Episode 96: Frontline Sales – Dave A. Brock

Predictable Prospecting
Episode 96: Frontline Sales - Dave A. Brock
00:00 / 00:00

It’s important for prospectors to understand the entire funnel, not just the top and middle of the funnel. Today’s guest has a breadth of knowledge for the entire funnel and a particular focus on frontline sales, leadership, and managers.

Dave A. Brock is the CEO of Partners in EXCELLENCE, a California-based consulting organization that focuses on helping clients develop and execute business, sales, marketing, customer service, and new product strategies. Dave is also the author of Sales Manager Survival Guide. Listen to the episode to hear what David has to say about frontline sales.

Episode Highlights:

  • How Dave got started in the area of sales performance
  • How too many apps and tools can be detrimental to sales performance
  • Why the sales manager needs to be part of the plan when implementing a new tool
  • A sales manager’s role, and how that can be leveraged to maximize the performance of each sales person.
  • The qualities that make a great sales manager
  • The importance of determining a process that works before bringing in automation tools
  • Why it’s necessary to focus on fundamentals and the ideal customer profile
  • Dave’s new book, Sales Executive Survival Guide, coming out in May


David Brock

Dave on Twitter

Partners in EXCELLENCE

Partners in EXCELLENCE Blog

Sales Manager Survival Guide: Lessons From Sales’ Front Lines


Marylou: Hi everybody, it’s Marylou Tyler. This week’s guest is really focused on frontline sales, leadership, managers. We don’t talk a lot about that in our podcast but it’s a very important topic. I’ve asked Dave Brock, who’s the CEO of Partners in EXCELLENCE out in California. He’s the author of the Sales Manager Survival Guide. Look on Amazon, you can find that book, released in May 2016.

I’ve asked Dave to come on the show today because I really think what he has to say about this topic is of vital importance to all of us, especially if we’re looking at leading teams towards excellence in prospecting, closing, servicing.

My area is top of funnel, middle of funnel, prospecting, but Dave has a breadth of knowledge for the entire funnel so that if you want to go past opportunity, he’s definitely the guy to talk to. Welcome to the podcast, Dave.

Dave: Thanks, Marylou. I really appreciate being invited.

Marylou: Yeah. Besides being in beautiful sunny Southern California, what exactly got you interested in this particular piece of the puzzle for sales performance?

Dave: We’ve been working with a department of very large sales organizations for 20 years. As we started looking recently at things, we see, not only our clients, but we see organizations all around making huge investments and things like sales tools, sales training, sales enablement, marketing content, all of those kinds of things, yet the results aren’t coming to. We see year over year declines in sales people meeting goal, or in organizations meeting goal, and huge challenges in turnovers in sales organizations that we were trying to save [inaudible 00:06:28]. What’s not working? What’s missing in this whole thing? It turns out, at least according to what we believed, the missing link is department sales manager and the frontline sales manager working with their people on a day-to-day basis to maximize their performance.

Marylou: Let’s start there. I know that my audience–there’s a lot of tech people and tech community that they talk about the stock a lot and how that is supposed to take some of the burden off of having to do things manually over and over again and putting them into an automated environment.

But you’re right, what is that gap? Where is the missing link? In your discoveries, where would you begin to even diagnosing where the problems lie? If we can take top of funnel, that would be great, but if you wanna talk about any area in the funnel that you can see immediate wins or instant gratification of making changes, we can focus on that as well.

Dave: I think part of it, whatever part of the funnel you wanna address, if we look at top of funnel is, we innundate our sales people with all sorts of tools, with all sorts of content, with all sorts of programs, and scripts, and so on, to reach out to customers and prospects to try and engage them. But we kind of do that in isolation. We do that in just tossing a whole bunch of stuff at them by inundating them with it.

You find people are confused–what do I do? How do I do it? What’s the most effective? And so on and so forth, and they don’t really have any place to turn to get help on that. We find that into some degree we’re really loving our sales people to death.

I was meeting with a global 25 technology company the other day and they proudly proclaimed their sales stack is 19 apps. Think about it, think about the poor sales person that had 19 apps to think about, which app do they use, how do they manage the overlap and how they manage to be productive.

All of this is done in a good spirited way if we wanna help our sales people. We wanna help our sales people to be productive, we wanna help them perform, but again, it’s how do I, as a sales person, put that into context. What should I be doing? How do I actually perform and execute on a day-to-day basis? We leave them alone expecting that they’ll be able to use these tools and find the secret spots to close our qualifying business and closing them.

The sales manager is noticeably absent in this thing because we forgot the sales manager. We don’t make the sales manager part of our plan when we’re implementing a new tool, when we’re implementing a new training program, when we’re implementing a new marketing program, we don’t make the sales manager accountable and give them the tools to coach and develop their people about how to use these things, and how they can use these things to maximize their performance, or how they diagnose what they’re doing to improve their performance.

