B2B sentiment remains strong as we move through the fourth quarter, staying well above the last 6-month average and tracking with what is reported as a particularly good earning season with more companies than usual beating their estimates.

Download the infographic with the full survey results here.  

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The big question, of course, is whether or not this positivity will continue through the end of Q4 and beyond. 

As sales leaders work on their plans for 2022, we hear a lot of anxiety around whether the sales force will be further affected by the “great resignation.” Microsoft’s Work Trends Index, for example, estimated that up to 41% of the work force might be considering leaving their current employer

We expect that B2B sales organizations have reason to worry based on the level of support they provide to their individual sales representatives. Overall, we find that only 54% report that their organization provides the support necessary for their best people to be successful. And whether people feel supported determines if they (and their colleagues) report actively looking for a new position at a different company. Strikingly, in the data below, individuals are twice as likely to report looking for a new position if they do not believe their organization provides them the support necessary to be their best. 

Manager time spend 

Given the common phrase, “Employees leave bad managers, not companies”, we wanted to see how today’s sales managers spend their time and effort. What we found confirmed what we’ve been hearing: That the average sales manager spends far more time today selling rather than coaching.

On the face of it, it would be easy to simply deplore this trend and to suggest that managers should refocus all their attention on giving coaching support to individual sales representatives instead of helping close deals. But Challenger’s experience over the last decade suggests that this trade-off might not be possible.  

Simply put, we increasingly think that a sales manager’s effort and expertise might well be better deployed in helping bring the most difficult deals over the line. Very specifically, we find that sales managers are indispensable when it comes to coordinating the internal response that more complex deals require while others can still provide more fundamental, strictly supportive coaching. At the risk of being controversial, we have to ask ourselves: “is it realistic to ask sales managers to carry the bulk of the coaching responsibility when there are others who can do this?”. There may be a better way to share the load. 

Effective Support Strategies 

With this in mind, we decided to take a deeper look at the effectiveness of different kinds of support we provide, including manager coaching.  

Most effective, we found, is making sure that the sales force has continuous access to new content, whether that comes in the form of data or success stories. Coaching to minimizing time spend on processes such as contracting is also very effective. Interestingly, while sales managers have a role to play here, we find that Sales Enablement plays an even greater role. We were pleased to see that increasing the amount of sales training does well, as does providing 3rd party coaching.   

What rarely works is for managers to focus on increasing the amount of time that different individuals spend with each other. For example, only 31% of respondents think that asking front-line managers to join all calls is effective. An even smaller number, 25%, think that you get a good return from increasing team meetings. 

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Summary 

The sentiment going into Q4 remains strong, buoyed by what was by all accounts a very successful Q3 for many B2B sales organizations. 

That said, the number of sales professionals seeking new opportunities is higher than what many sales leaders would like to see. A solution, our data shows, is to improve the level of support sales representatives are provided. It shouldn’t surprise us that individuals who do not feel supported appear twice as likely to be looking for a job.

The standard answer to any retention/engagement challenges is to look first at front-line managers. Taking a look at how managers spend their time, however, makes us start asking whether this advice can be sustained. Early observations suggest that sales managers should focus on helping their direct reports push the most complex deals over the line. On the other hand, more fundamental, skills-focused coaching, might be best supplied by others, such as sales enablement. This is something for Challenger to focus on more with new research. 

Spencer Wixom & Timur Hicyilmaz

Spencer is Chief Customer Officer at Challenger, and has helped transform sales and marketing teams in some of the biggest and best companies in the world.

Timur has been conducting research for most of his career. He was part of the team that researched many of the original concepts behind Challenger. Mostly focused on trying to better understand how commercial organizations succeed, Timur has spent time working on everything from trying to understand consumer attitudes toward energy consumption to identifying best practices for hospital operations leaders. His passion is for trying to identify strategies that are more likely to deliver a desired outcome than any others.

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