Leader-First Sales Enablement Activates the Multiplier Effect In Your Team


Improve sales performance with leader-first enablement.

Leader-first sales enablement is a relatively new concept to many enablement organizations. The traditional approach is to train reps, but leave sales leaders and managers out because they either don’t feel like they need the training and/or they are too busy to participate. But then everyone wonders why the reps never truly adopted what they learned. With leader-first enablement, enablement and management work together to ensure initiatives are relevant and that they are reinforced across the sales organization.

What is Leader-First Sales Enablement?

what is leader-first sales enablementLeader-first sales enablement recognizes that sales leaders and managers are key to successful transformation adoption among the sales team. 

It involves training and “certifying” your sales managers before reps go through the same training. Some teams will also train managers along with their reps, but training beforehand allows them to provide additional feedback and support before the bulk of the sales team enters training.

A leader-first sales enablement approach also helps foster a close, collaborative alignment between sales and enablement. It improves the communication between the two departments and results in providing better, more relevant services, training, and content to the sales team. When sales and enablement teams are closely aligned and pulling toward the same goals, sales performance quickly improves.

Why You Should Use Leader-First Sales Enablement

When sales managers don’t know what is expected of their reps, they cannot reinforce the skills or content that was taught in training to form the desired behavior changes. Everyone wonders why training was never adopted by sales reps and applied in the field. The answer is that, first, they likely forgot 70% of it within a week. Then, their managers are on them to perform at all costs. They have little (or no) idea what their reps have learned the week before. They are stuck in “status quo” land, and they keep their reps there with them.

Using this approach guarantees that the enablement and sales functions are working against each other, rather than with each other toward their common goal. Leader-first enablement aligns enablement initiatives with sales objectives and goals. It helps enablement develop sales manager partnerships in facilitating long-term initiative success, which leads to improved engagement and adoption. And, as we all know, improved adoption of important enablement initiatives leads to improved sales performance!

How To Structure Leader-First Enablement

structure leader-first sales enablementStructuring a leader-first enablement mindset can be a bit tricky, particularly for legacy organizations that are used to doing business the same way for a long time. But, it’s important to note that the most progressive (and successful) sales organizations in the world are being trained in this way today. The need to change to leader-first sales enablement is economic.

Start by meeting with sales leadership at the beginning of planning period (usually the year or quarter) to understand sales objectives and goals. Then, create an enablement strategy that aligns with these goals and refine it with feedback from sales leadership and management.

Some examples of enablement training we’ve worked with that work particularly well for aligning sales goals with enablement initiatives include:

  • Improving early-stage pipeline size
  • Improve funnel velocity
  • Improve conversion rates
  • Close key skill gaps
  • Get X% more reps to goal
  • Improve retention X%

Once you’ve created a plan and developed the content, train and certify sales managers first; then go to sellers. Establish a framework for how sellers will be assessed and certified during the initiative and provide managers with observation, assessment, and coaching tools.

Don’t let the momentum drop with a “thud” after your training event. Provide managers and reps with on-going reinforcement materials.  These could include:

  • Announcement videos
  • Email templates
  • Highlight reels
  • Success stories (i.e. “Jamie increase her sales 10% by introducing {New Product} to her customers!”)
  • Ongoing observation, assessment, and coaching until mastery of the message, skill, or process is reached

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4 Mistakes to Avoid In Leader-First Sales Enablement

1. Skipping Alignment

Alignment and buy-in from sales leadership and managers are critical to creating a successful leader-first sales enablement framework. Without close alignment, sales managers will only continue to disengage or ignore completely your enablement initiatives. Ensure enablement initiatives are closely aligned with sales objectives and establish working relationships with leadership and management during training and transformation initiatives.

2. Skipping Reinforcement

I have witnessed countless enablement initiatives end with a “thud” after training or kickoff. Your plan must go beyond the main event to continue providing reinforcement and motivation throughout the year, and possibly beyond. Leader-first sales enablement requires that enablement partner with sales leaders and/or managers to help make reinforcement relevant and impactful.

