Gartner Blog Network

Situational Sales Management

by Hank Barnes  |  December 15, 2015  |  Submit a Comment

Let me start this post with a disclaimer.  I am not, and have never been, a sales manager.  And I don’t claim to be an expert on sales management.   But I’ve seen sales managers in action and a wide range of behaviors and tactics.  Some are great coaches.  I think that is important.  Others are very driven.   Others are great individual reps that are still learning how to translate those skills to management actions.  It is definitely not an easy job.  The stress, particularly at key periods, must be unbelievable.

Image of two young businessmen using touchpad at meeting

With all that being said, I do have an opinion (not that any of you who read my blog or have inquiries with me would be surprised by that!).   As much as anything else, sales managers should be focused on helping their teams focus on the best opportunities and to turn those opportunities into revenue in a way that is good for their team, their company, and (critically important) their customer.

When working with their teams, I’d suggest that most of the discussion when reviewing pipelines, forecasts, and individual deals should focus not on the outcome (i.e. “When are you going to close and for how much” – There is a great blog post from John Smibert on this topic), but on the customer situation.

  • Where is the customer in their buying process?
  • Have they followed the rules they need to in order to buy?
  • What information are they looking at and what influencers are they using?
  • Are they ready to buy?
  • What other options are they considering?
  • Where are we in the picture (In the Lead, In the Hunt, On the outside)?

Once you know those things, the outcome discussion becomes more relevant.

A challenge with the customer situation approach is that it is rare that the answer to these questions can be derived from CRM reports.   The sales stage won’t tell you that.  The percentage (particularly if linked to the sales stage) won’t tell you that.   The only way to uncover that is deep understanding of the customer (and/or changing the expectations for what gets captured in the CRM system) and a dialog with the sales rep (or sales team)

With deeper understanding of the situation, the sales manager now can be much more effective.  They can guide their sales teams on where to focus–either on the need to get more information or actions to address the situation and move things forward.   They have more insight into the “realities” of the pipeline and forecast.  When they roll it up, their  view for their management will be more accurate.  They can uncover patterns that point to focus areas for development.  And, they can offer insights to the sales enablement and marketing teams to help improve sales effectiveness approaches.

A key question that I think sales managers should be asking themselves is  this, “What percentage of my discussions with my sales teams are focused on the customer situation first v. asking what the team is doing and what  they will commit to?”

In my opinion,  Situational Selling starts with customer-centric sales management.   If you are a sales manager, how much time do you spend focusing on your rep’s understanding of the customer situation?  If you are a sales rep, how much time are you spending on those issues?  And if you are in marketing, are you doing things to help enable more situational awareness?   Might be great areas for prioritized focus in 2016


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Category: future-of-sales  go-to-market  

Tags: customer-centric  leadership  sales-management  sitautional-selling  

Hank Barnes
VP Distinguished Analyst
6+ years at Gartner
30+ years IT Industry

Hank Barnes explores the dynamics, challenges, and frustrations enterprises face when buying technology products and services. Using that customer-centric lens, he advises those responsible for marketing technology products and services, general managers responsible for product portfolios, and startup CEOs on next practices to drive success for their customers and their business. Read Full Bio

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