Sales Enablers agree that frontline managers are their greatest asset to the success of their programs but lack a clear action plan about how to enable them. This blog, based on a webinar of the same name, shares Todd’s research-backed methodology to create world-class managers. You can also watch the webinar here.
About Todd Caponi
A behavioral science nerd, Todd has always been drawn to leadership, teaching, and coaching. His books ‘The Transparency Sale’ and ‘The Transparent Sales Leader’ are the result of delving into this world and applying these principles in sales with transparency.
He loves sales history and trivia and has read books and magazines from the 1890s through the 1940s. It might seem absurd because how relevant can something from 100 years ago be right now? Surprisingly, we can learn from sales history to predict the future, prepare for it, and apply the lessons learned to improve our roles.
Death Row Inmates and Sales Leaders
Let’s dive in with a weird analogy. Assume you are in Japan and have been sentenced to death. While that is horrifying, what’s more disturbing is that the death row inmates aren’t told when their death sentence is coming. This added level of uncertainty continued until 2021, when the death row inmates got together and filed a class action lawsuit against the Japanese government, claiming that that practice was inhumane.
Now, think about that from a sales leadership perspective. When sales reps go to bed at night, can they predict how their sales manager will be the next morning?
Do sales reps do their best when they are super anxious or when they are comfortable and confident? Which environment are you creating?
Sales managers need to
- Maintain consistency
- Keep reps informed
Creating predictability and certainty with your teams, especially right now, is imperative.
Ensure a call is scheduled regularly to review what is happening and create predictability. That was one of the magical elements of the best leaders in March 2020, when there was so much uncertainty. These leaders got on the phone regularly to discuss what they know — what they are sure or uncertain about.
If you haven’t addressed it, you’re treating your reps subconsciously like Japanese death row inmates who don’t know when their death sentence is coming.
Sharks, Accountability, and Inspiration
Being consistent with your sales reps demonstrates how much you value them which in turn motivates them to perform better. You create accountability by optimizing intrinsic inspiration. Creating a team that wants to show up, stay, and do their best is a part of leadership.
Time for weird analogies again! But nothing as horrifying as death row. Assume you are in a boat and a shark is chasing you.
You will row for your life, but it’s not sustainable. You can’t create an environment like that.
The word ‘commit’ is most often attributed to creating accountability in teams. This word causes people with great pipelines to think, “I’m not signing up for that.” People with not-so-great pipelines are thinking, “I have to commit to my quota.”
This type of thinking erodes everything, and you keep losing for the same reasons. This leads to:
- Reps coming to you last, instead of first, when deals go south
Because sales managers have created an environment where the rep is committed to deals and numbers, they will get blamed and yelled at when they don’t pan out.
- Your forecast getting eroded
For instance, if a rep lost a deal, they were blamed. Suddenly, your forecast and closing dates shift by six months. Qualified deals become suspect.
The word ‘commit’ needs to go away. Counterintuitively, sales managers need to create an environment where losing is not only okay, it is celebrated. Celebrate their effort because they’re already taking a hit. But they don’t need to be punished.
We need to create an environment where a rep can be truthful and transparent about what happened.
Changing this leads to more accurate forecasts. The questions to ask are:
- What are the circumstances?
- Are there things we could have seen ahead of time?
- Are there things we can apply to our current pipeline?
- Can we apply these learnings to vet deals so we lose faster?
One of the things you don’t see in the 5F Framework is fear.
This is a framework you can use to instill an alternative, thoughtful, human-first approach that maintains transparency and creates the environment necessary for your sellers to flourish.
The Transparent Sales Leader
In a leadership role, sales managers often feel like a dog chasing a car bumper down the road each day, never knowing where the car is headed.
With the volume of sellers and companies in the marketplace today, knowing how to manage up and down is essential. But, managing up is rarely taught. Managing down is easier thanks to seniority, but managing up is a different ballgame altogether.
Your ability to navigate inward in your company is just as critical as your ability to jump ship or get a promotion. You limit your development as a professional if you don’t know how to move both ways.
Most sales leaders today haven’t received sales leadership training in any capacity whatsoever. Typically they model their leadership based on:
- Emulating the good managers they have had
- Avoiding the behavior of bad managers they have had
This often leads to being able to win over your team emotionally, which doesn’t necessarily drive an efficient, goal-hitting performance.
The need for a framework was part of Todd’s motivation for writing ‘The Transparent Sales Leader’ because he realized he didn’t see it structured anywhere. So, over time, he created one and optimized each element using behavioral science over a layer of sincerity and transparency.