3. Not Enabling Sales Managers

In leader-first enablement, sales managers need a structured framework to observe, assess, and coach their reps to effectively reinforce desired behavior changes. Work with sales leadership and management to find a tool and create the processes needed to gain visibility into the sales team’s daily interactions with customers and prospects. Gaining insight into how well reps perform in the “real world” provides the most valuable information for sales managers to coach and develop them on an ongoing basis.

4. Not Measuring Progress

How will you know if the training or transformation is having an impact? Integrate your sales and enablement teams to develop a framework to measure how well reps and managers are progressing against the desired changes—and how those changes are translating into revenue for the company!

Leader-first sales enablement is a powerful framework for both sales and enablement leaders to activate sales managers as coaches and improve quota attainment. 

By partnering with sales managers, enablement leaders create a collaborative relationship that ensures both departments are working toward the goals that improve team performance and revenue attainment.


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Do Your Sales Managers Need A Motivation Makeover?


How Core Drives Can Deplete Or Increase Sales Manager Motivation

This guest post was originally published on yukaichou.com: Why Sales Manager Motivation Needs A Makeover

Previously, we explored the core drivers of motivation in the sales organization and why our traditional coin-operated, compliance-driven sales culture may finally be ripe for disruption in Why Seller Motivation Needs a Makeover.

Conventional wisdom suggests that we place more training and development emphasis on the seller. Look no further than the budget spent on training sellers vs. managers. In this article, let’s explore why the frontline sales manager is actually the key to change, their current sources of motivation, and how to disrupt the status quo to build a sustainable revenue generating machine.

Sales Managers’ Complex Task List

Most sales managers started as great sellers. Then, they are promoted into a management position where we expect them to gain a completely new skill set than the one that made them a successful seller overnight. Here are just a few of the common tasks sales managers are expected to perform on a daily, weekly, monthly, and quarterly basis:

  • Field Travel or Joint Calling
  • 1on1s and Team Meetings
  • Forecast Reviews
  • Pipeline Reviews
  • Deal Reviews
  • Account Plan Reviews
  • Territory Plan Reviews
  • Win / Loss
  • Quarterly Business Reviews
  • Performance Reviews
  • Hiring and Recruiting
  • Rewards and Recognition
  • Training

The sales management hierarchy uses Core Drive 8: Loss and Avoidance to drive compliance and ensure these tasks are happening on schedule. Are our reps doing effective discovery? Join the sales call. Forecast needs to roll up. Better vet it. Is a key deal we’re forecasting to close qualified? Deal review time.

We expect managers to perform these tasks. But doing them well…that’s another story. Try sitting in a forecast review and you may be less confident about the forecast, but you will learn more about that particular seller’s upcoming weekend plans!

Don’t Miss Your Quota

Managers, like sellers, are on a variable comp plan. But, instead of being responsible for one quota, managers are responsible for a team quota. The average sales manager gets about 50% of his sellers to goal, but that is not going to cut it. So how do sales managers make plan? Most managers have a couple stars they can count on to overachieve and maybe they even sell a few deals themselves.

The quota system relies on Core Drive 6: Scarcity and Impatience as managers race to capture their earnings opportunity for the time period before it evaporates. It’s no wonder busy sales managers feel justified abandoning some of the tasks we previously explored that don’t help them draw a straight line toward delivering their number this quarter. For everyone in the sales organization, the short-term pressure to hit quota can feel overwhelming. What’s a sales manager to do?

Overreliance on Black Hat Core Drives is Fatiguing

sales manager motivation burnoutCore Drives 6 and 8 are Black Hat, making us feel obsessed, anxious, and addicted. While they are very strong in motivating behavior, in the long run, they leave us feeling fatigued because we feel like we have lost control.

For the sales manager, this often means managing their team feels more like a game of Survivor than a successful career. When half of your reps are underperforming, you have an open headcount and one of your best sellers is threatening to quit, it can feel like the job never ends. It’s no wonder managers are left feeling overwhelmed and underdeveloped. As a result, the tasks we expect them to perform to help their team hit quota are either sub-optimized or abandoned entirely.

