Focus on customer relationships to increase sales wins
Strengthening customer relationships is a key way for sales organizations to improve sales performance and win more deals.
In recent years, being a sales manager has become increasingly complex. As indicated by the Korn Ferry Research 2020–21 Sales Performance Study and 2021 Buyer Preferences Study, more decision-makers are involved on the customer side of a purchase, sales cycles are longer and the expectations for a sales experience are much higher.
Sales organizations have attempted to adapt to these changes with a range of responses:
The unintended result is trying to address complexity by adding more complexity.
Rarely do these additions sit on top of a unified framework or a holistic sales system. Instead, they sit piecemeal on top of the salesperson’s daily activities.
For example, according to the Korn Ferry Research 2nd Annual Sales Operations and Technology Study, only 27% of sales organizations report that their sales tech stack is aligned to the seller’s workflow.
All of this complexity can have a huge impact on sales managers.
Sales managers get caught in the middle, trying to untangle the matrix of tools, content and processes to make it easier for sellers to sell and customers to buy. As a result, we see a huge difference when we look at how sales managers spend their time now compared to four years ago.
Today’s sales leaders spend almost two-thirds of their time internally focused (e.g., navigating the organization, creating reports and forecasting). This shift comes at the expense of focusing externally (e.g., coaching sellers to higher levels of performance with their customers and building and executing market-level strategies).
The purpose of the sales manager role is to serve as the conduit between the organization, the market and the sales force. So, of course, some internal focus is required and beneficial. However, the continual movement toward internal activity at the expense of preparing the sales force for external activities comes at a price.
The Korn Ferry 5th Annual Sales Enablement Study reports that 63% of sales organizations still take an informal or ad hoc approach to sales coaching (despite strong correlations between formal approaches and results). The number of sellers making goal, while on a slight uptick after bottoming out in 2016, has crept up to only 53%, according to the Korn Ferry Research 2020–21 Sales Performance Study.
Unfortunately, there’s no magic number for how much time a sales manager should spend on certain activities. However, you should ask several questions to determine whether your sales managers may be too internally focused.
In the Korn Ferry Research 2020 Sales Management Study, sales managers reported spending twice as much time on administration and forecasting (34.1%) as they did on coaching their people (14.2%). That’s a warning sign that your managers may be bogged down with adjusting forecasts, reworking reports and dashboards and attempting to temper expectations.
Look to your sales operations team to install a more rigorous, process-based approach. Using predictive data can help improve accuracy and decrease wasted time.
When we asked to rate sales managers on 11 priority capabilities, helping sellers work on deals was one of the highest-rated items. However, this is a double-edged sword. While it can be valuable for a sales manager to act as a super salesperson, pouring extra time into a specific opportunity, the impact is limited to that opportunity.
Part of the challenge of transitioning from a seller to a sales manager role is moving from activities where you impact one customer or shifting to activities where you can impact an entire market.
In the Korn Ferry Research 5th Annual Sales Enablement Study, we were pleased to see a growing number of sales enablement teams (now 73.7%) that include sales managers as an audience. This is a sharp increase from previous years, yet opportunities for growth remain.
A good portion of what sales managers are enabled with is the ability to reinforce training issued to sellers. This is a crucial part of seller enablement and change management, but it doesn’t turn sales managers into better managers.
Examine your sales manager enablement activities with a critical eye to see how you might add initiatives to develop their skills.
Chances are that the job profile for your sales manager roles has not been updated to reflect your current reality. Since sales manager roles are so frequently hired from within, few organizations have determined the success profile for sales managers and invested in the ability to assess sales manager candidates against key competencies and traits. They often just look to promote their top sellers without considering whether they have the skills and competencies needed to thrive in a managerial role.
Managing sellers has long been regarded as the hardest job in sales.
Sales managers work long hours, have broad spans of control and live in a constantly changing environment. There are no illusions that it will get simpler in the future. But your organization may be unintentionally making the work of sales leaders and sales managers more complex than it needs to be.
Now is the right time to redefine what you want sales management to mean in your world. If you need guidance as you strive to eliminate complexity from the sales manager role and reconfigure it to your new selling environment, reach out to us today.