seems to be understood in theory and conversation, but not well executed. And, in my Performance Lever work, it is a foundational tenet for fostering radical sales performance improvement. So, it was encouraging to see such alignment between my experiences and Cracking the Sales Management Code.

Hocus Pocus Focus
Here’s where I believe the focus should be.

  • Yes, determine the success factors or performance levers for frontline sales.
  • And yes, you will likely see some elements of The Challenger in your top folks. It may or may not be completely replicable among other “mere mortals,” but some of it will be teachable and transferrable.

In the Name of Love…
Armed with that knowledge, please don’t train anyone yet.

The Saga Continues
Next, determine how exactly a sales manager could use whatever reporting, CRM, SFA, analytic tools and results to diagnose how well as rep is firing on each of those performance levers. Some of this work is detective work as well, and metrics are simply a starting point, to know where to dig deeper. In many cases, after studying results, a sales manager will need to have an engaged discussion with the rep, perhaps talk to customers, and even better, ride along with the rep and see him/her in action.

Success = (B-A) + A
Once you have a bead on the current behaviors (A) versus the desired behaviors (B), you have a gap to close. Now, you need the leadership, facilitation, and coaching skills to lead those discussions (notice I didn’t say “tell the rep what to do”) and develop action plans to close the gap between A and B.

Is That Light at the End of the Tunnel a Train?
So, looking at all of that, before training a single frontline sales rep, you must:

  • Train sales managers on the performance levers/success factors and sales behaviors that you want them to teach, reinforce, transfer, coach and develop in their reps.
  • Train sales managers how to diagnose sales rep behaviors related to those levers, based on available analytics, discussions and observation.
  • Train sales managers how to lead and facilitate effective coaching discussions, as well as how to create effective action plans with proper incentives (reward, recognition, personal motivation).
  • Train and create systems to help sales managers follow-up on those plans, hold reps accountable, and continue the training/analysis/coaching/planning/executing cycle, until results are achieved (or a performance management/corrective action plan is required).

And THEN it’s time to train sales reps.

Put the Ice in First, Then Pour
Now, from a practical perspective, it’s not like some of the training for managers and employees can’t overlap somewhat, but managers must be started first, or the training for the reps will largely be wasted, or adopted at a far lower percentage than will generally drive real performance improvement.

I’m sure I’m leaving enough gaps in my thinking here to foster some debate, but this is all I have time to say today. Hopefully the key points make sense, and where not, I’m sure I’ll hear about it. 😉

As always, praise, feedback, or disagreements may be posted here or sent to me privately at mike_kunkle at mindspring dot com, at your discretion.

Be safe out there, and happy selling! (And managing.)

Mike Kunkle

Contact me:
mike_kunkle at mindspring dot-com
214.494.9950 Google Voice

Connect with me:!/mike_kunkle


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Mike Kunkle

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