Getting More Of Your Sales Managers To Plan

The sales manager role has gotten far more complex over the years, but we are still using the same motivational drivers to try to achieve our goals. With today’s millennial-minded sales manager who is looking to be developed and not just hit a number, these forces threaten to either burn people out or churn them out of your organization entirely.

Sales and enablement leaders need a thoughtful plan to counteract these forces that drive long-term engagement and skills mastery. These are known as White Hat drivers. White Hat drivers make us feel powerful, fulfilled and satisfied. It may sound obvious, but consistently getting more managers to plan relies on getting more sellers to plan. And the only reliable way to get more sellers to plan is to develop your sales managers into coaches.

Light The Coaching Fuse

We’ve all had a coach at some point in our lives. When effort meets opportunity it feels like anything is possible. That’s what it feels like to be coached. On the flip side, coaching has its own rewards. Phil Collins said: “In learning, you will teach and in teaching, you will learn.”

Use Core Drive 1: Epic Meaning and Calling, to help your sales managers realize their higher purpose beyond just delivering their team quota. The best way to tap into their inner Tony Robbins is to coach the coach. Observing sellers in action to provide coaching is commonplace through joint calling or even field travel, but for some reason, we don’t apply the same philosophy to our managers. Help them realize their calling by sitting in a one-on-one between manager and seller. Don’t talk, just listen, and then use this observation to coach the coach. Coaching your managers to become better coaches will light the motivational fuse that reminds them why they became a sales manager in the first place!

Learn More About Yu-Kai Chou’s Octalysis Gamification Framework for Improving Behavioral Design & Team Engagement >>


Give Your Sales Managers A Choice

sales manager motivation coachingTo many, coaching is one of those disciplines that is way more art than science. But if you are going to democratize coaching for all your managers, you will need to demystify what the best coaches in the world do intuitively.

Use Core Drive 3: Empowerment and Creativity to not only get all your managers on the same page but also make them feel enfranchised in the process. To do so, look no further than the list of activities expected of sales managers we discussed above. I’m sure you have a point of view on what should happen during those activities. Build a list of criteria.

Now here’s the magic: Put those criteria in front of your sales managers and let them choose which criteria matter to them. What they choose may be different than what you intended but by giving them a choice, they are FAR more likely to use them to coach their teams.

Time for Your Motivation Makeover

The Black Hat core drives that motivate sales manager behavior aren’t going away anytime soon. And even the White Hat techniques discussed won’t be sustained without becoming part of a larger system that makes managers feel like coaching isn’t such a deadlift each time.

Think about what drives motivation for your sales managers. Is it time for a sales manager motivation makeover? Try integrating these White Hat techniques into a quarterly plan focused on improving one interaction within the team’s workflow. For your sales managers, the goal is to establish a system that puts sales team development on autopilot.



The More You Know: Creating Sales Transformation That Sticks


Knowledge may be half the battle, but that’s no reason to stop your sales transformation there.

I am 39 years old, which puts my Saturday morning cartoon watching timeframe somewhere between 1985 and 1993. I have this slogan that sits with me today…”The More You Know”. Somewhere during the 2nd commercial break of Saved By The Bell, a jingle would hit my ears and that slogan would flash across the screen. It was NBC’s attempt to enter my juvenile mind and help me to understand that diversity matters, that education matters, that health matters, that people matter.

Somehow lessons from your youth can stick with you in funny ways. The last 17 years have taken me from a sales guy turned frontline manager, to enablement and sales ops team member, to Head of Global Learning. But today it has gotten me to thinking: How does this concept of knowledge at scale impact the world and science of selling?

While NBC’s effort to inform the masses is admirable, it only scratches the surface of what is needed to change behaviors in the real world. In my line of work, I have witnessed so many otherwise great enablement organizations make this same mistake. Knowledge is a critical first step, but in the business world, you need to enable real-world application by breaking old habits and creating new, desirable ones. How do you accomplish this? By reinforcing changes through observation, assessment, and coaching.

