When I speak with them behind closed doors, many sales managers tell me they feel overwhelmed and underpowered. Even though they are competent, intelligent, well-educated and have the drive to make things happen, they’re often frustrated by the real amount of impact they can really make on their team’s performance.
When I ask them why that is, the answer is typically something along the lines of, “There are just not enough hours in the day.”
If you’ve ever read any of my stuff, you know I’m a huge fan of the 80/20 rule, otherwise known as the Pareto Principle. And at RAIN Group, we’re always trying to figure out what top-performing sales organizations do differently.
In our (appropriately named) study on The Top-Performing Sales Organisations, we took a long, hard look at what sets some organizations apart from others. Several factors came out, but one stood out: the quality of their sales management.
Globally, sales managers in top-performing sales organizations behave differently in three key ways.
#1: They prioritize sales coaching activities
When faced with the choice of acting as a sales manager versus a sales coach, top-performing sales organizations choose to prioritize the latter.
Two out of three sellers in these organizations either agree or strongly agree with the statement “Management prioritizes and actively works to maximize the time managers spend coaching their teams versus other activities.”
In “The Rest” category, that number drops down to one in three.
In other words, in top-performing organizations, most salespeople feel like their management really takes the time to personally coach and mentor them. In the others, they feel like management is busy doing, well, something else.
#2: They build supportive, positive cultures
When we asked if they agreed that their culture drives and supports sellers’ motivation to succeed, fully 83% of respondents from top performers said “yes”. That’s compared to 48% for everyone else.
So, top performers have a healthy culture that supports motivation – that’s not all that surprising. What’s more interesting is to look at why that is.
As it turns out, in top-performing sales organizations:
- Managers are more effective at creating and sustaining seller energy
- Sellers actively pursue top performance
- Sellers’ attitudes towards their role and their organization are positive
- The culture supports motivation
These are organizations where management creates and sustains sellers energy, and their drive to succeed. Meaning sellers actively pursue top performance, and feel good about themselves, their role, and their organization. Resulting in a positive, motivating culture.
This isn’t some “culture change” rah rah. This is how « soft » factors drive hard, measurable business performance (incidentally, the “Elite” category in the study had a 73% win rate, versus 40% for the rest).
#3: They invest in building their (people’s) skillset
Across the board, we found that inside a top-performing sales organization, sellers have much higher levels of skillset across a range of must-have sales skills: everything from filling the pipeline to sales negotiation.
Well, firstly because their management spends more time coaching them (see point #1). Second, because they invest more in sales-specific training and skills building, the quality of their programs is generally rated higher. And finally, because they are part of organizations where there’s a collective sense of pride, people feel like they’re part of a winning team.
In these organizations, the Pygmalion and Galatea effects work together to inspire higher levels of performance for sales managers and sellers alike.
In summary, in top-performing sales organizations:
- Management spends more time focused on actively coaching their people (vs “managing”)
- Sellers have higher levels of skillset across the board (from training, coaching, and expectations held by others and themselves)
- Sellers actively pursue top performance, with a positive view of themselves, their role (“ sales” is very much not a dirty word here), and their organization
Incidentally, there was one more important piece of the puzzle: in top-performing organizations, sales leadership (defined as the very highest levels of the organization, i.e. CxO level) prioritize improving sales effectiveness, and – when they set the priority – it actually gets done.
Or, as John C. Maxwell is fond of saying, “A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.”