Great sales leaders demonstrate three things consistently. They are great sellers, great coaches, and great operators. We find that of these three traits, leaders are best at trait #1 (no surprise that skilled sellers get promoted to management), but typically fall short on traits #2 and 3 (coaching and operating).
We have published 16+ blogs on or around sales coaching – it’s a popular topic. What’s less popular? The mechanics of successfully operating a sales team.
The good news is, of the three leader traits, "operating" is the easiest to learn and most straight forward (albeit detailed) to implement. It also supports coaching by putting structure around what you look for in your team interactions and how you help them get there.
We don’t care what you call your method of operations – cadence, rhythm, motions, cycle, sequence... If you have a structured series of team and one-on-one meetings and interactions (over the course of a year, quarter, month, and week) that together help your team make their number and meet organizational goals, you are an effective operator.
Here is a 7-point checklist, with supporting examples, that you can use to give yourself an honest grade on how you operate your sales team. How does your management cadence stack up?
- You execute a methodical series of events that you’ve scheduled in advance and is timed in a way that reveals how the team is tracking on key performance metrics. This consistency allows you to be proactive instead of reactive..
Examples: Your team’s calendars have annual, quarterly, and recurring monthly/weekly meetings and reviews booked well in advance. Territory Plan reviews are booked at the beginning or prior to start of the year; Pipeline and forecast calls alternate in sequence to assess and address pipeline issues that impact the forecast.
- All team members are aware of the cadence and know what’s expected of them. They (ideally) take preparatory or corrective action in advance. Because of your disciplined consistency, they continuously improve their preparation to meet your expectations.
Examples: Reps come to Account Review meetings with completed Account Plans. Reps come to Deal Review meetings with win plans that address previously discussed risk areas.
- Your cadence includes reviews and follow-ups, in addition to planning meetings. You don't expect Account Plans to be “works of art” to hang on the wall – you expect them to be living breathing plans that your team updates and adjusts with the pace of your business.
Example: Territory and Account Planning aren't "one and done" exercises. You follow up on goals and actions established in Territory or Account Plans with a regular cadence (e.g., in QBRs).
- For each cadence event, you’ve established expected outcomes and probing questions to understand challenging deals, accounts, or reps and the corrective action to get things back on track.
Example: In pipeline or sales activity reviews, you plan to ask the precise questions that help you identify when sellers are not effectively qualifying prospects/deals. You discuss questioning strategies to qualify.
- You approach each meeting or review with desired behaviors in mind. You capitalize on coaching moments, instill accountability, and follow up to ensure progress.
Example: Your cadence includes consistently scheduled ride-alongs with reps, where a coaching discussion (e.g., possibly with an evaluation form) follows each customer meeting to reinforce strengths and identify areas for improvement.
- You standardize the use of relevant planning tools across your team. Because everyone uses the same template, you don’t have to adjust your coaching to different tools and templates… and you can make apples-to-apples comparisons.
Example: You provide reps with a Territory and Account Plan templates that aid in annual planning discussions and quarterly follow-up.
- Cadence events are supported by data and are tracked (where useful) in your CRM.
Examples: Account plans or sales call plans are stored in CRM for easy reference during or after account review meetings; Pipeline reports are used for pipeline calls.
Front Line Sales Manager Impact
A management cadence that meets these criteria enables front line sales managers to efficiently and effectively understand what is happening in their business, coach to improve selling skills, and make decisions that will improve sales performance. That said, many front-line managers have neither the time nor the knowledge to design and execute a robust management cadence… and even if they do, it is unlikely to be consistent from manager to manager.
If you are a senior sales leader with a large sales force, designing a management cadence and cascading it down to your front-line managers will not only have an impact on sales performance, but it will help your managers grow in their professional development as they learn best practices on how to efficiently and effectively operate their teams.
When you have all sales managers moving in the same direction consistently with the same expectations and understanding, it’s a beautiful thing. It builds rapport top-down, keeps lines of communication open, and helps leaders track larger issues or patterns through regular team and one-on-one dialogue.
Sales Management Cadence Elements
Typical elements sales leaders incorporate in their management cadence include:
- Territory Plan Reviews
- Account Plan Reviews
- Quarterly Business Reviews
- Pipeline Reviews
- Forecast Calls
- Team Meetings
- Opportunity/Deal Reviews
- Sales Call Planning Meetings
- Field Visits/Ride-Alongs
While sales leaders implement most or all of these activities, too often it is in an ad-hoc or reactive fashion and isn’t structured to drive successful outcomes. The devil is in the details with a management cadence. In our work, we create custom sales leader playbooks that document an entire sales management cadence and allow managers to jump to the right tab to check their team’s progress on key performance areas. (We’ve been told on multiple occasions by managers that they’ll be referencing their playbook in their next job.)
We recommend codifying your sales team's operations in a similar fashion and for each cadence “event”, document key elements such as purpose, objectives, desired outcomes, meeting agendas, probing questions, supporting skills/behaviors, potential corrective actions, follow-up activities, and responsibilities.
Operating proficiency like this is what separates the great sales leader from the average one. So what grade did your sales management cadence make?