What Are the Main Investments in Sales Productivity? Part 3: Developing Frontline Sales Managers

The growth and development of people is the highest calling of leadership.”
— Harvey S. Firestone

“Where have you or do you plan to invest to improve sales productivity?”

That’s the question we asked the participants of our 2014 MHI Research Institute Sales Performance and Productivity Study. In the last part of this series, we discuss one remaining data point: 55% of our participants consider the deployment of dedicated sales manager training and development programs as a focus this year.

The leverage effect of frontline sales managers (FSMs) defines their huge impact on sales execution

The frontline sales manager’s role is where sales execution happens. Think about their average span of control in your organization, and you will quickly realize how huge their leverage effect is. This role decides where salespeople sell, to whom they sell, how they sell and often also which parts of the portfolio they sell. What makes the role so demanding is the need to continuously balance between areas that are often competing against each other: customer, people, and business. The FSM triangle offers a framework to deal with this challenge. FSMs have to become a frontline coach, a leader and a business manager at the same time. It is more than evident that the FSM’s role is different from a sales role and different from other management roles. What about their training and development?

Integrated FSM development don’t seem to be a top priority

Eleven percent of our participants indicated that they had already implemented sales manager development programs in 2013 or earlier. For another 55%, it was or is a priority in 2014/2015. What the numbers say is that the topic is somewhat a priority but still not a top priority – comparing this 55% to the 81% and 82% of investments for salespeople. If we truly understand the FSMs’ relevance and their leverage effect in any sales organization, these priorities have to be changed.

Leaders are not just born… they have to be developed

“The most dangerous leadership myth is that leaders are born – that there is a genetic factor to leadership. This myth asserts that people simply either have
certain charismatic qualities or not.
That’s nonsense; in fact, the opposite is true. Leaders are made rather than born.”
–Warren G. Bennis

What happens is that poorly developed frontline sales managers drive top performers out of the organization and promote mediocre performance from those who remain. This is not acceptable for any sales leader with ambitious performance goals. World-Class Sales Organizations understand that developing FSMs is a wise investment with a huge leverage effect to add growth and effectiveness to the top line. They understand that the costs of doing nothing is much bigger.

Holistic development programs for FSMs are mandatory to drive productivity

The challenge to develop world-class FSMs is to design a holistic program based on three pillars:

  • First, the program has to reflect the three areas – customer, business and people – and how to balance them, which requires an additional focus on building adaptive competencies.
  • Second, the program has to address the FSMs’ specific focus – managing the right activities and coaching the right behaviors, based on leading indicators. That’s why general management programs don’t apply.
  • Third, the FSM development program must have an interface to sales force enablement regarding the “people” area. This is where coaching comes into play. The FSMs’ coaching approach should reinforce the overall enablement approach to driving adoption. Therefore, the FSM coaching approach has to be derived from the same design point as the customer’s journey.



Related blog posts:

Investments in Sales Productivity – Part 1 Sales Enablement

Investments in Sales Productivity – Part 2 Sales Operations and Technology

What Triangles Have To Do With Frontline Sales Managers

Frontline Sales Manager’s Mantra: Managing Activities and Coaching Behaviors

Frontline Sales Managers: Key Role, but Poorly Developed and Enabled

What Are the Main Investments in Sales Productivity? Part 2: Sales Operations and Technology

“Stressing output is the key to improving productivity,
while looking to increase activity can result in just the opposite.”
–Paul Gauguin

“Where have you or do you plan to invest to improve sales productivity?”
That’s the question we asked the participants of our 2014 MHI Research Institute Sales Performance and Productivity Study.
In Part 2 of this series, we continue with the investments in changing the coverage model (62%), the compensation and quota strategies (60%), deploying new CRM systems (48%) and new sales productivity applications (54%).


Coverage model – foundational business management element

Investments regarding coverage model, compensation and quota strategy have to be derived from the business and sales strategy and then adjusted to the sales execution plan to create tangible value for the sales force. Adjusting the coverage model often goes hand in hand with strategic and organizational changes. It is a core design element of an organization’s sales system and one of the most foundational business management elements. Sales operations have to make sure that the coverage model follows and enables the sales strategy and the sales execution plan – how an organization wants to connect and engage with prospects and customers.