As the market gets tighter, the need for optimized sales increases, further multiplying the responsibility of a sales leader. Having a framework and following it puts you ahead.
Todd wrote a book that’s never been written before, leading to the five F framework for building revenue capacity. That’s the premise of ‘The Transparent Sales Leader.’
It costs nothing to create environments where your team is intrinsically inspired. Your forecast becomes more accurate, and you as a leader can see the holes before they form, stop chasing, and start growing.
The Five F Framework
If you’re a revenue leader, Todd believes you’ve got five core responsibilities. Everything that you are responsible for falls into one of these five categories.
In his last role as the Chief Revenue Officer of Power Reviews, Todd would go into board meetings, and they knew there was structure and consistency. This showed that he had seen the holes and thought through every element of his responsibility.
When your team wakes up each morning and thinks about their priorities, their most valuable asset is their time. Establish their focus on the right companies, the right opportunities, the right time, and the right requirements.
The firmographics for that could include:
- Company verticals
- Company sizes
- The geographical locations
- The demographics
- The right people at the right levels
- The ability to mobilize change
Your job as a sales leader is to maintain that focus continuously and consistently.
The groundwork for building Focus
Let’s assume that most people today are selling some sort of platform with multiple products built for potentially different buyers. How do you as a sales leader establish the focus?
As a seller, your job is to make your buyers smarter about their business, not yours. You will struggle if you can’t be an asset to the eCommerce leaders or marketing leaders you were selling to.
Off the bat, there are two things to understand.
- There are a finite number of opportunities
- Maximizing these opportunities requires creating territories
Firmographic focus is essential. It builds confidence and makes you an asset to your buyers immediately. Confidence begets confidence. When sellers are confident, it lights up the confidence part in the buyer’s brain, assuring them that you are an asset.
Elite sellers guard their time, have higher confidence than average sellers, and can establish themselves as experts in what they sell within the first 5-6 minutes.
What validates this framework is tying the behavior of what elite sellers do to how leadership builds that elite behavior in the team.
This could look like this:
- Hiring 30-year veterans to coach your team
- Bringing in domain-specific customers to talk about the field
- Deciding not to shrink their territory
- Making everybody responsible for a new, exciting focus.
This builds the focus the team needs to succeed.
For a seller, focus is about being smart with their time. A sales leader’s focus is to breed that behavior among their team members.
After establishing focus, the next step is to pay attention to the team taking the field daily. As a sales leader, you are responsible for ensuring your team is armed to take the field and attend to that focus with the right tools and resources.
Sales Leaders vs. Sales Tech
As soon as tech enters the game, sales leaders can feel overwhelmed if they are not comfortable with the tech out there. While they have likely sold in a different era than their reps, maintaining relevance is critical.
We are in the midst of a sales tech revolution. This could be either good or bad based on how you leverage the tech. When you think of current sales tech within the digital landscape, the picture is vastly different, futuristic even, when placed against the first ever sales tech invention.
What the telephone did was change sales forever. Reps no longer needed to speak in person. They could simply stay home and call. Dr. Shirley Jackson eventually built technologies that led to the invention of caller ID that prevented salespeople from constantly calling.
As of 2020, there are 241.5 million phone numbers in the do not call registry in the United States. In case you didn’t get what that meant: the government had to intercede because of sales reps.
The same cycle happened with emails (RIP Spam) and is repeating itself with Linkedin, videos, and more. They are all being overused to the point where customers do not want to engage anymore.
When you think about using sales tech, the word ‘scale’ can be dirty if it’s solely focused on the salesperson’s benefit. When you’re investing in technology, ensure that you’re thinking about it through the lens of:
- Is this designed to help buyers achieve optimal outcomes?
- Is that scaleable so more buyers can benefit?
After building the field team to support the focus, ensure that the field is doing the fundamentals right, including
- Handoff strategy
Todd believes, especially in the beginning, sales managers and leaders must build focus before building the field to support it. Once the field team has been equipped, the next focus is on the fundamentals to ensure that team is prepared and capable.
The next F is predicting the future. It includes the forecast, the metrics, and the KPIs. As a sales leader, you are responsible for forecasting and knowing the KPIs and metrics to focus on to see holes proactively before they form.
Think about activity and metrics, and what you would see on a Salesforce dashboard. Is this the right approach? Or should you move away from dashboard management?
Despite the tools we use, forecast accuracy is a common complaint. However, while reading sales books and magazines from many years ago, something stuck out for Todd. He didn’t find complaints about forecast accuracy anywhere.
They faced the same challenges and objections we have today.
