The beginning of wisdom is the definition of terms, is an idea most often attributed to Socrates. He was a smart guy, for sure. Nearly twenty-five hundred years later, one of the challenges in our rapidly-evolving world is defining terms, aligning on meanings, and keeping up with how these meanings evolve.
To prove my point, just ask 10 people in different organizations what “Sales Enablement” or “Digital Transformation” mean. You’ll have some fun with that.
Likewise, “Sales Performance Management” (SPM) means different things to different people. If you recognize that frontline sales managers are a force multiplier – the primary lever to pull to maximize the potential of your sales force – you’ll want to stay up to date on this one, and explore the continuing evolution of its meaning.
The Past Provides a Foundation
Thirty-one years ago, when I stepped into my first sales management role, “Sales Performance Management” wasn’t often used. I heard “performance management” slightly more frequently: during the annual performance appraisal process.
Over time, SPM edged its way into the sales vocabulary, and evolved to encompass more – although how much more varied widely between organizations. For the more sophisticated companies blazing the trail, it included the following practices:
- Assigning a territory and/or accounts
- Setting expectations, such as quotas and related activity levels
- Monitoring how reps were performing against their targets
- Conducting weekly, bi-weekly, monthly or quarterly performance reviews
- Incenting, recognizing and rewarding achievers – often through public praise at team meetings and through special trips, contests and awards
- Training and coaching, and/or counseling the laggards
- Establishing action plans, PIPs (Performance Improvement Plans), IDPs (Individual Development Plans), or CAPs (Corrective Action Plans)
- Conducting annual or bi-annual performance appraisals
The Present is a Leap Forward
Today, while these practices remain a foundation of SPM, an entire category of software has emerged to support and push them forward. When added to a foundational CRM and the analytics made possible through it, integrated SPM software can enable an organization to analyze, visualize, track, manage and improve sales performance in previously unimaginable ways.
Given the above, the questions you need to ask yourself include:
- Are you maximizing this potential?
- Are you capitalizing on the available technology and the benefits it can offer?
- Are you fully supporting and leveraging your frontline sales managers to drive organizational sales performance and grow your company?
The Rising Power of SPM Software
In its 2017 “Critical Capabilities for Sales Performance Management,” Gartner describes SPM solutions as follows:
…a suite of operational and analytical functions that automate and unite back-office operational sales incentives processes. SPM is implemented to improve sales execution and operational efficiency…
- sales incentive compensation management (ICM)
- objectives management
- quota management and planning
- territory management and planning
- advanced analytics (benchmarking, predictive and prescriptive, and machine learning/cognitive)
The vendor comparisons are interesting to read, no doubt, and my friends here at Optymyze did exceptionally well, holding the top spot (by a significant margin) in 3 of 4 categories and coming in second in only 1 category, by a margin so miniscule it’s likely statistically meaningless.
That aside, while exciting for Optymyze and its clients, the most powerful statement in Gartner’s report, to me, speaks to the potential of SPM software in general, and why everyone should be considering it:
SPM accelerates representatives’ time to value by providing real-time visibility into pay and performance. It provides opportunity estimation of expected commissions, thus encouraging sales representatives to keep more accurate forecasting in the CRM system, and provides motivation for increased close rates on profitable sales. SPM, bridged with CRM, raises execution results of companies’ go-to-market efforts with the execution of more effective compensation plans at the territory and field representative levels. (emphasis mine)
SPM: Part of an Effective Sales Management System
For a while, I fell prey to what I admonish some sales leaders for – I came up through a legacy way of doing things, and didn’t fully explore new possibilities. In this case, I considered “Sales Performance Management” something frontline sales managers did with their reps or that was supported by Sales Operations (forecasting, compensation, reporting).
In late 2016, when I began documenting my systems approach to sales transformation, I categorized some common SPM tasks (forecasting, analytics, and others) in areas that fall under what I call the Sales Management System. I placed the remaining SPM tasks in a separate SPM bucket. Recently, I updated the supporting posts on the topic to reference the Gartner report, as well.
The Future of Sales Performance Management
We, along with sales organizations around the world, are going to see a growing emphasis on and impact from advances in artificial intelligence; machine learning; data science – including improved analytics (prescriptive and predictive analytics); and data collection through the Internet of Things (IoT). The thoughtful automation of tasks, along with automated data analysis, will create efficiencies and improve our effectiveness. The future road may be bumpy for a while, and there will be stops along the way: all of these technologies are at different stages of development and use on the Gartner Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies. But the future is bright for how they will help us in sales – if we remain open to the help, stay up to date on the advancements, and incorporate them as makes sense for our businesses.
Next Steps Today
Perhaps some other time, we can dive into predictions about what that future will look like. In the meantime, the current reality should be enticing enough to dig into. Check out the report from Gartner, for sure. And if you’re not maximizing the capabilities of SPM software and how it can support your sales leaders, managers and frontline sellers, make it a point to explore SPM this year, and consider a full-blown Sales Management System. There is no force multiplier like a well-trained and supported frontline sales manager to transform your company’s sales results.
Sales Territory Management – A Guided Tour
To help sales leaders get better results, we designed this paper as a guided tour that provides a framework for territory management. Download it and turn territory management into your competitive advantage!