Great sales managers are great pattern matchers. That’s not a normal thing we write on performance reviews. We usually write something like “Kristin has an innate feel for the business that she combines with sound business judgment to be a top performer. She is intuitive about allocating resources and recruiting and developing reps. Above all she is an outstanding closer.”
While we write, words like “feel”, “judgment” and “intuition, in my experience, great sales managers are great pattern matchers. They can look at a set of deals, and, based off experience, they can recognize patterns and then apply those patterns to future deals. They know that deals of certain types are worthy of their focus and investment. They make this judgement based on company size, industry, competitive situation, and buyer behavior. They recognize the patterns within sales processes, and can adjust more quickly than their peers. They innately understand which types of reps will be successful and which will not because they recognize the characteristics of reps who have been successful and those who have not.
But a manager’s ability to scale pattern matching or intuition is really, really hard to do. When a great first line sales manager gets too many deals, or too many reps, then their ability to define the successful pattern is severely impaired. Further, as we grow our businesses, we add more products, more business segments, more geographies, more industries. At this point, the ability to spot the pattern becomes more difficult and there are fewer and fewer great pattern matchers who can do it. To complicate matters further, our businesses change more rapidly than they have in the past. Yesterday’s patterns are increasingly disrupted by new competitors, business models or changing buyer behavior.
These are big problems. We have traditionally solved these problems with ever-increasing levels of specializations. We create sales teams that are very specialized. We specialize by geography and product line and business segment and by industry until our sales organization and models are so complex that they need a PHD in organizational design to administer. The specialization model is extremely expensive, leads to incredible amounts of overlap and sales force conflict and generally reduces our ability to focus on customer problems because we have 5 teams calling on one customer.
This can’t go on much longer.
The answer is to marry great people and intuition with great data and machine learning. We need to arm our great managers with real-time information at very granular levels. The computer is great at spotting patterns and then great managers can augment this data with intuition and judgement. Then they can act on those patterns. That the future. We all know it. But is time we did something about it.