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Quality Sales Managers Matters

The focus of this blog is the first of two on  Improving Sales Effectiveness.  The first is the Quality of Sales Managers Matters. It is based on findings from the Conference Executive Board, PDS Groups and Huthwaite Research Group studies on sales management and coaching. All three agree on 5 Main Factors: (Listen to the Radio Show)

#1 High-performing sales manager’s impact reps engagement and financial performance. Reps reporting to great managers report high job satisfaction with four times more revenue than those working for poor managers.

#2 Coaching Is KingThe manager activity most linked with sales rep success is coaching. However, their coaching ability to coach individual sales reps is the weakest.

#3 Who they coach is selective— Coaching low or star performers does not statistically improve performance. Core performers, the 60% center of the performance Bell Curve make significant improvements with coaching.

#4 Bottom-Line ImpactsEffective coaching hits the bottom line. Core sales reps receiving great coaching reach on average 102% of goal in contrast to sales people reporting poor coaching who achieve only 83% of goal. Good coaching can improve core performance by 19%. This is lower than with PDS’s and Huthwaite’s sales productivity projects (18%-30% sales increases)

#5 Great Coaching Is a Learned SkillQuantitative analysis shows that five elements account for 77% of coaching effectiveness. Armed with this information, we can develop great coaches by focusing them on specific activities such as emphasizing the importance of targeting the best opportunities and spending at least three, but no more than five, hours coaching each rep per month.

What difficulties do firms face in getting Sales Managers coaching to impact results?


Removing the Barriers to Sales Effectiveness

Cogs of Effectiveness

The really effective sales organization has a number of characteristics, for example:

  • Skills and strategies suited to their market outstanding products or services
  • In-depth understanding of how these products can solve customer problems
  • Appropriate rewards and performance measures
  • Sales support system which actually helps to sell, not just administer
  • An ability and willingness to learn

Full effectiveness, however, can be achieved only if everyone:

  • Has a clear and shared vision of where the company is heading
  • Understands the strategy for getting there and their part in the process
  • Is rewarded for playing their part
  • Focuses obsessively on the customer

Some barriers to effectiveness are obvious – if the products are poor then no amount of sales skill can compensate sufficiently to build success. Many barriers are more subtle, and can sap the strength of the company over a long period without being tackled. Such problems usually fall under one the following three headings:

  • Misalignment
  • Inflexibility
  • Internal Focus


Feels like a bad back

There are many ways in which Misalignment is introduced into organization structures and processes; at best they generate unhelpful tensions and frustrations, at worst they lead to departmental rifts and sabotage. Common examples are:

  • Poor alignment of individuals’ expectations, departments and the company as a whole

E.g. the sales force seeks job interest by selling bespoke solutions, while the company is trying to standardize its offerings

  • Incentives for interdependent departments or people are not congruent

E.g. Sales force targeted on increased volume, administration targeted on decreased costs performance management process runs counter to company strategy

Sales management sets 30 day revenue targets, while company exhorts the salespeople to develop major accounts for the long-term

Salespeople are expected to cross-sell for other Divisions or countries, but are not rewarded for so doing

  • Sales management is “do as I say, not as I do”

E.g. Managers use a hard ‘push’ style, while advocating a ‘pull’ or consultative style with their people

  • Doing what we’ve always done what is going to be needed due to changing technology, markets and competition

E.g. When a monopoly supplier meets competition for the first time so the products no longer ‘sell themselves’

When new products address a different market – for example, printer sales force find themselves selling systems not peripherals

  • Gaps between stated values and actual values

E.g. “Our customers are our greatest asset ” while salespeople refer to them as “Buyers are liars”

“Our employees are our greatest asset”, while managers show little concern and even less investment


Many markets are now more turbulent and unpredictable than ever before, and success comes only to those who are ‘quick on their feet’. Unfortunately many players suffer from at least one of the following:

  • Their sales organization structure and roles don’t match those of the customer

E.g. they offer multipoint direct contact with sales, service, technical support, while the customer wants single point contact

Geographical location of functions and authority doesn’t match the customer’s

  • Their organization is inherently unresponsive to change

E.g. in rapidly evolving markets, companies operating a traditional hierarchical and functional structure find it hard to compete with those successfully using a cross-functional team approach

• Their people are resistant to change

E.g. Salespeople who have been adequately successful for years have become “order takers”, and the entertaining  approach to account development

Managers who find it hard to let go of their traditional, power-oriented style and allow staff the space and authority to really contribute

Technical people who are unwilling to take on the sales role and don’t believe in the new technology

Internal focus

True customer focus involves a lot more than ‘customer service training’; it means that no aspect of the organization should be free from an all-pervading concern with delivering what the customer wants, and a bit more. It means taking your cue from the customer in areas which traditionally have been internally focused, for example:

  • Company and/ or departmental structure

E.g. Split on arbitrary product/technical grounds, so that several sellers approach the same individual

  • Performance measures

E.g. Call rates, scrap rates, production volumes, instead of response times, satisfaction ratings, service call-outs

  • Perception of what is being sold

E.g. In terms of a product rather than the results of using it – a security system rather than peace of mind, a training course rather than increased sales effectiveness


There is no one best sales organization structure, incentive scheme, or strategic approach. If there were, we would not see the huge diversity which exists in the real world, and change would anyway render it obsolete.

The effective organization is never complacent, and audits itself rigorously and constantly, seeking out and remedying any instances of inconsistency, inflexibility and internal focus. It also never fools itself into believing that change=progress;. change follows cycles of learning of what works and what doesn’t, not from a fear of stagnation.

For Help in Getting Your People on the Same Page
Contact: Nick Anderson, Senior Partner, PDS Group LTD
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