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Leading the High-Performance Sales Force

Course code
Course type
MSc Course
Weekly Hours
FS 2023
Prof. Dr. Ove Jensen
Please note that exchange students obtain a higher number of credits in the BSc-program at WHU than listed here. For further information please contact directly the International Relations Office.

The course content is organized around two parts:

Part I: Steering sales performance (transactional sales leadership)

Week 1: Sales coaching

  • Autonomy vs. automation
  • The manager as a coach

Week 2: Sales incentives

  • Does money motivate?
  • Compensation plan design (includes case Sales compensation Vignettes, WHU)
  • Special incentives and status symbols (includes case I.M.A.G.E. International, Darden)

Week 3: Sales productivity

  • Sales force size and deployment (includes case Xarelto, WHU)
  • Territory management (includes case StepSmart Fitness, HBS)
  • Active selling time (includes case Clef Company, HBS)*

Week 4: Sales funnel

  • Budgeting and forecasting*
  • CRM systems*
  • Metrics-based coaching (includes case ZenRecruit, HBS)
  • Pipeline management (includes case PackMach, WHU)*

Part II: Shaping sales performance (transformational sales leadership)

Week 5: Sales culture

  • Identity-based motivation
  • Taylorism and Mayoism*
  • Critical perspectives on the transformation of sales work and sales management*

Week 6: Leading sales transformation as a senior executive

  • Sales in the organizational matrix
  • Change management models
  • Initiating a global sales transformation program (includes case Commercial Sales Transformation at Microsoft, HBS)
  • Commercial excellence programs (includes guest lecture)

Week 7: Leading sales transformation as a young manager

  • Golden rules for young (sales) leaders (includes case Pilgrim Drugs, HBS)
  • Struggling as a young sales manager (includes case When A New Manager Stumbles, Who’s At Fault?, HBS)
  • Role-play of change announcements and self-introductions
  • High performance with high integrity (includes movie Invictus)

(*) 20% of the learning units include content from my WHU BSc courses Introduction to Business Administration and Foundations of Sales. This is necessary to bring the diverse MSc group up to a common level.

Date Time
Monday, 09.01.2023 11:30 - 15:15
Monday, 16.01.2023 11:30 - 15:15
Wednesday, 18.01.2023 08:00 - 11:15
Monday, 23.01.2023 08:00 - 11:15
Monday, 30.01.2023 11:30 - 15:15
Monday, 06.02.2023 11:30 - 15:15
Thursday, 16.02.2023 08:00 - 11:15
Thursday, 16.02.2023 08:00 - 11:15
Thursday, 16.02.2023 08:00 - 11:15
Thursday, 16.02.2023 08:00 - 11:15
Thursday, 16.02.2023 08:00 - 11:15
Thursday, 16.02.2023 08:00 - 11:15
Thursday, 16.02.2023 08:00 - 11:15
Thursday, 16.02.2023 08:00 - 11:15
Thursday, 16.02.2023 08:00 - 11:15
Thursday, 16.02.2023 08:00 - 11:15
Thursday, 16.02.2023 08:00 - 11:15
Thursday, 16.02.2023 08:00 - 11:15
Thursday, 16.02.2023 08:00 - 13:00
Profit has two sides: revenues and costs. Most curricula include a great deal of cost management. However, what about managing revenues? Most students learn in their Bachelor program that innovation, pricing, and advertisement influence revenues. These are important, but not enough. To manage revenues means managing the peoplewho make sales, i.e. those who talk to customers, who communicate innovations, who negotiate prices, and who obtain signatures under a contract: the sales force. The significance of the sales force is illustrated by a statement ascribed to Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919), an entrepreneur in the 19th century: “You can take away my money and take away my factories, but leave me my sales staff – and I’ll be back where I was in two years”.

