The Sandler Research Center is pleased to present the findings from our most recent research, “Leading from the Front in Challenging Times.”
Our primary intention was to discover the current challenges and changes in operating style faced by sales leaders with the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The survey was divided into seven sections, all equally significant:
- People Management
- Coaching and Training
- Human Capital Management
- Pipeline Generation and Management
We believe it is critical that all research is totally transparent: You need to know the number of respondents involved; the geographical location; age groups, job titles and industries because only then can you be confident of recency and relevance. With that in mind, we can confirm that this survey involved: Respondents from 40 countries in 6 regions and we are providing you with 50 data points.
Here then are some extracts to whet your appetite:
It is almost impossible to overstate the need for every sales organization to have a well thought out and achievable sales strategy. It is a plan that guides and steers the sales team through a specified period of time and keeps them on course. Not having such a strategy can be likened to taking a long and unfamiliar road trip without a map or satellite navigation – you might arrive at your destination … eventually!
Clearly, the pandemic has required us all to adjust our strategies and sales processes to allow for the transition to remote working and selling. From the sales leader’s perspective, creating a sales process means developing a comprehensive, formal, realistic and step-by-step outline of what salespeople are expected to do. This is just as appropriate for internal and totally reactive sales teams as it is for external pro-active ones.
This outline includes the activity and calls they must make, the relationships they should establish with prospects, the documentation they should use in sales calls, the issues they must discuss and resolve with prospects, and the tangible goals they must achieve in sequence along the path to each sale, in order to achieve maximum effectiveness.
It is only when such an outline is in place that sales management can be in a position to:
- Monitor the sales force’s activity, progress and results
- Assess issues as they arise and take appropriate action
- Efficiently redirect individual sales representative’s efforts
Although many organizations appreciate the importance of being customer-focused and speak in vague terms about their “consultative sales process,” surprisingly few sales leaders invest the time and energy required to develop a formal sales process – a process that is at once detailed and resilient enough to guide their salespeople, and to permit effective management of their efforts.
Be assured, an effective sales strategy and sales process is much more likely to achieve sustained sales growth achieved efficiently, reliably and by design.
If they hadn’t realized before, organizations all around the globe are now discovering whether they have managers leading their sales teams, or whether they have genuine sales leaders.
The single most common mistake made by organizations is promoting their number one salesperson into the role of sales manager, thereby depriving themselves in a single stroke of their best producer, as well as hamstringing their sales force with an ineffective manager.
The skills required for managing, mentoring and developing a sales team are totally different from those required for selling. As a result, it’s not uncommon to find newly-promoted sales managers who regret having taken a management position, and who may even leave to get back into sales – if they are not pushed first!
The majority of sales managers – new and experienced alike – say they do not have sufficient time to train and develop their sales teams. They are so focused on sales results – and so accustomed to achieving success through their personal pursuit of those results – that they overlook their greatest potential source of power: the power to increase sales performance by developing their people.
The sales manager’s role is transforming from evaluator to developer, from expert to resource, from teller to questioner. This change is no mere tweaking adjustment – it is a 180° shift from how the majority of sales managers manage, and how they are managed. Most organizations profess to want coaching, but they don’t really do anything about it. Just as students are lucky to have one or two special teachers in a lifetime, sales professionals are lucky if they get one real coach. Organizations don’t have role models for coaching, they don’t train for it, and they don’t hold people accountable for it.
Today, you see, the role of sales manager is pivotal. It is the vital link, and ineffective sales leadership is the main reason why so many sales teams are failing.
Working through these challenging times has required a new set of skills. Only a small percentage of leaders have been trained to manage remotely, for example; the ability to communicate clearly, sympathetically and regularly is absolutely vital. It has also provided the opportunity to show empathy and understanding.
It was, therefore, reassuring to note that so many of our respondents were clearly focused on maintaining morale, motivation and the retention of their best team members.
For example, pick up a typical company report and what words do you find? Verbs like analyze, forecast, plan, assess and schedule, are used in pursuit of organisations that are efficient, productive and predictable. What set of people are required? Obviously, people who are efficient, effective, proficient, competent, productive and co-operative. But we believe we need to go beyond – we need to be inspired, motivated creators, who are enthusiastic and able to consistently deliver against our key objectives. We should be developing individuals who are not afraid to challenge paradigms, who are prepared to go that extra yard in search of excellence, and who understand that success is 80% attitude and only 20% aptitude.
For a group of people to remain consciously competent at optimum performance levels, they require frequent injections of stimulation, motivational guidance, prompting, coaching and directing. Otherwise, they can easily lapse into becoming unconsciously competent or worse, unconsciously incompetent.
