Opening Pandora’s Box Reveals the Truth in Manager to Seller 1:1

Manager to Seller 1-1 lock box

The manager to seller 1:1 is a critical interaction that takes place in every sales organization, and yet it is a black hole for sales leaders

“90 minutes of your time can enhance the quality of your subordinates work for 2 weeks or for some 80+ hours.” – Andy Grove, CEO & Co-founder at Intel

The manager to seller 1:1 meeting is a proven management practice that, when executed well, creates happy, healthy, and productive teams. In fact, the 1:1 may be the single biggest leverage point a manager has to impact team performance.

But today’s overwhelmed and underdeveloped frontline sales manager may not have gotten the memo. The tyranny of managing to the number leads to choosing what’s urgent over what’s important and being reactive versus proactive. 1:1s commonly get pushed, lack preparation and structure, and have no clear outcomes. This dysfunction of such a critical management activity creates a hole that is hard to dig out of.

The desire to help sales managers has led us to study the manager to seller 1:1. In doing so, we’ve come to realize that this may be the single biggest unmet need in today’s sales organization. If you’re ready to open Pandora’s Box, let’s dig in.

The Purpose of the Manager to Seller 1:1

Manager to Seller 1-1 meetingWhy are we here? Without a clear purpose, there’s no alignment on what would make the meeting successful.

This is where the issues start. Because managers themselves aren’t sure what the purpose of the 1:1 is. They know that every manager does them, and they are supposed to, too. But why? And how does it fit into their goal to get their reps to their number?

Most frontline sales managers have not been trained on how to run a manager to seller 1:1. So they make it up as they go along. Often, each 1:1 is a bit different. In my experience, the typical flavors of a manager to seller 1:1 are:

  • Forecast review
  • Pipeline review
  • Deal review
  • Coaching

But what if I told you the most common type of 1:1 isn’t any of these. It’s actually all of them combined into one meeting!

Successfully executing any of these interactions with a seller requires practice and discipline. Trying to accomplish them all in one meeting is downright impossible! The discussion jumps from topic to topic and quickly becomes a disaster that is a testament to the fact that no one is sure what the purpose of this meeting actually is!

Managers must establish a set agenda for their 1:1s and develop a cadence with their team that allows them to focus on each of these interactions separately at various points in the month and/or quarter. Get this simple, but often overlooked, piece right and you are on your way to better 1:1s.

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Failure to Take Off and Land

Without a clear purpose, we’re off to a rough start. But a well-structured agenda will still make this meeting work. Extra credit if the manager has transferred ownership to the seller to own the agenda and it’s documented in a way that creates clarity and structure.

Without an agenda, the meeting is likely to meander aimlessly into irrelevance. Fear not, you can still make it worthwhile if there are clear actions items that come out of the meeting. Actions could include:

  • Submitting a revised forecast
  • Executing on agreed upon pipeline goals
  • Inviting manager to a call
  • Drafting an email for review
  • Scheduling an internal meeting

If you are a sales manager with 8 to 10 direct reports, this can be pretty hard to keep track of. Don’t be surprised if these actions float into the ether, never to be seen again.

After establishing a purpose, take off and landing the meeting tend to be the lowest hanging fruit to be addressed that will also provide the biggest payback.

Manager and Seller Should Feel Good

“If I had an hour to solve a problem, I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.” – Albert Einstein

A sales managers’ list of tasks includes rolling up the forecast, managing the pipeline, and closing business. That’s the easy part! What differentiates an average sales manager from a great one is their ability to remove roadblocks for their sellers. But while the manager may parachute in to save the day from time to time, this is not a scalable strategy for success. Helping the seller come to his or her own realization to solve a problem is.

When a manager is using the appropriate mix of guiding versus telling, the seller learns not to come to the manager for a solution, but rather with a problem that can be solved together. The same basic discovery and active listening skills that make for an effective sales conversation are a manager’s friend in the 1:1. There is typically at least one issue that, if solved for the seller, would make a big difference in the coming week. Isolate and focus on it.

If this sounds like more art than science, it is. But it’s also critical. A manager can get the mechanics of the 1:1 right, but if there is no trust the seller will be more likely to see the manager as in their way rather than a partner.

One simple way to find out is to ask! How was this meeting? Was it useful? Why or why not? What should we keep doing or start doing? Seeking feedback is an unnatural but highly effective way to instantly make this meeting better.


With limited direction outside of “get to your number”, it’s no wonder the average sales manager can get lost. When manager to seller 1:1s lack a clear purpose, fail to take off and land effectively and don’t feel good for either party, it’s a recipe for dysfunction.

Think of it this way: if your sales calls were to resemble anything like this picture, would you expect to sell anything? I don’t think so.

The manager to seller 1:1 is the key force multiplier moment an organization has to lift sales team performance, and it’s time we start facing that reality head-on.


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