It’s funny how one occasionally runs into content, a quote or a phrase that turns out to be inspirational or important. Last Sunday, I was reading the entertainment section of the local newspaper and came across the weekly horoscope section. (Okay, laugh if you want.) I almost never look at this (LOL).  But bear with me – this is what it said:

“Systems matter more than goals.  Most goals can’t be accomplished without them. And yet it’s pretty pointless
to figure out a system that has no goal. The goal and the system need each other, so don’t set one without the other.”

This is pretty profound considering the source, and I found myself thinking: why is my horoscope talking about goals and systems? After reflecting, I realized the timing could not have been better, given what is going on right now in B2B sales and especially for sales managers.  As we turn the corner into 2021, critical challenges sales leaders face explain why alignment with “systems” is essential for managers to accomplish their goals. The question is, what system will you put in place for your team to make your goals in 2021?

2020 Consequences for Managers

Many popular pandemic-related media and market driven discussions talk about the state of B2B sales in 2021 and what should be done by businesses and sales leaders.  Recent studies and articles about B2B sales seem to focus on sales tactics and either how salespeople need to rethink their sales conversations or provide the right content in customer meetings.  However, how to sell and how to manage are two very different activities. Sales management challenges are tackled by assessing and diagnosing the current situation, planning, coaching, executing and relentlessly monitoring team member progress.

Let’s take these 2021 issues and break them down from a sales management perspective. Coincidentally, none of these issues just suddenly appeared as a consequence of the pandemic.  These are issues managers have been addressing all along. However, economic downturns always expose these issues that tend to re-surface in difficult situations.

Staff Disruption

In most companies, business leaders seldom ask the sales team what revenue results should be accomplished. Managers must take the numbers and figure out how their team can generate those results. According to the Korn Ferry 2020-2021 Sales Performance report1, before any plans could be made to react to the pandemic, 38% of study participants reported altering sales compensation plans downward, another 38% reported layoffs, and similar numbers of respondents mentioned their organization instituted salary reductions or furloughs as a result of COVID-19.

After adjusting for these factors, 73% of respondents either planned to stay the same size (after COVID-19 downsizing) or had plans to further reduce the size of their salesforce. At the very least, managers were confronted with staff disruption on several dimensions while having to figure out what to do with remaining team members and resources.

These issues probably originated with the management team as they reviewed forecasts and assessed the revenue situation, concluding that the sales team was either too large to support revenues (given current seller productivity) or even in high demand circumstances, wasn’t correctly organized from a human capital perspective. Some also seized on the observation that inside salespeople (who are often trained to work digitally) started performing better than traditional salespeople.

Regardless of the specific circumstances, managers must make staffing decisions and address the future consequences as the economy slowly recovers.  This has nothing to do with “selling” or opportunity management – this is human capital management, and there’s underlying evaluation, decision making and logistics about what to do with the team going forward. That is in the manager’s hands.

Selling Disruption

Whether your business dramatically suffered a lost pipeline and customer attrition, or whether your firm was hit with supply chain disruption because demand soared through the roof (aka, toilet paper), no sales team was spared selling disruption, customer relationship repairs or related fallout and change that occurred for virtually every company. 

Your team might have immediately reached out to customers to see what assistance they required.  Or perhaps they were the intermediary with their finger in the dam of calling customers who pounded on them to push items faster through the supply chain. Whether the revenue curve went up or down, sales managers had to reorganize selling efforts to address either the onslaught of demand or the collapse of their pipeline. 

As the Korn Ferry Sales Performance study pointed out, managers lacked confidence that their sales organizations could or should pursue new business during COVID-19. The study indicated that managers were “concerned that their potential time investment is too high and prospects’ desire to spend too low to justify making it (new business) the core focus and fear they won’t sufficiently differentiate themselves from competitors in order to win the business they do pursue.” For most businesses, existing customers represent on average 70% of their revenue.

Therefore, validating what business could be saved, deferred or lost was probably a priority for management. Also, since staff was cut and selling/marketing resources were likely reduced, sales managers had to re-allocate their team’s efforts to progress towards a new, if uncertain outcome.

It remains to be seen if the short-term lack of focus on new business development will hurt businesses. If demand doesn’t re-emerge from existing customers, sales team members will be forced out of necessity to do new business development. Managers may or may not be prepared to address this with entirely new and different sales plans, tactics, coaching or training focused on new business.

Digital Technology Disruption

We’ve all seen and heard about the disruption of sales by the elimination of face-to-face selling and the rush to digital technology.  Virtually every manager we’ve spoken with has been dealing with the consequences of not being able to meet with customers directly. There’s been a lot written about the digital tech boom (including by us when we described the opportunity for managers through participation in video conferences). However, there’s more to this than video conferences, as we will see momentarily.

