During a recent discussion with a well-known sales trainer and consultant, our topic of discussion was: Why don’t more sales leaders and mangers invest in sales coaching?
In my colleague’s experience, the reason that sales leaders don’t buy into coaching is because salespeople have no respect for their sales manager’s advice. As a result, coaching is neither a sellers’ or managers’ priority: Sellers because they don’t think managers have anything to offer; managers because they are more concerned about making their own numbers and being accountable to sales leaders.
Why Does It Matter?
There are several reasons why this is a huge problem. This may be a blind spot for many sales leaders because of the cultural focus and bias in Sales on making quota, closing deals, and hitting forecasts. There are numerous studies that show top-performing sales teams (less than 6% of all teams1) all invest in coaching and better sales management practices for their front-line sales managers. Here a three really big bombs that are dropping on leaders that may convince them to consider other options.
Issue #1 – Sellers Resigning at Record Pace
Even with the changes in the US economy over the past six months, the impact of the Great Resignation is still being felt, especially in Sales. According to recent studies such as those done by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics in May, the number of job openings is now 25% higher than pre-pandemic levels, while the percentage of people surveyed planning to leave their jobs is still at 40%, the same as 2021.2
Recent studies also show there are now record numbers of sales jobs available, which leads to the inescapable conclusion that people have left or are leaving existing sales roles.3 The rate of turnover in sales is even greater than the general employee population, with 57% of top sales performers stating that they’re planning to leave their positions.4
So, the first bomb dropped is that leaders may be losing team members and not know why. Even if there’s a focus on retention, the pressure and cultural issues in Sales that drive most managers and sellers may overwhelm any comp increases or better spiffs provided to reps.
Issue #2 – Economic Alignment
According to the latest research, analysts predict that many issues seen with businesses and revenue growth during the Pandemic are going to repeat themselves as a Recession. One analyst even stated that the “Plan B” go-to business strategy is simply to implement cost-cutting measures.5 This creates an interesting conflict of interest. Will available sales jobs just go away in the face of a Recession, or will companies continue trying to hire salespeople despite the economy?
In the face of the potential economic downturn, sales leaders are in a difficult position. They must grow revenue despite a recession and the likely possibility that the current sales team is at less than full capacity. What strategies will help retain existing salespeople while producing more revenue from each team member? After all, a significant percentage of sales team members don’t make quota in the first place.6
On the other hand, the primary reason existing employees give for leaving is poor management7. It’s very difficult to retain employees when they leave because they feel disrespected by their managers.
This has always been one of the most challenging aspects of sales management. Pressure is put on sales leaders, managers and salespeople to close more business, meet forecasts and ensure that the sales team meets revenue objectives. Managers are often incented via compensation plans that focus on selling instead of managing their teams.
Issue #3 – Workforce Demographics
Perhaps the most damaging potential issue sales leaders may face is workforce demographics. For the sake of argument, let’s assume most sales leaders are in their mid-40’s or older. It makes sense given the level of sales experience and success businesses expect of a sales leader. Now let’s look at the team – what percentage of current salespeople are below the age of 45? I would speculate that the majority of them are, especially BDR/SDR reps and most account executives that don’t sell to large enterprises.
If that’s true, Issues 1 and 2 are significantly magnified because those employees under 45 are either Millennials or Gen Z. By 2025, more than half of the US workforce will be under the age of 458. One of the primary factors that drives Millennial employment motivation is respect and appreciation for their work efforts. This could explain in part why sales turnover is even higher than the generally employed population. Given the cultural norms of sales, wouldn’t most Millennials find sales to be an occupation that avoids what they desire most in a job? Naturally, when confronted by the pressure and a lack of appreciation and respect for their bosses, they turn around and quit.
What Should Be Done?
It’s clearly a time of disruption and uncertainty for sales leaders as they plan for what to do next in 2023. Leaders need to prepare for these bombshells of potential employee turnover, demographics, and a repeat of the economic downturn that drove employee turnover in the first place. If nothing else, the current economic and business conundrums should convince them to examine how to better retain and improve existing employees. For leaders, not acting could result in negative growth, losing more employees, customers leaving, and potentially end a sales leaders’ career.
