More and more sales organizations are investing in sales enablement. In the 2016 Sales Enablement Optimization Study from CSO Insights, 33 percent of respondents said they had a sales enablement program, function or initiative. That’s up from 19 percent in 2013. Unfortunately, for many, this increased investment isn’t translating into results. Research shows a steady decline in quota attainment since 2012, from 63 percent to 56 percent. Furthermore, only one-third of respondents to the 2016 study said their enablement initiatives met or exceeded expectations.

So, what’s missing?

The Linchpin to Performance

Most sales managers are under intense pressure, as they are expected to deliver revenues and other performance goals. That’s understandable, as they are in the best position to influence sales. Therefore, you would think most sales organizations would be investing in developing this key resource, right?

Sadly, that is not the case. For example, 38 percent of respondents to the 2016 Sales Enablement Optimization Study spent less than $500 per year per sales manager on training (19 percent spent nothing on sales managers). Interestingly, there was a marked difference in performance between those who invested less than $1,500 and those who invested more than $5,000 per year per sales manager (see Figure 1).

Investments in Sales Manager Development and Impact on Sales Performance

Fine-Tuning Your Focus

We use the term “sales force enablement” to include sales managers as an important enablement target audience. Research shows that training is an important part of the journey, but coaching on a regular basis drives the reinforcement and adoption necessary to move the sales performance needle. The 2016 study found that a formal coaching process could increase the number of salespeople attaining quota by 10 percent and the win rates for forecast deals by 28 percent. In addition, organizations with enablement initiatives or functions spend much more on the development of their sales managers. More than half (56 percent) of those with enablement programs spend more than $1,500, whereas only 37 percent without enablement spend that much.

Sales manager enablement is about more than developing frontline coaches. The sales manager role covers three areas (customers, business and people), requiring a balanced enablement approach. Then, sales managers must learn new skills, including coaching, recruiting and resource allocation. For sales performance impact, coaching is the most important capability to master. However, coaching can only be effective if it is formalized and embedded within the sales system.

Coaching: A Matter of Quality Over Quantity

We often hear sales managers say they don’t have time to coach their people with all of the other responsibilities on their plates. In this study, almost half spent less than 30 minutes per week per salesperson coaching on skills and behaviors. One-third spent less than 30 minutes per week per salesperson and another third between 30 and 60 minutes coaching on specific leads and opportunities.

Sales managers have an average of six to seven direct reports. At an hour per week per person spread across skills and behaviors as well as specific opportunities, that’s still only six to seven hours per week. Given coaching’s impact on performance, most sales managers should be able to dedicate at least that much time. It could mean the difference between achieving revenue targets and falling short.

To be clear, however, impacting sales performance isn’t so much about the amount of time a sales manager spends coaching a salesperson as it is about the quality of their coaching. The sales manager who believes coaching is a matter of asking the salesperson how they are going to deliver this month’s forecast isn’t likely to positively impact performance, no matter how much time they spend with their salespeople. In fact, depending on how they approach these discussions, they may negatively impact performance by increasing employee turnover. Enabling sales managers to coach effectively with the right content, training and coaching services can help them make the most of the time they have.