I have just completed a busy Spring season of speaking at conferences. In fact, I’ve been a pretty steady traveler since we published Cracking the Sales Management Code almost 7 years ago. In that time, I have seen the topics of other speakers evolve from sales training to sales enablement. From consultative selling to social selling. From big data to artificial intelligence. From inside sales to business development reps. From incentives to gamification. It seems that sales suffers no shortage of trends.
And yet, it’s my observation that most sales forces still struggle with the basics. While the attention on social selling has risen, the percentage of reps achieving quota has fallen. While gamification has gotten hotter, rep productivity has cooled. Amid all the technical and organizational innovations, sales management seems to have become harder, not easier.
At the risk of sounding like an old man stuck in centuries past, I would like to eschew innovation and bring the conversation back to the basics that our research has proven will grow your revenue. I offer you three sales management strategies that will never ever go out of style, as long as revenue growth is the fashion.
Coaching, Coaching, Coaching
If ‘modern’ sales management was born in the late 19th century, then sales coaching must have been birthed close behind. However, effective coaching remains one of the most elusive goals in sales. There’s a certain irony here, since coaching is the one thing in a sales force that everybody can get behind. Leaders expect it, managers like it, and sellers want it. Literally no one will stand against coaching, and zero people have ever objected to it.
Every study done on coaching shows that it is incredibly powerful when done well. We’ve had clients double their deal win rates when effective coaching was applied. We’ve seen the percentage of reps at quota improve by 20% when coaching was made a priority. Time and again, coaching moves the needle – it’s just that simple. Don’t try to automate it, don’t try to outsource it, just get your managers to do it.
Pipeline, Pipeline, Pipeline
Well before CRM was an acronym, there were sales pipelines in computer spreadsheets. Before that, they were scribbled on chalkboards and the backs of bar napkins. Sales pipelines are ubiquitous and always will be. In fact, I believe the sales pipeline is the most powerful tool that management has under its control, though it’s not often viewed as such. The pipelines is often reduced to a forecasting mechanism or just another report, but it is much more than that. Your sales pipeline contains all of your future revenue… Or none of it, if you don’t treat it right.
Our research shows that companies with effective pipeline management practices grow revenue 15% faster than their peers without them. There’s gold in them thar pipes, if you know how to mine it. Make it an organizational decree to clean out the junk and start building a clean, healthy sales pipeline. A healthy pipeline will have the ideal size, shape, and contents to reach your sales goals in the near and long term. An unhealthy pipeline will doom your sales force to wasted time and effort, right up to the moment when you miss your revenue target.
Activities, Activities, Activities
Here is one insight that is so obvious it somehow escapes everyone’s attention: You can only manage activities. You can’t manage revenue. You can’t manage market share. You can’t make a customer buy from you, and you can’t make them come back for more. The only thing you can manage is the activities of your team. Yet our research reveals that sales forces measure very little activity – only 17% of the metrics in CRM databases are activity-based. As a matter of fact, we tend to focus on the results we want, not the actions that cause them.
When you shift your attention from results to activities, wonderful things happen. You have greater confidence in your team’s field-level execution. Salespeople have clear tasks that align with their desired outcomes. Managers know what’s important to measure and coach. You start to see cause-and-effect relationships that inform better decision-making. We tell our clients that this is one of the most powerful and deceptively simple things you can do to improve sales performance: Focus on doing the right things right.
Block and Tackle
It’s quite certain that this will not be the sexiest article you’ll read this week, but it could be the most valuable. Like most things in life, we tend to make sales more complicated than we should. It’s blocking and tackling that wins games, not the most exotic strategy. Yet, exotic strategies are the siren song of senior leadership. Don’t let it be that way in your sales force.
Okay, maybe I’m not the trendiest person you know. I don’t sell on social media, and my life is not gamified. But I do know how to improve sales performance using tried and true management strategies. Coach your sellers, build your pipeline, and focus on the right activities. Trust me… If you do, great things will follow.