However, coaching is just too counterculture to motivate many sales leaders. So, what can leaders do? Instead of investing in coaching, invest in improvement. Managers may not want to coach, but what they can do is find ways to help team members improve productivity and revenue production. This can be done by simply spending a little time and implementing a simple improvement framework that will work for any sales manager. This investment helps the manager because they benefit from the increase in each seller’s production. The seller benefits because they acquire new skills, are more productive and potentially gain more income by generating more revenue.
Five Step Framework for Improvement
- Adhere to the Sales Process. Every business has a sales process. The more sellers follow the process, the better they execute. Sales Managers understand the process and the sales stages because the pipeline they continually monitor to close deals is based on the sales process. Simply knowing where a seller “bottlenecks” in the process by having a disproportionate number of opportunities at specific stages indicates that there’s a potential issue to be addressed.
- Second, review the metrics or KPIs that measure the Sales Process. Knowing what metrics measure each sales stage or the overall process provides insight into why a seller is having an issue at that stage. Often, managers find that issues in stages adjacent to the bottleneck require more attention and correction.
- Third, identify sales skill(s) that align with the sales stages. At each step in the sales process there is some task and/or deliverable a rep must complete to move the next step. In today’s environment, this is often made more complex by customer buying processes, so helping the seller untangle issues surrounding the buying process can often move deals much faster. The more deals that are untangled the more business gets closed.
- Take what is learned in the first three steps and implement a simple Action Plan to make changes to the seller’s activities and/or skills. This is not about respect or appreciation: it’s about making sure the needle moves. If a manager can help move the needle, the result will be a gain in respect capital from seller to manager, and the seller gaining revenue for the team.
- Finally, there must be data available to do this. Most sales teams use Salesforce, so CRM data can be used to make these decisions. Without CRM data there is no sales process to monitor, no KPI’s to assess, and no skills to evaluate.
None of the above requires managers to quit selling or waste time with reps to “coach” them. However, this minimal investment of time and effort to “help” a seller improve provides results that benefit both the manager and the salesperson. That makes it worth doing. Ultimately, when sellers improve their productivity, it has the potential to improve retention and enhance the manager/rep relationship. Even though this is not culturally popular, the goal of keeping employees and generating more revenue is accomplished.
To make the process easy for managers and leaders to execute, Funnel Metrics has developed an application in Salesforce called Funnelocity® that will make it easier for managers to implement an improvement process without the need for extensive coaching training. Funnelocity® identifies the key metrics and skills in the sales process to help managers assess and diagnose key performance issues. The framework is built into the application, so managers don’t have to spend valuable time on activities that don’t produce results. To learn more about Funnelocity®, visit our website: https://funnelmetrics.com
- Sales Mastery, “2021 World-Class Sales Practices Study Report”, Page 17, Jim Dickie & Barry Trailer, Nov, 2021.
- US Bureau of Labor Statistics quits levels and rates data, December 2019 through May 2022.
- “The Pay Is High and Jobs Are Plentiful, but Few Want to Go Into Sales”, https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-pay-is-high-and-jobs-are-plentiful-but-few-want-to-go-into-sales-11626255001, Patrick Thomas, July 14, 2021.
- Sales Benchmark Index Group, “SBI Go-to-Market Imperatives for 2022”, by Martha Mathers, Nancy Nardin, Nick Toman, and Ryan Tognazzini, 2022.
- Sales Benchmark Index Group: “Are CEOs ignoring signs of slipping demand heading into 2023?”, https://sbigrowth.com/insights/are-ceos-ignoring-signs-of-slipping-demand-heading-into-2023, Nick Toman, Aug 3, 2022.
- CSO Insights, “With Sales Effectiveness Down, Companies Should Rethink Their Process”, https://www.destinationcrm.com/Articles/Columns-Departments/Reality-Check/With-Sales-Effectiveness-Down-Companies-Should-Rethink-Their-Sales-Process-127095.aspx, Jim Dickie.
- “Generation Z and Millennials Seek Recognition at Work”, https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/benefits/pages/generation-z-and-millennials-seek-recognition-at-work.aspx, Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), Sept 19, 2019.
- “How to Tell If a ‘Fact’ About Millennials Isn’t Actually a Fact”, https://www.wsj.com/articles/BL-REB-29210, Josh Zumbrun, Nov 27,2014.