Compensation and quota strategy – How should your performance culture look like?

Also here, there is an ongoing need to adjust these strategies based on changing business strategies. But often, it doesn’t happen as it should, and both elements do not support the business strategy well. Compensation and quota strategies are areas where cultural differences come into play – more or less competitive cultures. The strategic versus the tactical focus has also to be considered. When quotas are adjusted several times a year, the tactical focus is the main trigger. That sheds light on what needs to be decided by the sales leadership team beforehand: How should our sales performance culture look? What is it we want to measure, to recognize and to reward?

CRM systems and sales productivity applications

Implementing CRM systems isn’t about technology. It’s always about people, change, adoption and communication. And it’s about sales leadership. All this requires a broad alignment across the entire salesforce: what a CRM system’s value will be for salespeople and how the future workflow will look. Never forget to show which elements will be replaced by the CRM. One of the most critical issues is not creating real value and productivity gains for salespeople. Answers must be more specific than “increase productivity.” In addition, wrong assumptions about CRM systems are out there. Without mentioning all of them, just consider this:

Technology does not replace selling.
Technology does not replace leadership.

Sales leadership is the key ingredient for successful CRM implementations. Change processes have to be led and orchestrated – but not by change management, but by sales leaders! Leading by example.


Related blog posts:

What Are the Main Investments in Sales Productivity? Part 1: Sales Enablement

What Are The Leading Investments In Sales Productivity?


What Are the Main Investments in Sales Productivity? Part 1: Sales Enablement

“Productivity is never an accident. It is always the result of a commitment to excellence,
intelligent planning, and focused effort.”
–Paul E. Meyer

“Where have you or do you plan to invest to improve sales productivity?”
That’s what we asked the participants of our 2014 MHI Research Institute Sales Performance and Productivity Study. Investments in improving process, skills or competency training (81%) and investments to improve product knowledge, market and competitive intelligence (82%) are the leading investments for 2014 and 2015.

We will focus today on the enablement topics. The other productivity investments in sales operations, sales technology and sales managers will be discussed in Part 2 and Part 3 of this series.

No training without content, no content without training

These investment areas cover both, knowledge transfer and behavioral change. The former is primarily addressed with content services, the latter with training services. But two one-way roads in parallel don’t lead to more productivity. These services have to be connected to create value instead of noise. Connecting the dots is important to make sure that content and messaging for the salespeople are customer-focused and consistent at any time, without redundancies and gaps. Providing content alone is not enabling the salesforce. Enablement has to make sure that people learn how to use different content resources effectively. For sales training, it is essential that the supporting content is available, on-demand. Product training has to be well aligned with enablement content and client-facing content. Connecting the dots sounds simple, but it is a huge challenge, especially in larger organizations where different functions contribute to these services. If so, enablement is ideally positioned to take on the orchestrating role across different functions with the bigger picture in mind and knowing what salespeople need.

Connecting the dots between content and training

Regarding knowledge, content is the leading enablement service (portfolio, industries, competitors, customers, internal, etc.). Training comes into play in two ways: First, product training should build on the internal and client-facing content that salespeople will use later on, regardless which function is responsible to provide product training, as mentioned above. Orchestrating that is enablement’s responsibility. Second, some pieces of content, such as newly designed playbooks, content packages or new ROI or other sales tools, require a “how to use” training service, to make sure that people understand how to use these resources effectively. Short video clips are the first step to making a big difference in terms of value and adoption.

Training on skills, competency and processes is more focused on behavioral change. Content has a supporting function. Nevertheless, salespeople should have access to this supporting content at any time, but in a valuable way. Providing supporting content in small chunks when needed (depending on the stages of the opportunities salespeople work on) creates add-on value. The next step would be to create small, on-demand training modules to refresh what has been learned, depending on the sales person’s selling context.

Stay tuned: Part 2 will cover investments in sales operations and technology.


Please have a look at the related blog posts:

Sales Enablement: Auto-Pilot versus Strategic Thinking

Enablement in transactional and complex sales environments

Sales Enablement’s Role in Value Messaging