If I were to play a note on an instrument, you wouldn’t immediately classify it as music. Even several notes, played at random, would still just be noise. It’s only when notes are assembled into a specific arrangement that they can properly be called music. In the hands of a master composer, these assembled notes can tell a compelling story. That’s the same with building a business case for frontline sales manager (FSM) development.
Foundation: Four main reasons to invest in frontline sales managers
- FSMs are the linchpin to performance: They have the biggest leverage effect in any sales organization, based on their span of control. Additionally, they have to navigate multiple priorities at the same time, across three often competing dimensions — customers, business and people — in a constantly changing and complex environment, sandwiched between leadership and the sales team.
- Coaching can increase win rates by 9%: Coaching is not a required capability for individual sales professionals, but it is the key leadership capability for FSMs to develop salespeople’s untapped potential. Our CSO Insights 2015 Sales Management Optimization Study shows that coaching, closely connected to the sales process and methodologies, can improve win rates for forecasted deals by 9%.
- Shifting the FSM’s focus: As sales leaders shift their focus more towards what’s coming into the pipeline (see CSO Insights 2015 Sales Management Optimization Study), FSMs have to shift their focus as well to the early stages of the customer’s journey, to prospecting and creating new opportunities. Furthermore, FSMs also have to walk away from only measuring results to managing the right activities and coaching the related behaviors throughout the entire customer’s journey.
- Forecast accuracy is key to sales effectiveness: Organizations with higher forecast accuracy have better revenue plan attainment (2014 MHI Research Institute Sales Performance and Productivity Study). The better the forecast, the more focused an organization is on the deals they can win, and the deals they want to win (e.g., resources, investments).
Additional components: key influencers, data in context and current FSM maturity
Based on the four main reasons to invest in FSMs, three additional ingredients are required. A group of key influencers and early supporters must be created. Ideally, this group will consist of sales enablement/training, sales operations, and HR professionals as well as a few high-performing and interested FSMs. The reasons for FSM development as detailed above must be connected to the organization’s context by mapping the business strategy to the current sales execution plan. This will help identify strengths, gaps, and weaknesses. Additionally, the organization’s current FSM maturity level should be assessed to establish a starting point for development and to identify priorities. The CSO Insights FSM Maturity Model can provide guidance.
Composing the Business Case
Just as a piece of music has structure, so does the business case for prioritizing FSM development. The “right” structure depends heavily on the audience and setting, in this case, the sales leaders’ personalities and preferences and the organizational context in which the case is being made. However the case is structured, it needs to answer these questions:
Why should we reprioritize investments? The answer to this question connects the dots between sales strategy, current sales challenges, ongoing strategic initiatives and the FSM assessment results and conclusions. Bringing data in the organization’s specific context, that’s the key challenge here.
In what are we investing? The business case must provide at least high-level details of where sales leaders are being asked to invest and what will be delivered. For many organizations, this is a rough outline of an FSM development program (modules, sequences, content, etc.) that is based on the initial assessment and connected to the organization’s challenges.
How much do we need to invest? Sales leadership will need to know how much they are being asked to invest in FSM development. Most organizations find it helpful to break this down into an average per FSM per year. Details on annual investments can be found in the CSO Insights 2015 Sales Management Optimization Study. These investments should also be mapped to the expected results.
How will we develop and deliver the program? What combination of e-learning, m-learning (mobile learning) and classroom training will the program offer, and how much time will FSMs need to spend in training per year? Additionally, how will these programs be developed and delivered – with internal resources, with partners, or completely outsourced?
How will we measure success? Metrics has to be defined for both the expected behavioral changes and the business results. For example, if the initial assessment determined that coaching needed to be formalized and the related coaching capabilities developed, then coaching must be measured, e.g., coaching time, frequency, purpose and quality. Then, the expected business impact, such as increasing win rates, can be measured and put into context.
How will we get there? Not only is a common vision of success required; sales leadership also needs to be shown how they will reach their destination. The roadmap should outline the different developmental phases for each of the different FSM target groups, including pilots and roll-outs across additional regions and business units.
Logically, it makes sense to invest in FSMs, as they are the linchpins to sales performance. However, sales leadership’s natural bias toward investing in individual sales professionals is a hurdle that must be overcome. This requires a compelling business case composed of research and a thorough, current state analysis that shows sales leaders how reprioritizing investments can help them reach their business goals.