Marylou: 19 apps sounds just audacious. It just sounds like it would be very difficult. I’m thinking of coming out 1-2 years in sales, you come into a company, just top of funnel, you may not be as seasoned and you’re given these apps. Yes, it’s like spaghetti, you’re trying to figure out what to use, when to use it, and what case should you do one over the other. That’s just the usage and the user interface of the tool.

Tell us more about the sales manager. You said they’re not involved in the selection necessarily, they’re not involved in how to assemble, activate, or optimize. How do we correct that? Where do we start?

Dave: I think one of the things is you gotta recognize that the key individual in maximizing the performance of frontline sales people is their manager. All this stuff that we afflict on sales people regardless of whether it’s programs, content, training tools, or all those things, aren’t going to have the impact unless the sales manager is engaged in that process in helping show, in helping coach, in helping the sales person learn how to use this in the most productive way possible.

The sales manager–here I think a lot of the sales managers are confused about what their role is. We may have some of the wrong people in place as sales managers but the sales manager’s job is to maximize the performance of each person on the team. You do that through helping provide some of these tools and productivity games, but then coaching them on how to make that work with their customers, with their prospects, and the challenges they face everyday, and we aren’t doing that. It’s, I think, only been a recognition in the last 2-3 years that probably the biggest missing link is enabling the sales manager and getting them to step up to maximizing performance.

As an example, I was just on a call with another organization, we spend somewhere probably around $6-$7 billion a year in North America on sales training focused on the frontline sales person. We probably spend somewhere around $300-$400 million a year on sales manager training, giving them the tools, the skills, the capabilities to help their sales people. When you see this kind of disconnect, it jumps out at you that something’s missing in this equation and leveraging the sales manager to drive performance is I think one of the critical missing links.

Marylou: What about the situation that I seem to see a lot in that, we promote our high performers into management and they become a lead, and that’s a status, the symbol that they have essentially grown from one of the team members to actually the leader, that doesn’t mean they have leadership experience in order to do on a group level what they’ve done on an individual level.

There’s also an implied acceptance that the tool itself is self-training. The tool itself should be able to guide you with or without support as to when you should use it, how you should use it, how to maximize your return on effort. There’s an understanding when you buy a tool or when you’re working with the tool that there’s implied training in the tool itself. Is that the major reason why we forget about the sales manager, or is it a cultural thing, or is it a historical thing that we’ve been brought up to say, “Hey, if you’re great in sales, you’re gonna be a great manager, by definition”?

Dave: You’re really addressing a couple of several different issues, let’s peel them back.

Marylou: Okay.

Dave: One is, too often we take our very, very best sales person and we anoint them as sales managers. What we’ve done is we’ve created a double whammy. We’ve lost our very best sales person and we put them them on to a manager role.

Just because they’re great sales people, doesn’t make them great sales managers. We have to be very smart about what it takes to be a great sales manager. We have to understand what are the skills, competency, what are the behaviors, what are the attitudes that we need in great sales management, and who is the person that demonstrates those capabilities and move those people to sales management?

It may be one of your great salespeople who has those capabilities and has the desire and drive to recognize my job is different. My job is getting things done through people and not doing things for people, or being a super salesperson, or super closer, and so on and so forth.

It’s incumbent on senior sales leaders to say, just as we say this for our frontline sales people, what are the skills, attitudes, behaviors, competencies, experiences, and so forth, that make a great sales person in this role, likewise we have to do that, develop that ideal picture of frontline sales manager to say this is what a great sales manager is who matches those best and put those people in place.

Second, we have to be very clear about what their job is. I talk to a lot of frontline sales managers and they say, “What’s the job?” They say, “My job is to make the numbers.” Actually that’s not their job, it’s their sales people’s job to make the numbers. The sales manager is in place to remove all the barriers and to do the things to enable those of their sales people to make the numbers. That’s where we’re providing the tools, providing the programs, providing the coaching, and providing the leadership and guidance to help them, to help the sales people perform at the highest level. That addresses the, “are we putting the right people in place? Are we being clear about their role and our expectations of them and how they maximize the performance of the team?”

Second place is the tools being self-teaching. I think that’s wishful thinking. I think too often we provide tools as an excuse that we’re on a quest to find that silver bullet, that magical solution that enables us automatically to–if we implement this solution automatically, customers will pick up the phones and respond to us. They’ll be engaged, we’ll be able to qualify them and move them forward. We’ve abandoned our lost sight of a lot of the fundamental principles and the hard work, that is what selling is about. Rather than looking at tools to help facilitate that and showing people how these tools help facilitate those basic principles of selling, we’re just engaging in wishful thinking. Most of the analysis that we do is we look at are you getting the return on investment of the tools that you’re investing in? And you are.

