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May 26, 2011
To Transform Sales Group, Start by Training Managers

As the U.S. economy recovers from the worst recession in decades, more and more organizations are struggling to transform their sales organizations to meet new challenges. According to Steve Grossman and G. Reese Bacon, IV, both of Mercer Human Resource Consulting, the place to start after establishing a strategy is with training and development for sales managers.

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“Not enough focus given to training of sales management. You get much more bang for the buck by investing in managers,” Grossman said, speaking at WorldatWork’s Total Rewards 2011 Conference, San Diego, CA May 22-25. Unless managers are on board and able to direct the transformation, organization often under up in “wack a mole” mode, the two said. They are too often an overlooked asset.

Getting started

Bacon and Grossman urged employers to start out by temporarily reducing the number of employees managers have reporting to them, so that they will have the time to devote to training their subordinates. They suggested investing in lower spans of control in preparing for and executing the change process. For example, go from 10 employees reporting to a manager, to 8. In a year’s time, after the transformation is complete, the number can go back to 10. “This is a tough conversation to have with your CFO,” Grosssman said. But without that kind of commitment, the transformation may never take root.


The role of the sales manager is too often overlooked, they said. They showed data documenting the impact that good managers have on their teams in the form of higher sales driven by lower employee turnover and customer churn. They also showed a chart documenting how the better managers spend their time. The key difference: good managers spend more than half their time (53%) coaching and working with their people. Their less successful counterparts, spend only 37% of their time that way. (As a side note, they urged attendees to do time studies to see how their sales managers spend their time.)

Sales Transformation tips

Other tips in making a transformation in a sales organization included:

  • When introducing change, concentrate on restructuring roles quickly.
  • Ensure the right talent is in place.
  • Rethink performance metrics and performance assessment processes.
  • Create a process for sales managers to share best practices.
  • Get the pay levels and plans right for the managers, before redesigning pay plans for the sales people.
  • Don’t underestimate the difficulty cultural challenges. You can’t get people to change instantly. You can’t just “do” the change to the sales organization. For it to be successful in the end, they have to embrace it.
  • Pay is a powerful motivator, but it isn’t everything. Don’t depend on the pay plan too much.
  • Don’t view the transformation as a one time event.
  • Don’t underestimate the possible fallout from relatively minor things.
  • Don’t underestimate the extent of change needed. It may be necessary to change the entire sales management process.

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