Developing Frontline Managers: Coaches Need Coaching Too
In Part 1 of this “reflection,” I was trying to better understand the pain points of a dissatisfied customer, and I realized that our initial solution — a video practice platform designed to get sellers to watch an “example” of what good looks like, practice, and then submit their “take” for feedback, coaching and certification was too narrow, episodic, and out of seller and manager workflow.
I revealed a narrative around this customer's Rep A, who after 15-months in the role had plateaued in his development and settled into being a very average middle to low performer, and Frontline Sales Manager A who needed to coach the seller but simply couldn’t find the time and didn’t know where to begin.
What if you could…
- Arm your frontline sales managers with a seller development dashboard outlining— by seller — the stages of the sales process that were most challenging and which skills they needed to focus on with each seller.
- Point out specific coaching paths to assist frontline sales sales managers develop the right behaviors and skills.
- Allow sellers, frontline sales managers, enablement, and leadership visibility into the progression sellers are making on key behaviors and skills the organization identified as critical to advancing sales cycles.
How effective coaching begins — the new “Metrics that Matter”
Performance based metrics are at the core of our traditional sales management approach. Gap to goal, pipeline volume, pipeline velocity, win rate, ASP — you know the drill. And while these metrics are important — and can certainly profile a seller’s performance — they provide little to no insight into how to change a seller’s selling behavior.
I know...if a seller isn’t making enough sales calls, but their win rates are above average, just make more sales calls. I’m referring to middle performers — the sellers that are average across the board. They float somewhere between 45% - 85% of plan, overestimate their forecast, moderately complain about the top performers getting too much recognition, don’t appear to be at risk for leaving and creating an open territory, and seem to leave the office in and around 5pm-ish.
While this may come across as an indictment of the middle performer — it’s not. These sellers aren’t getting coached or developed, they’re simply being overlooked. What’s interesting is WHY they’re getting overlooked. It’s not because frontline sales managers aren’t working hard — it stems from two key factors (assuming respect and relationship are present — without them coaching is a non-starter):
- Frontline sales manager time in the field observing sellers is too few and far between
- Frontline sales managers lack a framework to effectively assess their sellers
If the average frontline sales manager has 10 - 12 direct reports (assuming no open headcount), somewhere between 4 - 8 are middle performers. You’d agree that most sales managers would be lucky to get one day in the field with one seller per month. Do the math. Even if they went on three sales calls in one day, the chance of observing a live sales situation where a particular selling behavior is being demonstrated is highly unlikely. More often than not, the sales manager is fighting to get to goal — and when the seller stumbles, the sales manager takes over the call. This is the reality.
As an example, most sales managers experience the greatest degradation in pipeline at the Discovery phase in the sales process — early in the sales cycle — and see conversion rates improve the further they progress. Lets assume the manager allows the seller to conduct the Discovery call — how is the sales manager assessing the seller? What are the basic characteristics of an effective Discovery call?
Suspend the potential urge for debate and allow me to submit what we generally determined to be the basic attributes of an effective Discovery call:
- Setting an effective intro and agenda (evidenced by a solid pre-call plan)
- Leading with insight - provocative based selling
- Diagnosing a need
- Aligning a relevant use case
- Qualify and close for next steps
While these may be simple behaviors and skills, there are 5 - 6 stages in most sales processes — each taking time to develop to a high standard. We are taking this step towards improving sellers by providing frontline sales managers an assessment frame to assist in “what to look for.”
There’s a reason why Michael Jordan isn’t a basketball coach. He actually doesn’t know what makes him great. He doesn’t realize his shoulders are square to the hoop when he shoots, his left elbow is tucked into his side, and it’s his index finger that leads his follow thru. Simple example but hopefully you see my point.
Which stage of YOUR sales process has the poorest conversion rate...and why? In my experience — based on 20+ years of building and scaling sales organizations — you will NOT find the answer in your traditional metric based dashboard. The key to improving traditional metrics are through a new set of metrics...we need to be looking at behaviors and skills.
Leveraging a combination of Human and Artificial Intelligence, CommercialTribe does the heavy lifting of listening to recorded calls (via any web-conferencing technology) or creates simulated selling environments to observe sellers. Beyond the observation, CommercialTribe has authored a series of assessment maps and competency libraries to help identify specific areas of focus. It’s the assessment framework we’ve realized has been a key missing element in frontline sales manager coaching. We’re now providing the “what to look for” across each stage of the sales process and providing coaching paths to make the untenable role of the frontline sales manager a true coaching and development role.
I welcome any and all comments and am eager to hear how others are thinking about seller development and effective coaching. If there’s interest, I’m happy to publish examples our assessment maps and competencies (skills and behaviors) — perhaps this becomes an open source project of sorts.