Successful sales managers must be able to manage both the business and the team, as well as be able to prioritize their own requests. Finding the right balance between these demands requires a certain type of individual with sound skills as a coach and grasp of the business.
CDW Corporation's sales managers are tasked with meeting very aggressive sales goals. This requires skills at managing both short- and long-term strategies through a team averaging 20 account managers. As a leading provider of technology solutions for business, government, and education, CDW had experienced tremendous growth over the last few years. But as a result, important processes for sales management had become disparate and in need of fixing.
Recognizing the importance of the sales manager's role, as well as the fact improved training is critical for success, CDW's upper management knew the system needed to be enhanced. Many of the company's sales managers struggled with the demands of managing short and long-term strategies, yet had no clear guidance on how to better themselves.
In evaluating where change needed to occur, it soon became evident there were three areas requiring immediate attention. First, the role of the sales manager needed targeted training materials based on current job requirements. Second, the organization needed a pipeline of ready-now internal sales management candidates. Lastly, an internal analysis uncovered the need to enhance the effectiveness of the sales management population as a whole.
To fix each of these problem areas, a team was formed to bring consistency to the sales management role and enhance the impact of the sales manager. This was the creation of the Sales Management Capability program. Because of the size of the project, teams were broken into two primary concentrations: Sales Manager Selection and Sales Management Development. Both teams worked in tandem throughout the process to ensure success.
Sales Skills Versus Management Success
Many organizations, including CDW, recognize and promote the best sales people to fill the sales manager role. Once in the role, however, many organizations assume the individual contributors who were successful in sales will also be great at sales management. As the organization grew, it became obvious a more intentional, standardized, and measurable approach was needed. Hence the selection effort.
The Sales Manager Selection team focused on the assessment, selection, development, and onboarding of new sales managers. The revised process has provided the organization a consistent, predictable process with transparency and accountability. As of this writing, new managers are now achieving 4 percent more of their goals then their tenured counterparts.
The need to look at both new and existing sales managers was also identified. It would have been a disservice to assume existing sales managers have learned on-the-job skills while in this role, when they had not had specific developmental interventions in the past. The intent was to build them not only into high-performing managers, but also to arm them with the skills and tools necessary to excel at sales management.
As a result, the Sales Management Development team has focused on the processes, systems, and skills of sales managers in the role. To date, two critical processes have been tackled and a third is in design. Respectively, these processes are pipeline/forecasting process, annual planning, and go-to-market strategy.
From Training to ROI
Recognizing sales managers required targeted development efforts to increase their results, the Sales Management Capability program was created to focus on selection and development of future sales managers and the development of processes, systems, and skills of currently practicing sales managers. The program now incorporates objective and subjective evaluation based on high performer characteristics.
CDW's picture of success includes the expectation the company will be perceived as having the most knowledgeable and responsive experts in the industry. This directive has lead to a significant investment in employee development. As a result, the sales force is expected to bring in above-market results.
What sets this process apart from other organizational learning practices was the fact it was a "cradle-to-grave" process. There were several components to every aspect of the program, and those components could be divided into two big areas for improvement: a new process for selection of sales managers, and a development program to enhance the skills and abilities of both new and tenured sales managers-collectively known as the Sales Management Capability Process.
The development component for existing sales managers consisted of four sessions:
101: Execute the Plan. Implemented in the fall of 2007, this session focused on longer-term sales planning, coaching, and time management. The tools and processes have been primarily used during annual plan development.
201: Build the Plan. Implemented in spring of 2008 this session focused on pipeline and forecast management. These processes are now practiced on a weekly basis.
301: Own the Plan. Currently in the design phase, this session will focus on the customer experience, customer analysis, and management.
401: Lead the Plan. Also in development, this session will train managers on leadership competency, performance metrics, and coaching.
In both 101 and 201, the sales managers were divided into teams and had to evaluate an assigned case. The teams then applied the concepts and presented in front of a panel of sales leaders (directors and vice presidents). After the presentations, the panel would question the team on their approach and would then provide feedback on what they applied well and where their approach was flawed.
Of the sales directors who attended the sessions, 40 percent have instituted the tools during their 2008 planning sessions, which resulted in 60 percent of the sales management population applying the concepts on the job. Additionally, new managers are now achieving four percent more of their goals then their tenured counterparts.
Through this new program, CDW was able to accumulate a cost savings of over $352,000 in just the first eight months. Total savings are projected to be more than one million dollars by the end of year two. Since the implementation, organizational forecasting accuracy is now within eight percent. The impact of the sales capability program can also be seen implicitly, as directors are much more active in the development of their sales managers.
Going into this effort, CDW knew the importance of sponsorship from the top in ensuring the program had impact. Also appreciated was the importance of a thorough needs analysis and a project team to help execute to the plan.
What CDW didn't know was the importance of case studies and use of the internal systems in institutionalizing their efforts. By insisting all of the program was highly customized—which included using real-life examples from sales managers who were doing the real work, and then teaching up to six case studies per program across the organization—everyone was able to witness firsthand how sales managers could see the value of the new processes and knowledge imparted.
In short, the instructor became much more than a facilitator—he became an instructor.
Tess Reinhard is CDW's director of organizational capability. Maureen McDermott is the company's manager of organizational effectiveness.