Managers must determine how digital technology will change sales team efforts going forward.  This is a discipline they are quickly learning to better manage and coach team members. There are two sides of the digital technology issue to consider. On one hand, many sales managers successfully sold before digital technology (probably the majority of managers) and may not be familiar with this selling approach. The success of managing a digitally focused team is largely accomplished by sales team members inputting better information, capturing more data, and improving their use of CRM and/or other sales technologies. Experienced or not, managers must be more prepared to leverage digital technology more effectively to assess, evaluate, coach and communicate with their teams.

On the other hand, let’s revisit the assertion that inside salespeople may be capable of closing more business or having more success than more experienced outside salespeople. Managers will be tasked with determining what skills and activities are most appropriate to their firm’s sales model. More experienced salespeople may be needed to address the complexity and sophistication of B2B cycles that inside sales personnel are not yet familiar with.  Also, judgements will be made about the mix of selling the team may have in the future relative to new versus existing business. 

These two opposing points of view illustrate that balancing experience against digital technology skills to ensure effective complex B2B sales will be an important sales management decision.

Connecting the Dots – Why do we need a System?

But what does all this have to do with Systems mattering more than Goals?  Let’s connect the dots.  Throughout this article, I’ve emphasized there is a difference between sales management and more efficient selling. No one would argue that selling skills like presenting the right content (a marketing-driven issue) and having the correct conversations (driven by conversation analytics) aren’t important. However, these skills are decidedly different than those required for sales management decisions.

Sales Managers probably effectively used many of these selling skills when they were successful salespeople.  All of the issues described in this article focus on the activities sales managers must perform that are based on executing management directives and human capital decisions. This is where a “system” must be put in place for managers to meet their goals.  Goals always exist in the form of sales team quotas. What does not exist in many organizations (now starkly highlighted by the pandemic) is an underlying framework for sales management planning, assessment, diagnosis, coaching and monitoring how reps execute in order to be successful.  This issue has been extensively documented, going back over 50 years and is only accentuated by the pandemic.

Sales Performance Management Process

Underlying the daily opportunity management that all salespeople and managers must perform is a system they can use to ensure that each salesperson is prepared (whatever their current performance, skills and/or role) to be successful.  It is as equally important for sales managers to address the human capital requirements of their job as it is to coach digital technology or conversation skills. What does that look like? The diagram below shows what a sales performance management process looks like.

This basic five-step process should be fundamental to how managers view team performance. You may even be executing some of these steps today. This is where many managers confuse coaching team members in their selling activities with sales management coaching.  Each seller has a unique process and “sales equation” they execute during the sales process. It’s the manager’s job to optimize that equation: the more a seller can be coached to execute like top performers, the more likely they are to be successful and achieve their goals. 

The process involves doing regular assessment and diagnosis to understand where each team member is relative to their current, Year-to-date and total performance. What activities, sale process steps and skills are keeping a team member from closing business?  Managers need a simple way to assess this and quickly understand the big picture so that corrective actions can be taken before the salesperson runs out of time to address deficiencies.  If there’s too much emphasis on pipeline and forecasting, then it will be too late to change anything when team members don’t accomplish expected results.

Sales Management Coaching is about planning and describing the steps the team member must take. A good construct for addressing this is the “Action Plan.”  This is a simple tool that permits the manager to specify for the seller what steps need to be taken, what will be measured, and when the improvement should occur. The manager can then monitor progress on the Action Plan to ensure the team member takes the committed actions. 

Having a systematic approach allows managers to be more efficient in how they look at team member’s performance, but equally important, it ensures that they focus on human capital issues.  All salespeople need to be successful, especially when confronted by the issues described above that have been accelerated by the pandemic. As a manager you must assess how your team is going to perform and have a plan for each rep to succeed.

Funnelocity® Implements Sales Performance Management

We’ve created an application that runs on Salesforce to make it easy for managers to use the sales performance management lifecycle.  Funnelocity® is the only product available in the market specifically designed to help managers improve human capital management by encouraging better communications, coaching and collaboration with team members to identify and address issues critical to improving performance.

Funnelocity® uses analytics and Artificial Intelligence to assess and predict future rep performance, and to identify those activities and skills that are most statistically relevant to prioritizing selling behaviors.  This is exactly the type of analysis, information and process managers will use to re-grow revenues with the post-pandemic teams they now have. By identifying and addressing skill deficiencies and activity gaps, Funnelocity® allows sales managers to better coach team members to improve their performance levels, resulting in more closed business over time. In other words, more reps make quota.

To learn more about the Sales Performance Management framework and the Funnelocity® tool set, please check out our website, visit us on the Salesforce AppExchange, or email us at sales@funnelmetrics.com.

Reference:

1.       Korn Ferry 2020-21 Sales Performance Study, “Mastering Performance in a New Sales Landscape,” © Korn Ferry, Los Angeles, CA. 2021