First line sales managers are the lifeblood of a world class sales organization. They are often our best salespeople and they play a pivotal role in recruiting, training and advising the front-line sales people who touch customers every day. We count on these people to manage deals, adjust course and alert the company to trouble spots. They do a great job of this when they have a manageable number of deals. If they have just a few reps, each with fewer than ten deals, they can manage the deals based off memory, intuition and hard work. But once the deal volume and span of control gets larger, we make the first line sales manager’s ability to manage deals virtually impossible.
One of the main reasons why first line sales managers have such a difficult job is that we give them CRM systems with little to no transaction history. While he or she can see the current deal status, the amount, the forecast category, the sales stage, the next step, and many other fields, there is no ability to view how deals and pipeline have changed. And, CRM doesn’t provide any data-based benchmarks that show how a current deal compares to other deals. The first line sales manager is often toggling between a spreadsheet and a CRM system to do a pipeline review. He’s forced to use a notebook, a red pen, and his memory to figure out what has changed from week to week. Sales managers ask the same questions week after week: Did this deal advance this week? Did the forecast category change? Are the deal amount and sales stages still the same?
The first line sales manager is also dependent on the behavior of his reps to get the data he needs. Every week, he asks reps to update the “next step” in the sales cycle in CRM. However, managers with a lot of reps and deals won’t be able to track whether or not last week’s steps were actually completed.
Finally, we force the first line sales manager to use his intuition to tell whether a deal is on track. He has to intuit things like: How long is step three in the sales cycle? Is this deal moving along at pace? Is this deal performing better or worse than standard deals? What percentage of deals in this industry close? If the forecast date slipped, how does that affect close probability? Is the deal amount correct? How does it compare to similar deals for this rep, this region, this product?
We just simply can’t keep relying on our first line sales manager’s memory to spot all the problems and opportunities with the tools and data we give them today. We must arm them with data and insights so that they can run their business on more than gut feel. In this era of big data and AI, we can do better. With new tools, we’re able to finally make it easier for the first line sales manager to gain control of his forecast. In return, he can make it easier for the rest of the organization because he’ll have real data to report.