What is an “Operating System,” and Why Do We Need One?
Operating system is a term that stems from the computer industry. According to Wikipedia, “an operating system (OS) is system software that manages computer hardware, software resources and provides common services for computer programs.” The three most common operating systems for personal computers are Microsoft Windows, macOS and Linux. These operating systems coordinate between the central processing unit (CPU), memory, storage, hardware/devices and software to make sure each program gets what it needs to run effectively.
Through the brilliance of software engineers, all of this happens in the background, so we can create a spreadsheet, browse a website, design a presentation or play video games.
Do you see where this is headed?
A Sales Management Operating System (which I half-jokingly abbreviate as “smOS”), is the purposeful design of a work system that coordinates what the sales force needs to know with the work they need to perform, along with the activities and meetings managers perform to lead them effectively, with ongoing talent development, and the remaining management activities required for a sales force to perform at its highest levels.
And we need this, because of the last part of the above sentence: It is “required for a sales force to perform at its highest levels,” and when implemented well, can radically improve sales force performance.
What is the Sales Management System?
The larger Sales Management System, of which the smOS is a part, is designed to foster and support high-performing sales management.
In addition to the smOS, which takes up the central part of the system, this system also includes:
- A reminder to remove barriers that prevent managers from fully engaging with their teams. (It’s surprising how often we do unwittingly create these obstacles.)
- Maximizing the managers’ part in their sales hiring process.
- Ensuring that managers understand, can use and encourage the proper use of all sales and sales management technology.
What Does the smOS Include?
The specific activities in the Sales Management Operating System (smOS), and the rhythm or cadence at which they recur, may vary from company to company, based on a variety of factors (sales nuances and context).
I’ve selected components that are as universal as possible, but as always, use good judgment about what is right for your business.
Here is how I think about it:
- The operating system block (on the left) simply indicates which parts to the right are part of the smOS.
- The Sales Process, Sales Methodology and Customer Lifecycle boxes in the top-middle are the foundation for and context in which the activities to the right of them occur. Managers must be experts in your sales process, sales methodologies and your customer lifecycle, to effectively guide, support and lead their teams.
- The Activities (on the right, from Account Assignments down through Account Management) are the things that managers do to execute the smOS. Each activity requires specific expertise to do well, and most are done in recurring meetings (referred to as a cadence or rhythm) with their team or individual team members. The ones listed in the graphic as a starting point include:
- Account Assignments
- Territory Optimization
- Quota and Goal Setting
- Lead Management
- Opportunity Qualification
- Opportunity Management
- Pipeline Management
- Forecast Management
- Account Management
Again, it’s important to note that these activities may vary, based on the company and context. The ones listed here, while common, are intended to be representations versus mandates.
In addition, there are a variety of Team and Individual Rep Meetings, such as:
- A monthly or weekly team meeting.
- Individual and team pipeline reviews and forecast meetings.
- A recurring team meeting for sharing best practices (often biweekly or monthly – can be standalone or included in another monthly team meeting).
- One-on-one observations (ride-alongs, call-alongs or reviews of call or video conference recordings).
- Individual field training or coaching sessions.
As you implement your smOS, your leadership team needs to discuss, align and decide which activities and meetings to include, and the regular cadence for them. Cadences can be daily, weekly, biweekly, monthly or quarterly. In some cases, meeting frequency may increase near the end of a month or quarter, and then return to the base cadence.
Next is the section on sales coaching, which includes the Sales Coaching Framework and three boxes below it. This is an abbreviation of the full Sales Coaching System that we discussed in a previous post, Your Sales Managers Think They’re Coaching, But They’re Probably Not.
The Sales Coaching System
The last part of the smOS is Sales Performance Management (SPM). Parts of SPM are embedded in the building block for Sales Training, supported by the Sales Training System (to perpetuate skills taught and cement change in the culture). Managers must excel at this. If we know the behaviors that produce results for reps, they should be held to that standard (for the activities, methodologies and the results), and their performance should be managed accordingly. The same is true for the frontline sales managers. Performance Management should be a cultural expectation that is applied with positive, helpful intention, as part of the fabric of the sales organization.
That said, the term Sales Performance Management has a broader meaning than just Performance Management. Performance Management typically refers to the periodic appraisal of employee performance with feedback, goals and objectives, and often, employment development plans and career pathing.
SPM is admittedly somewhat variable since it’s meant as a catch-all bucket for what you haven’t already included in other areas of the Sales Management System (such as the Activities section of the smOS or the Sales Coaching Framework). Many of these items are also commonly referred to as Sales Operations (and outside of distribution, the term Revenue Operations is growing) and often include:
- Sales Planning
- Pricing Management
- Quota Management
- Quote Process Management
- Forecast Management
- Sales Incentive Management
- Sales Coverage Model
- Account Assignments
- Territory Optimization
- Deal Desk Management
- Sales Gamification
- General Performance Management
How Do I Optimize the Operating System?
To many in distribution who have not yet seen a Sales Management System or an smOS in place, I’m sure this seems foreign, unlikely or unwieldly. It may also seem unfair that the sales organization be managed so rigorously, perhaps even beyond any other function. If those things are on your mind, remember this:
- First, in terms of the oddity or rarity in distribution, this system, or one like it, has been used by some of the very best, well-honed sales organizations in the world.
- I have personally implemented it in both employer organizations and clients, with outstanding results.
- It doesn’t happen overnight – it’s a change management process. But the results can be significant, if you stay the course.
In terms of the discipline and fairness:
- Other, non-sales departments can add tremendous value to clients and the organization.
- Other non-sales departments can create risk for the organization or take it down (for example, when accounting is mismanaged, it can be a nightmare).
- But with the possible exception of marketing (with the growing emphasis on demand generation, ABM and marketing-driven revenue assignment), there is no other department or function that can save the company, if the sales force does not perform.
As the quote from Mary Kay Ash reminds us, “Nothing happens until somebody sells something.” (If you prefer a more buyer-centric perspective, think “nothing happens until somebody buys something” – but either way, a sale is made.)
So, treat your sales force well, encourage engagement, listen to them and solve their problems, and invest in infrastructure and their training and development. Do all of that with this Sales Management Operating System, while you also manage their performance and hold them accountable. Frontline sales managers must know how to do this and do it well. This is how you guide and support a best-in-class sales force and take your company performance to the highest-possible level.
It’s time to look inward, reflect and act.
- How are your frontline managers managing?
- How are you or your sales leaders supporting them?
- Do you have your foundations in place (process, methodology and lifecycle)?
- Have you identified your sales management best practices?
- Do you have a purposeful management cadence of activities and meetings?
- Have you created a coaching culture and a cadence of continuous improvement?
If yes, continue your journey and feel free to let me know. I’d enjoy hearing about your successes.
If not, it’s time to get started.