If we were asked to pick one word to describe current sales sentiment, we might settle on “wary”—wary of where 2022 might lead economically and socio-politically and how that will affect the market for what they sell. This reminds us of a lesson learned by one of our senior marketing leaders when she owned a bar. She explained it this way: “When times are bad and people know they’re bad, the bar is full. When times are good, and people know they’re good, the bar is full. It’s when people aren’t sure whether times are good or bad . . . that’s when the stools are empty.”
Access the full survey results here.
Looking at the sentiment measure, overall optimism is lower than it has been but is holding reasonably steady. From a decision-making perspective, this might be the hardest of environments for buyers. Like bar patrons who stay home, they likely won’t know whether to react defensively or follow through with bold bets.
Last month, we learned of the pressures sales managers face and that it will be rare for them to be able to deliver everything asked of them. First line sales managers are true generalists, asked to achieve results, ideally through their direct reports but often leaning in specifically to help close deals.
First, let’s look at what our survey respondents feel are the greatest support needs for managers:
Here, the answers were reasonably unanimous, even across a diverse group of respondents. 85% believe that sales managers need the most assistance helping sellers identify unique perspectives for their customers. This is closely followed by 83% who believe that sales managers need help creating sales messages that spark customer attention. This aligns well with last month’s finding that senior leadership, in particular, would prefer sales managers to be more involved early on in the sales process.
Interestingly, the top three choices require deep industry and customer profile knowledge as well as a healthy dose of experience. Message development is typically not considered a core job for a sales manager but—as the data shows—the sales organization (particularly managers) is in charge of sales messaging tailored to each situation. At the risk of sounding controversial, marketing will not be delivering a perfectly tailored message for a specific account anytime soon.
Second, how do we help sales managers?
As one respondent recognized, many managers suffer from vague expectations: “I think the most effective support we can provide managers is realistic and clear expectations associated with the role, and the appropriate capacity to fulfill those expectations.” In other words, we can’t just assume managers can execute the role and develop their people because we gave them the title. It’s like granting someone the title of “pilot” and assuming that alone makes them capable of flying a plane.
Again and again, respondents come back to the idea of a sales manager as somebody who keeps pushing “the ability to understand that all sales professionals, including top performers, need to challenge each other to get to the next level. Being a coach, teacher, and leader is as important as being a sales manager. We need to continue to invest in each other and leverage the tools that we have in place to be better in our daily sales routines.”
Underpinning it all is a need for efficiency: “I need more time to work directly with the sales team. I need to get rid of my extraneous activity.”
Here, the data shows that centrally-provided resources are remarkably effective at taking the general burden off the shoulders of sales managers.
Centrally-provided analytics to help with territory planning and pipeline management was rated as the most effective, followed by employee well-being programs and administrative support to reduce the burden of manager-self-service.
A closer look at the data shows that sellers think deal-desk support will boost the effectiveness of their managers. Otherwise, sales leaders, sales managers, and sales enablement will have to be all in alignment.
Purely technological tools are also doing well. Here, specialized forecasting dashboards, prospecting tools, and win/loss analysis tools stand out when it comes to the technology that boosts manager productivity. Sales Managers deem this particularly effective when compared to other respondents. A win/loss analysis tool creates an opportunity for coaching and allows the chance to diagnose issues that are difficult to see in the pipeline process.
Managers, we found, place great value on training. Specifically, they report value from more general leadership training followed by negotiations training. Both make a lot of sense: first-line sales managers frequently have to work across organizational boundaries, and becoming a director or VP frequently requires a greater sense of strategy. Similarly, as they are often asked to help with the most complex deals, sales managers often end up directing more complex negotiations.
Overall, this hunger for training is perhaps no surprise given the scope of the role: managers want to improve at each task they are being asked to accomplish.
Once again, we find that organizations would do well by asking themselves what exactly they want their sales managers to do. Currently, expectations for the role are high, and there is a risk that organizations are looking for individual superstars when they should instead be looking to build the kind of organization that can scale managerial efforts. Here, it makes sense to ask, “What are the tasks that managers are uniquely capable of doing, and which are the tasks that can be outsourced to a function such as sales enablement?”
The answer we find is that a lot of planning should be performed centrally. Sales managers do not need to be analyzing their way to success. Selectively, we find that a lot of salesperson development can also be done by a third party. Performance management, on the other hand, is firmly the sales manager’s job.
Overall, we find that the largest current gap in manager capability is most likely around supporting sales messaging. Here, we see sales enablement able to play a powerful role: looking to manage the distribution of effective sales managers across the organization and building their capability to support the build, delivery, and review of sales messages.