Marylou: That’s interesting. Yeah, I liken this to–I’m a software developer–when we’re building products, we’d look at that very thing. We don’t look at the tool first, we look at the business use case, the business rules, and then, only then do we select the tool to fit the business.

I think a lot of what I’m seeing and I know a lot of what I’m seeing out there is that we’re buying tools, buying tools, buying tools, creating this stack of tools, and it’s not necessarily fitting with the sales process that we ultimately need to put in in order to generate predictable revenue. Also, as you said, we’re relying on these tools to do the salesmanship for us instead of us sitting back and really understanding how we communicate with our buyers at the various stages in the funnel in order to be able to move that person through the active pipeline in respect to the tool.

It’s the whole process of how do we engage them, when do we engage them, what do we say, how do we say it, how do we overcome objections. Then and only then, once you figured out that process, do you then look at tools to help you automate those activities where it makes sense, as opposed to what I’m seeing now is we’re trying to automate everything so that even the dialogue is done by the tool. We’re bluebirds taking orders, it just doesn’t work that way.

Dave: To a large degree, we’re using the tools and the technology to dumb down the sales organization. We’re losing the ability for sales people to figure things out. The real irony is every customer situation, every person that I talk to is different. They’re different from conversation to conversation to conversation. I have to be able to, as a sales person, to be nimble and adapt what I’m doing to try and figure things out to get the customer to respond to me to be able to help move them to their buying process, and so on and so forth.

The ability to figure things out, the ability to think critically is vital to our success, yet so much of what we’re doing in our tools and programs is to eliminate that and just say that the tool will do it for you. There’s a great misunderstanding about AI, even analytics technology, what it can and can’t do for you, how you do that. We’re becoming increasingly dependent on tools to displace that intelligence of the sales person and we’re not seeing the results.

I wrote a post a few weeks ago that says, “A fool with a tool is still a fool.” Unfortunately, we’re developing a lot of tools in frontline sales people and making them execute that at the speed of light the tools.

Marylou: I’m sitting here, I’m sure the audience is sitting here thinking, okay, what are the markers? From a level of awareness, I know there’s a problem because we’re still not making quota. I know there’s a problem because we’re chunking through a lot of records and stuff isn’t happening.

How do I sit here and say, okay, what are the 3-4 markers that I know that I could point to we have this issue with our managers, or we have this issue with our training? Is there a method, a process, a system that you go through with clients to ascertain where these gaps are and the severity of the gaps? Because right now, it looks like one big gigantic cloud of a mess. How do you chunk that down into these five things, or these three things, or something we can watch over the next month, six weeks, quarter, regardless of the tool to see if we’re gonna need help with this or that we really need to focus on this next thing?

Dave: I think there are a number of approaches to that and not all are necessarily leading to sales management. I think we have to really focus on some basic fundamentals and we have to have the courage to do as leaders to be able to make some decisions around those fundamental [inaudible 00:23:37] fundamentals.

For instance, what are the problems we’re the best in the world at solving and who has those problems? Focusing viciously on those people. We can talk a lot about ideal customer profile and so on and so forth, but too often these days I find that we’re consumed by volume and velocity, and sales people to fill the top of the funnel start casting a wider and wider net, they get outside of their ICP. They’re calling people aimlessly who they have no business talking about so they’re wasting huge amounts of time, huge amounts of resource generating, huge amounts of ill will and not producing results.

Often, what we find is rather than casting a wider net, you become tougher, you focus more on disqualification, you become tougher and focusing on the narrow and narrow part of your ICP and produce far better results. We need to be much more thoughtful about it, and much more focused on really the fundamentals, and again part of that is what are the problems we’re the best in the world at solving and who has those problems, focusing on those and nobody else.

Then providing our people the training, the content, and the tools to be able to engage those people in meaningful and impactful ways, whether that’s again training your tools or programs that we do, or the sales manager working with them on a day-to-day basis. What you’re doing is producing the outcomes we expect, how do we change that, how do we improve that? Those kinds of things. It’s working in collaborative problem solving to drive performance.

As we start seeing indicators, I think we start seeing how in trying to drive performance we inflict all sorts of damage on sales people all in the spirit of helping them. We worked with last year, a very, very large organization, probably a global 50 organization and worked with their sales people. They have so many tools, so many programs, and so on and so forth, but we started seeing sales people had 9% [inaudible 00:26:10] for selling and start wondering what’s the other 91% of the time being spent on and the things spent on doing all these things internally?