Observation: Create A Window Into Sales Interactions

Enablement organizations suffer from a perennial visibility issue. While your efforts are meant to help sales become more effective, efficient, and productive, you have very little visibility into if or how sales enablement initiatives are being implemented. You may report on initiative successes based on engagement and survey ratings, but it is extremely difficult to prove real progress or return for what you create. This is where more progressive organizations have begun to implement an observational element to training.

Often referred to a “message certification”, sellers submit a practice pitch to certify that they are ready to go-to-market. Traditional options for observing salespeople at scale are quite limited for this approach:

  1. Webinars: While scale can be achieved, you can not typically see your audience and sellers are prone to multi-tasking. Webinars also don’t give sellers the opportunity to practice the pitch and make it their own.
  2. In-person training: These events are typically very expensive and require a good amount of travel, taking your sales team out of the field where they would otherwise be working toward making their goal. Sales training is increasingly including role-playing, which is great, but it is really tough to see everyone demonstrate the content in this environment.
  3. Ride-alongs: Perhaps the best of the three, the ride along allows the frontline manager to observe a seller in action. One must ask, though, how effective that manager is at not only not hijacking the call but transferring observation into impactful coaching. Not to mention that this approach is anything but scalable in a practical sense.

Newer sales enablement platforms are taking the best of all worlds and allowing enablement and sales leadership to observe sellers in-action at scale. This can be done in a simulated environment to allow sellers to practice and perfect their pitch before going to market. They can also give leaders a window into actual, live conversations by recording sales calls and meetings.

The point here is that, after providing the knowledge sellers need, observation is the critical next step to changing the behavior of a global sales team. You cannot reinforce the training, message, or content that sellers are expected to start using without gaining a window into how (or if) they are applying it in the field.

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Assessment At Scale: Reinforce Training By Spotlighting Performance

sales transformation certificationMany corporate readiness initiatives I have witnessed will merely stop after the observation portion. Sellers record their practice pitch, ship it to enablement, and enablement checks a box that the seller has “certified”.

That’s simply not good enough. Do you think NBC would have kept The More You Know running for 30 years (and counting) without ever assessing the show’s performance? Even public service announcements need to show value to have that kind of staying power.

When you have the right tools available to observe your sales team, assessment becomes easier but it doesn’t happen on its own. You have to start by coming to a consensus with the sales leadership team on what specific behaviors are desired. Do you want to see your sellers asking specific questions? Tell a story? Build a vision of use? These and more are the things that your team needs to map out to make assessment practical and scalable.

This sales assessment map makes assessment at scale practical for your organization. With a minor amount of training, others within your enablement and sales organizations can assess submitted sales calls (or pitch practices) relatively consistently and without bias because they are all using the same criteria. In my experience, sellers are also more likely to trust and appreciate feedback when they know that their performance is being rated on an established, well-thought-out, and consistent criteria.

Coach: Changing Behaviors Through Coaching & Development

Why is all this important in the end? What does it mean for your sales team, and how is this information going to be used? It is used to effectively activate your frontline managers as force multipliers in improving the performance of your sales organization.

A CSO Insights study found that 47% of managers spend less than 30 minutes a week developing their teams. And yet, the same study found that organizations that use a formal sales coaching process enjoy a 61.5% quota attainment rate (compared to the study’s average quota attainment of 55.8%). Formal coaching was also found to increase forecasted win rates by 11%.

These stats are difficult to ignore, and yet so many leaders do just that! You leave coaching up to your frontline managers without giving them the proper tools, training, or coaching themselves to have any real impact on the outcomes. I know from personal experience that observation and assessment help fill this gap by providing your frontline sales managers with the knowledge they need to effectively coach their sellers.

Rather than leaving coaching up to them without any information, assessments provide sales managers with distilled information that allows them to quickly pinpoint the specific areas that their sellers need to improve. In other words, observation and assessment at scale allow frontline managers to personalize coaching, making coaching effective, relevant, and just-in-time to help them get more of their sellers to goal.

“The More You Know” has become so much more than a public service announcement in our world. Apart from the fun memes and pop culture references, it has become an axiom for those of us who have dedicated our lives and professions to knowledge, training, and improving performance. Learn how you can build a “The More You Know” culture in your sales organization with CommercialTribe.

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