Recently, I led a training session with a client’s sales managers when one of their ‘rockstar’ managers raised his hand.  

"I'm embarrassed," he said. "I’ve been a sales manager for eight years and I’ve hired countless sales reps. Every sales rep I’ve hired has come into my office and asked, 'What do you want me to do?' And without fail, I’ve told them, ‘Hit your quota.' I now realize that has been totally unhelpful." 

He was right. That is unhelpful.

Every salesperson knows they should reach their quota. What they were really asking him was, "How do I get there?"

Answering that question is perhaps the most important part of a sales manager’s job. It's also something sales managers have simply never been trained to do, and why we're so focused on redefining sales management at Vantage Point Performance.

Why sales reps are destined for failure as managers. 

In my estimation, sales management is the most powerful lever a company has to drive frontline sales performance. But it’s also the most neglected role.

Across industries, the formula is the same: We spend billions of dollars on sales rep training. Then we take the most successful reps, promote them to manager, and expect them to produce a team of similarly performing reps. Yet we do virtually nothing to actually train these managers. We never help them understand:

  • How many meetings should my sales teams have? 
  • How do I use our CRM as a coaching/managing tool, not just for reporting?
  • What do I tell my reps to do?  

There is no discipline around these processes because managers have never been trained on how to create any.

My colleagues and I set out to change that. You can read more about the research we’ve done and the conclusions we’ve reached here, but for now I’ll give you the Cliff’s Notes version so we can get back to helping our rockstar manager friend out.  

One of the first things we determined in our research was that sales managers are being given plenty of data, but aren't being trained on how to use it. We looked at the CRM metrics that sales leadership considers critical (there were 306 of them!) and divided them into three categories:

  1. Sales activities: The number of calls your reps are making, the types of prospects they are calling, how much time they spend planning before a sales call, and so on.
  2. Sales objectives: This includes new customer acquisition, customer retention, product mix, etc.  
  3. Business results: These are final outcome metrics -- things like revenue growth, profit margin, and customer satisfaction.  

Sales managers can't control 83% of the metrics they're measured on.

We found that out of the 306 metrics sales managers receive, only those under the "sales activities" category were ones they can actually manage. These represented just 17% of the metrics. In other words, 83% of what managers are being told is a list of critical data points are things they cannot control.  

Our advice is simple: Focus on the metrics you can control.  

sales-managers-cant-control-83-percent-of-metrics-measured-on

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Back to our rockstar manager. Armed with this knowledge, what does he tell his new reps when they ask him what to do?

He, like all managers, has to begin with the end in mind: His reps need to reach quota. So how will they get there? Do they need to find new customers? If so, their activities ought to be focused on prospecting. If it’s going to be by selling certain types of products, maybe their activities center around product training.

The point is that a manager should be able to identify specific activities that will help his reps achieve quota. Then, when he gets his report, he can focus on their performance against those activity metrics. That is, our manager can focus on the sales metrics he can actually control.

And now, he’ll finally have an answer for the next new salesperson to come into his office. No more embarrassment needed.                 

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Originally published Dec 16, 2013 8:00:00 AM, updated October 20 2017

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Become a Sales Manager