Another large telecommunications organization, we found 72% voluntary attrition in the first year of being hired in the organization. That was costing them with my estimates is about $1.7 billion a year of revenue. The problem was the people couldn’t figure out how to be successful, they weren’t getting them right management correction, they weren’t getting right leadership, they weren’t being provided the tools that they needed to figure out how to be successful. We have to be attentive to some of those signals of are we overwhelming and overloading the people? Are we allowing them to be distracted with these tools and these devices rather than doing their job? Are we loving them to death by providing them too many programs and eliminating their ability to think critically to figure things out?

The best thing is we can’t provide all the answers to people but we seem to be on the path of trying to do that in the best way to improve performance is give them the ability to think and figure things out. Hiring the right people, coaching and getting them to think differently about whether it’s prospecting, whether it’s how they move a deal through the pipeline, and so on and so forth.

Marylou: Yeah, it’s funny. We call it sales enablement but we are becoming an enabling organization of people where we are really trying to give them everything at their fingertips so they don’t have to think, don’t make me think, that’s a disservice.

Dave: Yeah.

Marylou: I really think, for those of you who are listening, Dave’s book, Sales Managers Survival Guide: Lessons from Sales’ Frontlines is a great book to pick up. Inside of the book he’s got a lot of different ways that you can slice and dice where you are now, descriptively defining where you are today, where you wanna go, and then also prescriptively what you have in place that you need to help, to move, or change, or upgrade, or get rid of in a lot of cases in order to create the organization you’re looking to have.

Let’s switch gears a bit because I wouldn’t wanna leave without talking about the new book that you have coming out. Could you tell us a little bit about that? What was the reason for writing that book?

Dave: Yeah, in late May, Sales Executive Survival Guide will come out. I wrote Sales Manager Survival Guide really to address the frontline sales manager and really to help the frontline sales manager learn how to maximize the performance of individuals on their teams and their teams themselves.

I wrote Sales Executive Survival Guide primarily focused on top sales leaders to really look at the issues of how do we maximize the performance of the organization, of the sales function in our organizations. That really takes a broader look at things, of these issues of complexity and overwhelm of these things, of what’s the culture that we need to put in. We’re starting to seek talent. Talent management is being one of the critical issues facing sales organizations and sales performance. We’re starting to see the issue of complexity both at an organizational level and at an individual level becoming dysfunctional in the organization.

How do we start addressing that? How do we look at the desperate pieces, parts of the function of selling and start bringing them together to drive performance and performance excellence across the entire organization? They’re really complementary pieces.

The frontline Sales Managers Survival Guide book is on individuals and teams, Sales Executive Survival Guide book is on organizational excellence.

Marylou: Okay. You mentioned a couple of times the size of the companies that you work with, should, would, could a startup, someone who’s essentially starting with a product or service, maybe $5 million in revenue a year, would this also be a good time to look at these types of things that you specialize in? Or is it you need a couple of years under your belt, a little bit more revenue coming in to start correcting things?

Dave: Absolutely. My background was with very large corporations, our heritage was larger corporations. But as those executives went and became CEOs of startups and other companies, as we started working real closely with the venture and private equity communities, we do the huge amount in startups and there’s no better time to start putting in place the right culture, the right discipline, the right kind of thinking about how we engage our customers, and how we drive productivities through our organizations, than when you’re starting.

Marylou: Get out of the tool craze, folks, and really look at, holistically, the sales environment that you’re in, as David mentioned multiple times, the SWAT type of analysis of who you serve, why you matter, why should they change, why now? Really narrowing the segments of potential clients that you can go after so that your net shrinks in size but has more quality. Since you’re not turning over a lot of records when this is happening, tools become less and less the focal point.

As Dave mentioned before about just sending tons of messages to people that are in some ways a disrespectful way of hitting their inbox and focusing on taking those hundreds of messages you’re sending out a week and narrowing that down, it’s probably gonna be one of the first areas that I would guess that you will look at in order to be able to create a more holistic machine that is predictable in nature that allows you to have quality conversations with your intended prospects.

Dave, thank you so much for your time today. How can we get a hold of you to learn more about your work and also to get an understanding of your theories and your philosophies on this topic?

Dave: You can look me up and connect with me on LinkedIn. It’s Dave Brock, just search Dave Brock. I’m on Twitter, I’m @davidabrock, best way to get an idea of what we think. Also connect with me to my blog, partnersinexcellenceblog.com or through email at dabrock@excellence.com.

Marylou: I’ll put all these links on the show page for you guys so that you can be able to just click through and start learning about what Dave has done and his team. Again, the book, it’s a must read for those of you who are in management, thinking about going into management, you’re gonna be advancing into management or just managing teams, the Sales Managers Final Guide: Lessons from Sales Frontlines. Thank you again, David, for your time.

Dave: Thank you, Marylou.