In most firms, the cost side is traditionally transparent, predictable and slightly over-managed, while the revenue side is traditionally intransparent, unpredictable and heavily undermanaged. Top-management often has little grip on the activities of their key account executives, field reps, and first-line sales managers. Sales performance is a black box to them. This course teaches how to lighten up the black box and systematically manage sales performance.

By the way, the sales force is not only the No. 1 revenue driver, but also a major cost driver. On average, firms spend 10% of their revenues on the sales force. In the economy, the overall amount spent on sales forces is three times the combined spending on advertising. In most multinational companies, the majority of international subsidiaries and employees are in sales. Consequently, learning to lead a firm requires learning to lead the sales force.

The course conduces to a wide range of career tracks: In corporate careers, successfully managing a sales organization is the ultimate career test before a candidate makes it to the general management top. For entrepreneurial ventures, building a sales organization is one of the most challenging tasks on the path to growth. To participants in a finance career track, the course removes the mystery around sales forecasts and sales productivity. Consulting careers benefit from the insight into the mentality of salespeople and the course content on implementing change.

The course intends to enhance five categories of competences:

  • factual knowledge, for example, applying sales management jargon (such as quota, forecast, accelerators, boosters, contexts, pipeline, DSM, and other idioms) and defining sales performance indicators,
  • conceptual knowledge, for example, classifying different types of sales forces and sales positions, analyzing the optimal size and deployment of the sales force by different methods, evaluating territory structures, classifying elements of compensation plans, classifying the dimensions of sales force performance management, critically assessing motivation theories, identifying and comparing rationalist and humanist management ideologies, and explaining the evolution of sales organizations and sales positions,
  • sales force leadership-specific procedural knowledge, for example, providing constructive feedback, appraising sales performance, analyzing sales pipelines and generating sales forecasts, communicating policy changes to a sales team, and building work relationships with employees older than oneself,
  • general business-relevant procedural knowledge, for example, preparing for business meetings, making the best out of a limited preparation time budget, making concise contributions to meetings, and constructively building on contributions by other participants in the meeting, and
  • metacognitive knowledge, for example, evaluating one’s own leadership behavior, evaluating the ethical dimension of sales leadership, creating a skill profile for salespeople and sales leaders, and evaluating the excellence of sales organizations.
There is no required textbook. I have not found a book that covers the range of topics discussed by this course. The learning material for this course includes presentation slides, articles, case studies, role-plays, videos, and whiteboard notes. These and further course-related information are available on the learning management system myWHUcourses (another name for it is “Moodle”).
The learning method in this course follows the ideas of problem-based learning and the “reversed classroom” (a.k.a. “flipped classroom”). The “reversed classroom” replaces classroom lectures (“Frontalunterricht”) with a blend of self-study at home and interactive discussions in the classroom. Problem-based learning reverses the passive learning sequence of “First hearing a concept. Then hearing problems that it could solve” to an active learning sequence: “First trying to solve a problem oneself. Then discussing solutions with the group, led by the professor. Finally, getting additional insight from the professor”. Using WHU’s hybrid teaching technology, online participants are integrated into the classroom via Zoom.

The learning method mix includes role-play sessions between students with joint debriefings, case-based discussions with concluding mini-lectures, interactive concept lectures, and managerial guest presentations. This video shows the style of case-based sessions: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IbNNsq1fC0A. The problem-based way of learning requires a great amount of energy, both from the student and from the teacher.

The course grade is completely based on individual performance. There are no team grades and no peer evaluations. The course grade is composed as follows:
  • 60%: eight class preparation notes (pdf, bullet points are enough, ca. 750-1000 words)
  • 40%: 60-minute final exam (closed book). The final exam is a laptop-based Moodle quiz, regardless of whether you write on-campus or off-campus. It is composed of quantitative calculation questions and qualitative multiple-choice questions.
Enrollment in this course is not limited by pre-experience prerequisites. In particular, it is not necessary to have taken my other courses in the program - this course stands alone. However, what you should be aware of before enrolling in this course is:
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