10 tips for improving sales management

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Managing a sales team is not for the faint of heart. By nature, salespeople are strong-willed and focused on winning. Managing them is less like herding cats—it’s more like herding sharks. Except in this case, you have to get each shark to sustain a five-minute pitch on how your product improves business outcomes in a specific vertical.

So what do the best sales managers do to keep their team happy and well-fed, without dulling their competitive edge? Here are 10 tips.

1) Analyze data

For many years, success in sales depended on how hungry a team was. Today, it depends on how smart that team is. Simply unleashing an army of ambitious salespeople on the market no longer pulls you ahead—to win in today’s market, you have to be increasingly strategic about where you’ll send those salespeople, how you’ll segment your accounts, and how you’ll motivate your team. And doing that requires data.

Today more than ever, sales leader have to prioritize gathering data, and then analyzing it properly. To be sure, sales still depends on salespeople forging personal connections with their customers. But knowing how and where to best use those connections is how a sales leader can push the team ahead of the pack.

2) Build a powerful sales strategy

Obvious? Maybe. Critical? Absolutely. If your goal is to win in the market, pushing your team out without a solid, thought-through sales strategy is recipe for failure.

What should your sales strategy contain? Everything. It should tell you, for example:

  • How are you going to market your product?
  • Which accounts will you target?
  • How will you assign your salespeople?
  • What incentives will you use to direct them?
  • How will you draw territories? What will your KPIs be?
  • What insights will you use to measure the health of your strategy?

At its core, sales management is about developing and maintaining this strategy. It’s what should govern all of your decisions, and what tells you that the activities of your team are all devoted to a shared goal.

3) Keep the strategy transparent

Although a strong sales strategy is key from a tactical perspective, from a functional perspective, it’s crucial to keep your strategy transparent to your team. Communicate often, explaining why you’re targeting the market the way you are and what you hope to accomplish.

Doing this has a double benefit: It helps your salespeople understand their jobs better, setting them up for success; and it keeps them in the loop, so they can stay in the know when the strategy shifts.

Even more beneficial is when salespeople can see where they stand relative to their quota. At many companies, it takes weeks or months for salespeople to know how they’re doing, or for them to figure out how many and what kind of deals they need to make to meet their quotas. One extremely helpful way to be transparent is to employ software that can show salespeople in real time how much money they’ve made in a given period, and what actions they need to take to reach their goal.

4) Review and adapt

A sales strategy isn’t a fixed entity, remaining static as the world changes around it. It’s (ideally) a fluid set of guidelines, able to pivot quickly to take advantage of new opportunities. To be successful at sales management, sales leaders need to regularly assess what about their approach is working and what isn’t, and then modify accordingly.

Gathering widespread data is critical here. Are there specific products, geographies, or territories that aren’t performing well? Are there salespeople or teams that are overperforming? Are there new competitors in the game? If your actuals aren’t matching your forecasts, can you figure out why, down to the level of the individual sale?

In this way, a sales strategy is like a shark: If it stops moving, it’s liable to die.

5) Model the future

How do successful sales leaders prepare themselves for the inevitable evolutions of the market? By using technology to see the future. Armed with modeling capabilities and “what-if” scenario planning, sales leaders can imagine different scenarios and assess the effects of potential choices.

This technique can work for any aspect of your sales management strategy: You can redraw territories to see what happens if you change coverage. You can use historical incentive data to try out new compensation structures. You can segment accounts using different criteria and see how that affects coverage (and then revenue). And so on.

Having this capacity benefits sales leaders now and in the future, allowing them to both optimize current strategies and test out scenarios that anticipate potential future changes.

6) Connect your strategy

To properly run a sales team, a sales leader needs to know how a decision made anywhere in their sales strategy will affect that strategy’s other components. It’s easy to view territories, incentives, account segmentation, forecasting, sales coverage, and the rest as problems to be tackled in isolation, but in fact, choices made about any one of these inevitably affect the rest. Change the way you segment accounts? That’ll necessitate a change in sales coverage. And that will likely mean a new territory map. Oh, and re-segmenting accounts will likely require you to modify your incentive structure. All of these will change your sales forecasts.

And so on. The point is that effective sales management means viewing your entire sales strategy as a single, connected entity, and knowing that decisions made anywhere will ripple outward. Doing this prevents you and your team from having to scramble to stay on the same page, and minimizes the possibility of producing unwanted effects. It also keeps you lagging behind competitors that can more smoothly handle changes in the market.

7) Use advanced software

As the above tips indicate, today, the best sales leaders are those that can quickly analyze lots of data, automate functions, and use modeling to optimize their sales strategy. The only way to do all of these is to employ advanced software, with “advanced” meaning that the software both offers real-time calculation abilities and that it can connect multiple components of a sales strategy.

Point solutions, for example, may be able to help create a compensation plan. Or they may help with account segmentation. But given the affect any of these have on the rest of your sales plan, point solutions leave sales leaders vulnerable, raising the likelihood that a specific change will produce unexpected consequences.

Similarly, software (like spreadsheets) that can’t automatically gather data from across the sales organization, or that can’t perform complex calculations in real time, leaves sales leaders without enough information to make strategic decisions.

The solution to both of these issues: Use the most advanced software available, preferably software that can put the entire sales strategy (and the entire sales team) on a single platform.

8) Get input from all directions

Sales leaders once were more like dictators: They made the decisions, and the business lived or died with them. Today, forward-thinking sales leaders have realized that the more they can gather input from the people around them—people both above and below them on the hierarchy—the more effective their decisions are.

How effective are your compensation plans? Ask the salespeople who are directly affected, and the managers who oversee those salespeople. When preparing to make a big decision, ask people up and down the chain to imagine problems with it and see what they come up with. This practice makes your sales management style more robust and lessens the risk of making bad decisions.

9) Coach, coach, coach

Sales leaders often end up in their position because they were once the rock-star salesperson on their team. As a result, sales leaders often possess a wealth of sales-related advice to hand down to their charges. So pass it on!

Other than those salespeople who have been in the game for 30+ years and are still crushing quota (and often even then), there are always ways people can improve. Sales management isn’t just about setting people up for success with territories and quotas, it’s also about setting them up on a personal level. This is especially important when your company rolls out new products, or new messaging.

Individual coaching sessions, group role play, formal and informal mentoring, observations, team strategizing: All of these are great ways to build coaching into the operations of your organization.

10) Step in when necessary, but not too much

Although ongoing coaching is critical, good sales leaders never forget that the point is to empower their teams. Like baby birds in a nest, salespeople reach the point where they need to fly on their own.

Arm your salespeople with all the tools they need to succeed and then let them do their jobs.

To learn more about how a powerful go-to-market strategy can help improve sales, feel free to visit us at Anaplan.com.

We asked hundreds of sales organizations about planning. See what we learned.

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