The AIDA Theory
In 1898, Elias St. Elmo Lewis came up with AIDA [Attention/Awareness, Interest, Desire, Action], theorizing that every buyer will go through these four stages before purchasing. This became the basis for every sales process and forecast.
Primarily, AIDA taught sales professionals to recognize the endorphin rush from moving buyers through the different stages.
The most significant change, however, was that the AIDA theory was based on recognizing buyer behavior, not what sellers were doing.
The AIDA theory was written about in every book until 1924, when Elmer Ellsworth Ferris, in his book Salesmanship said that he would not talk about it because all writers and sales professionals could see the validity of the AIDA.
It became the gold standard.
What does it mean to be buyer-centric?
Despite claiming to be buyer-centric, we are systemically creating seller-centric environments. Whether HubSpot or Salesforce, all the stages, including discovery, qualification, demo proposal, etc., are based on seller activities. Reps are incentivized, subconsciously, by the endorphin rush from each of their actions and not from recognizing buyer behavior.
Let’s consider the existing stages. The customer goes through a discovery process to determine whether or not their status quo is sustainable.
- “Why you?”
- “What’s the right solution” or “Is my status quo the right solution?”
- “Why now?”
The above order is vital from a behavioral perspective because, in the B2C world, nearly 70% of products in a shopping cart on an e-commerce site are abandoned.
Start by changing your organization’s perspective on buyer behavior. Layer it over the top and use that as the basis for how you coach and manage your team. Your forecast will become incredibly accurate.
Who knew trying to forecast when a buyer will purchase should be based on what buyers think instead of what sellers do?
Being buyer-centric starts with understanding buyer behavior in the AIDA framework and adding questions about the sustainability of their current status quo.
Once that environment is created, it informs your decisions about the technologies to be leveraged, and the fundamentals to be taught.
The cheesiest but maybe the most crucial element of the five F framework. How do you create an environment where your team wants to stay, show up daily, perform, do their best, and become advocates for you and your organization?
As a sales leader, you are responsible for building a culture where intrinsic inspiration is maximized. Instead of being inspired by external rewards, the motivator should be to do it right.
Todd believes five things contribute to intrinsic inspiration and has created the PRAISE framework to break down this element.
We do our best work when we know what we are getting ourselves into the next morning. When we can predict right, we are more creative and consistent.
Getting feedback and validation for our effort goes a long way in motivating us to perform at our best.
Many leaders make hitting quotas the only goal. If the rep’s role is only to satisfy a quota and hit a number, sales leaders can get that anywhere.
What is the purpose of our work? Are we making an impact? What is the mission? Why does our work matter to customers, to the company? Do your reps know it? If they do, they will likely stay, work harder, and advocate for you and your organization.
Let’s be honest, micromanagement rarely produces the expected results. Trusting your reps and giving them autonomy and resources will allow them to perform at their highest level.
We do our finest work when we are part of a pack. Psychological safety is a core element of intrinsic inspiration.
Is there politics involved? Are the rewards that you get for your efforts, your time, and your resources worth it?
Economic uncertainty, focus, and sales
Building focus is at the core of every CRO’s responsibility as an outbound seller. Most people think it’s the messaging, the call to action, or the sequence. It’s not the list that makes or breaks the outbound campaign.
Magic happens when sales reps outbound to the right companies at the right time. If reps outbound to the right companies at the wrong time, it doesn’t matter what the messaging is; they will not be interested.
Let’s assume, in the current landscape, a CRO has a hundred accounts across all verticals and is considering shrinking the territories to 20. Unfortunately, the rep will subconsciously feel that the CRO is taking something away from them and restricting them.
Instead, for the 20 accounts you want each salesperson to chase: educate them, give them resources, and make them smarter. So, they want to focus on the 20 and won’t care as much about the remaining 80 accounts.
Giving instead of taking is critical, especially during times of economic uncertainty. It’s not easy, but it is the right thing to do.
Your next 30-60-90 day plan
The 5F framework could easily become the agenda for all your one-on-ones, both up and down. For instance, when Todd was a rep, he discussed focus every time he talked about the tools and resources needed to take to the field.
Taking a look at the five F framework will help you create an immediate 30-60-90-day plan for yourself.
- How is our focus?
- How are we doing on the field?
- Where are the holes?
- What are the fundamentals to be taught/refreshed?
- How is the forecast?
- Are the reps updated?
- What do I need to fix?
- What’s my execution plan?
You have always got a 30-60-90-day plan at the ready with the 5F Framework, but the focus is not something you say and forget. It needs to be an ongoing thing.