How Top-Performing Sales Managers Drive Results

MichelleVazzanaToday’s post is by Michelle Vazzana, co-founder and Chief Strategy Officer, VantagePoint Performance.

All sales managers want to get it right.  Everyone wants a definitive solution. The bad news is it doesn’t exist. The good news is that top-performing sales managers aren’t magical. They are focused in ways their lower-performing peers are not. 

What do focus and simplicity have in common? The best sales managers know they can’t do everything. In fact, time can be a sales manager’s biggest enemy if not harnessed effectively. Research from the 2012 Thought Leadership on the Sales Profession Conference indicates that the average sales manager only spends about 32% of their time managing their team. How that 32% of time is used makes all the difference.

The three most important questions 

The research published in our books, Cracking the Sales Management Code and Crushing Quota, show that sales managers cannot manage outcomes, only the activities that lead to those outcomes. But which activities should they manage, and how is that different from measuring activities? How does this relate to coaching? Top-performing sales managers use a specific framework to focus their efforts. They answer three critical questions to isolate the highest impact efforts:

  • What should my salespeople be doing?  
  • What should I as their sales manager be doing to best enable and equip my salespeople to succeed? 
  • How do I know if it is working?  

What should my salespeople be doing? 

This is the foundation for laser-focused sales management. Top-performing managers are diligent about tying the activities they expect their salespeople to execute to the sales objectives or KPIs that matter. Those sales KPIs are meaningfully connected to the business results the sellers are held accountable to achieve. 

Once these high-impact activities are identified, top-performing sales managers ensure that tasks are clear for their salespeople, implementing standards that remove ambiguity. The most typical standards involve quantitative expectations for activity execution. Make 10 sales calls per day. Deliver 20 proposals per quarter. This is the easiest part of activity management, but it is not the most important part. The critical standards high-performing managers provide are qualitative. They clarify what “good” looks like and over-communicate the vital elements of effective execution for the activities that matter most. 

This diligence enables sales managers to tackle the next question: How can I enable my sellers to succeed? What is my role? 

How can I enable my salespeople? 

Creating clarity of task for salespeople is critical, but only the first step. Top-performing sales managers apply the same laser focus to their own efforts, ensuring that the effort applied will lead to results. Of all the things a sales manager could coach, which ones should they coach? The high-impact activities. Managers can’t and shouldn’t attempt to coach every sales activity. 

Top-performing sales managers make time for what matters most and pay far less attention to everything else. In fact, our research indicates that many ingrained beliefs about effective sales coaching are just plain wrong.  

Top-performing sales managers don’t coach their salespeople more frequently or spend more time in the field. Once the highest impact activities are identified, top-performing sales managers determine how frequently each individual salesperson should be coached and the most effective content of those coaching conversations.  

So, if once per month is sufficient, they don’t coach an activity every two weeks. This goes against conventional thinking for over-achievers who want to set “stretch” goals. More is not always better, certainly as it pertains to effective and realistic sales coaching. Identifying the most important sales activities to coach and coaching them consistently ensures that effort is applied in the right amount and in the right way. The next thing top-performer sales managers do is determine which needles need to move and by how much to achieve the team’s goals. 

How do I know if it is working? 

This last critical question forms the final element of an effective sales management framework. It replicates how top-performing managers simplify their coaching tasks and get more of their salespeople to quota; 35% more as compared to their lower-performing peers, according to Crushing Quota. When they’ve done the heavy lifting of making direct connections between business results–sales objectives/KPIs–and high-impact activities, the path to progress becomes clear. These managers don’t wait until sellers are far behind quota to take action. They monitor the sales KPIs on a regular basis to ensure that progress is being made, and they take needed action when it isn’t. 

They look at things like win rates, time in each deal stage, and level of opportunity qualification. They look at the contents and progress of their seller’s pipelines, and coach accordingly. This is how top-performing sales managers use data. If the right activities are being executed in the right way, the right needles should be moving. If they’re not, adjustments are made. 

To learn more about coaching practices of high-performing managers, check out our most recent book Crushing Quota: Proven Sales Coaching Practices for Breakthrough Performance on Amazon. Download the first two chapters of Crushing Quota. 

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Michelle Vazzana is the Chief Strategy Officer and Co-founder of VantagePoint Performance, the leading global sales effectiveness firm. She is the author of Crushing Quota: Proven Sales Coaching Tactics for Breakthrough Performance and co-author of Cracking the Sales Management Code: The Secrets to Measuring and Managing Sales Performance.

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