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Sales Leadership Series: Do Your Front-Line Sales Managers Know Your Business Outcomes?

Jamie Shanks
Jamie Shanks
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The vast majority of the front-line sales leaders I met cannot accurately articulate the corporate goal for their company or departments’ fiscal year. Most of the time I will get either blank looks when I ask, or I’ll get a lot of “um… well… it’s complicated. Do you want total sales, new sales—what exactly do you want?” (As they look around the room at their fellow front-line sales leaders to come save them with an answer). What I’m looking for is your corporate or business units’ ultimate outcome required this year.

Definition of Business Outcome (defined by Forrester): An achieved end-state that can be verified through measurable results.

Other ways of looking at this:

  • Tied to a funded top-level initiative
  • Defined through the lens of the person accountable for the end state
  • Colored by the interests of related stakeholders, and
  • Reached over time, not always on a “point A to point B journey”

The most obvious business outcome for the sales team is always their total sales target. Let’s say your sales target is $100,000,000. That’s the overarching business outcome, but what else is within that number?

  • What % of sellers will hit sales quota attainment as an aggregate?
  • What will be client churn/retention rates?
  • What is the volume of new logos vs. existing customers?
  • What will be the average/median deal size?
  • What is the new average deal velocity, improved to accelerate cash flow?

If you were sailing a boat from New York harbor to docks in Liverpool, UK, the business outcome is basically setting the following goal:

“We will reach Liverpool at 5:00 pm GMT on February 15th.” The plan has defined a location and time perimeter. Before we get into exactly HOW we’re going to accomplish this, you need to do the following as a sales organization:

1) Clearly document and communicate the core business outcomes

This sounds so simple… but almost every front-line sales leader I talk to needs to turn to their VP of Sales to answer, “what is our business outcomes goal this year?”

The goals have to be written down, written on the walls, sent in memos, and mentioned over and over again in town hall meetings. At Sales for Life, we turned this business outcomes into a 10 ft high poster in the office. Everyone in the sales organization (and ideally outside as well), needs to be able to articulate where you are going!

2) Have each leader answer, “what am I going to do bold and different to reach these goals?”

This question separates the weak from the strong leaders in my opinion. Weak leaders don’t have a plan, and if they have a plan, its half baked out. I’ll give you a real story.

We were with fairly new sales leaders in a boardroom, launching Social Selling Mastery® to 100’s of sellers. We asked them about their business outcomes, and they said, “Raise our deal conversions!” “Great,” I said, “What is your deal conversion today, and what is the goal within 1 year?”

One leader said, “12% is our deal conversion.”

“OK,” I said, “What is your goal to improve within 1 year?”

“Um… I think, like… 20% would be good.”

I looked at the sales leader with confusion, like he had just made that up in the room, which I’m certain he did.

“OK, what do you intend to do bold and different this year, that you didn’t do last year, to gain 8% on your deal conversion?”

… NOTHING. There was no response.

Use this simple “what” based question to spark truth from a front-line sales manager on how they think about improvement, and the actions they’ve already started to formulate for change.

3) Slice the problem into manageable sales objectives

In part B of this blog series, I go into detail on sales objectives. Sales objectives are the incremental milestones that your team leverages as leading, current and lagging indicators towards your business outcomes (goals). These goals can be broken into increments such as:

  • Sales – by week, month, quarter
  • Market/Account Penetration – by account, by % of the territory
  • Pipeline Coverage – growth vs. retraction
  • Deal flow – new meetings by day, week, month, quarter

Back to my analogy of sailing from New York to Liverpool. I need to plot my course into palatable milestones per mile marker, per day, so I can determine if reaching Liverpool on time, without running out of supplies, will be achieved.

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