Finally, there were a couple of stand-out responses. When asked what percentage of their sales team is showing capabilities to succeed in the new reality, 54.5% suggested that more than 60% were. That leaves almost 50% of managers/leaders believing that up to half of their team are not capable of transitioning, which of course is a concern.
Coaching and Training
The primary objective of a professional sales manager has to be:
“To achieve consistently superior results through the performance of every key individual.”
The easiest way to do that is via coaching, but that is far easier said than done because most sales managers don’t know how to coach – they have never been taught. In fact, if you want to pinpoint the root cause as to why most coaching initiatives fail and why managers feel they don’t have time to coach, it’s because most companies have no idea what coaching really is. Without a baseline definition of coaching that’s shared and adopted companywide, it’s impossible to build an impenetrable coaching culture.
Coaching is not an event, a KPI you simply box-tick, or something you DO to someone. It’s the language of leadership you speak in every conversation to create new and greater possibilities.
While sales tools can revolutionize the way your sales team manages customers, as with all business technology, you will need to carefully manage how those tools are introduced. Over-reliance on technology may only serve to disguise issues that exist elsewhere.
We believe that a clear understanding of what you hope to achieve can help you make the right choice from the wide range of sales software and systems that are available. You’ll need to assess what different solutions offer, how reliable they are, and what they cost.
The often considerable investment required has to be justified: 68% of respondents to one of our most recent surveys told us that they did not believe they had received a proper return on that investment
Critically, you’ll need to plan how to introduce any new tools or systems, and how to make sure that the team can use them. For complex projects, consultancy support and effective employee training are likely to be essential.
The right approach can involve more than buying sales tools as add-ons for your existing operation – you may need to entirely rethink your processes. While this can be complex and sometimes disruptive, you will end up with a more effective and productive sales operation.
However, we think that any technology vendor will be encouraged to learn that 65.5% of respondents told us that those team members who have fully embraced the sales tools on offer were more productive. And singling out CRM as an example, 50.6% said that they had witnessed an improvement in CRM use since the pandemic took effect.
Human Capital Management
Salespeople have their own unique sets of beliefs, some of which limit their potential in sales. For instance, as we are witnessing now, during a pandemic, some members of a sales force may believe that strong sales are impossible. But if one person increases their sales, what seemed an inevitable fact will suddenly appear more like a thin excuse for poor performance.
Within every sales team, there are individuals who hold a number of empowering beliefs. Giving them an opportunity to share those beliefs along with the evidence that supports them can be a very transformational experience for the entire team.
Some members of a sales team may be extremely competent and, if they are not stretched, there is a danger they could become complacent. Therefore, utilizing these salespeople as coaches and mentors for less capable salespeople produces an all-around win. This is the “Power of Responsibility.”
We would go even further and suggest that maximizing a sales team around one common goal that creates value for the customer, the organization, and the individual sales person is the only way to focus the activities of a sales team.
It is critical that each individual is able to measure the value of each activity undertaken during the day and can make the connection to the overarching goals of the organization. If there is no clear line of sight between what they are doing and the value to the customer, they are clearly doing the wrong thing.
When a sales team views mistakes as opportunities for improving their team’s process and results, it’s a sign that the sales leader has successfully created an environment that promotes problem-solving, because people are problem-solvers by nature. When they are allowed to create their own solutions (rather than having expert solutions imposed upon them), salespeople are more proactive and engaged.
Sales teams also have greater ownership of solutions they discover for themselves. Creating an environment that promotes problem-solving is a key component to creating an effective sales team structure.
Pipeline Generation and Management
Two escalating pressures in today’s marketplace are creating a need for a more disciplined approach towards sales opportunities:
- The need to be more specialized and individualized in dealing with clients because we can no longer afford to treat all situations in the same way.
- The reality of competition. To increase market share, you must often do so at the direct expense of the competition. The competitive intensity of the sales environment is escalating with the globalisation of the economy.
These are the main “drivers” behind the demand that organizations adopt methodologies and processes to manage these issues.
We can only control and manage what we understand and that is the real value of continuous and rigorous assessment of our pipelines.
And yes, it’s true that 33% of opportunities currently residing within your pipeline will never close – for a number of reasons.
In fact, 32.5% of respondents told us that what goes in the pipeline rarely closes on time, and 50.3% said that their team’s forecasting ability is Not Very Accurate (12.1%), or Not Accurate (38.2%)
An unprofitable or unwinnable opportunity takes the same amount of time to work through the sales funnel as a profitable and winnable one. Isn’t that the most compelling reason to understand the difference as early as possible in the sales/buying cycle? There are no prizes for building an overly pregnant pipeline – those accolades are for closed business!
Please download your copy of the full report here