Three key insights into sales manager enablement that will help your sales organization reach (or exceed!) 2018 goals.
There is a deep-rooted problem in today’s sales organizations. Frontline managers are trapped in a vice created by the traditional approach to sales: Hit the number at all costs. The status quo has sales organizations lurching from quarter to quarter, barely keeping ahead of the game, and rarely pausing to improve. There is a mantra in leadership theory that we have to “slow down to speed up“. But this is a luxury that sales simply cannot afford in their quota-driven world. As forward-thinking organizations are just beginning to build sales manager enablement programs, the burning question is how to structure programs that sales managers will actually want to use.
This year, CommercialTribe hosted five Sales Manager Effectiveness workshops around the country. In the beginning, we weren’t at all sure how this concept would be received by the market. There wasn’t much work or research being done that focused specifically on the frontline sales manager role, and part of our intent was to see how important and relevant sales manager development is to sales organizations, and to work with some of the most progressive sales organizations in the country to understand how they are structuring solutions to the sales manager enablement issue.
Who Needs To Be Involved In Sales Manager Enablement?
The interest in sales manager enablement cuts across all the main stakeholders of an Enterprise sales organization. We began our outreach by focusing on the sales enablement function, thinking that these leaders are most familiar with the benefits realized by training and development. We quickly realized how important the topic is to sales operations and leadership as well. Each function has a slightly different stake in it, but all recognize the acute need for developing better sales managers.
Sales manager enablement is much bigger than training—it’s the next generation of enablement. Creating buy-in and measuring the impact of initiatives is a perennial issue for sales enablement. Sales manager development helps enablement create a bridge between their central function and the field. It is a catalyst for leader-first enablement, where sales managers become force multipliers by enabling their teams in the field through coaching.
Sales operations leaders care about sales manager enablement because they recognize that the data they need is only as good as the people entering it. This data entry, of course, largely falls on the shoulders of frontline managers and reps in the field. They recognize that a well-developed, highly professional sales manager has a greater appreciation for the importance of data-driven management. Further, they need sales managers to consistently and effectively coach their reps on how to enter data correctly in order to maintain (or, in many cases, create) data integrity.
Forward-thinking sales leaders want to create a sustained revenue generating machine. This goal is easier said than done, and there are many parts to building such a machine. But sales leaders we talked with quickly recognized how improving the effectiveness of their sales management team multiplied the impact of improved rep performance and productivity. The ability to develop their entire team—to “shift the middle”—is central to their ability to build and sustain their revenue engine.
The purpose of the Sales Manager Effectiveness Workshops was to show these stakeholders how to align their needs to create a successful sales manager enablement program in their own organizations. Three key insights to making sales manager enablement succeed in your organization came out of these workshops: trust and alignment in creating a sales manager enablement program are critical, sales manager enablement cannot solely be solved centrally, and teams must focus on developing specific interactions—in workflow—rather than training on skills. Let’s take a look at each of these insights in greater detail.
1. Trust & Alignment Are Critical For Sales Manager Enablement
The fact that you need to be able to observe, assess, and coach to develop a team is basic. But what you really need to do this effectively is trust. What I mean by trust, in this context, is not about trust in individual people or managers (though that is important, too). It’s that everyone in the organization trusts the criteria that they are being evaluated against, and how that criterion manifests in their coaching.
Unfortunately, this trust is largely missing from most sales organizations today. The reason it is missing is that it’s extremely difficult to get all the stakeholder groups in a sales organization aligned on the skills that they believe drive results. When you think about the three main personas profiled above and what their stakes in sales manager enablement are, getting each of these functions, as well as all the individual people within them, to agree is no easy task. There are very few organizations that have aligned on key skills to assess for their sellers and even fewer that have accomplished this for their frontline sales managers.
The exciting part about this is that sales organizations are truly beginning to understand the importance of doing this and they are working on tackling this issue of trust by aligning around sales assessments. But it’s one thing to talk about it, another thing to actually put it down on paper, and a completely different world to put it into practice in a sales manager enablement process by measuring the effectiveness of coaching and development.
So, how do you create trust in your organization around evaluating the right skills and then coaching to develop them? The key to accomplishing trust is a step in the process of building a sales manager enablement program we call Calibration. In this context, calibration is code for alignment. It’s how you create alignment in all layers of the organization, including enablement, ops, and sales leadership, as well as sales managers and reps who all need to trust in the evaluation criteria and the coaching process.
If your organization—in particular, your sales managers—are not aligned with the assessment criteria and how to coach, the program becomes a mess. People don’t know what to expect, they have different experiences. And when there is no consistency in how people are being coached and evaluated, there is no way to pull real insights out of the data to enable effective, targeted coaching at scale. In this environment, there is no way to get coaching and development to stick.
2. Sales Manager Enablement Must Happen Within The Team’s Workflow
Sales enablement creates great training and practice programs using their LMS and/or learning paths that provide the sales team with the knowledge and skills they need to be successful in the field. The problem with this in sales manager enablement is a time management issue. Frontline sales managers will do anything to get their team to hit the quota, but they are starved for time in their daily lives to “slow down to speed up”.
In reality, sales managers have very little time, and often less desire, to participate in enablement-lead learning and development. They need coaching and development that is timely, highly relevant, and succinct. They need development that happens within their daily workflow.
What do I mean by this? Sales managers and their reps already have scheduled meetings—many of which happen on a regular cadence (hopefully). The most effective sales manager enablement initiatives will work within these meetings to evaluate interactions and provide relevant, timely feedback on how the manager, seller, or both can improve. Sales manager enablement that happens within workflow helps to create trust in the process, improves engagement, and significantly increases the performance of sales teams.
3. Focus Sales Manager Enablement On Developing An Interaction, Rather Than On Skills
This insight is so beautiful in its simplicity that it’s difficult to think that very few organizations are doing this today. Most sales training programs focus on skills development. They create a skills-based framework and try to train the field to develop all of these skills to apply to their interactions. At first, this makes sense. After all, if a manager or rep develops active listening skills, for example, she can apply that skill to each of her interactions whether it’s a 1-on-1 meeting or a discovery call or a negotiation.
The critical reality is that this type of training is simply too much information for a global sales organization to internalize and apply in the real-world with any great impact. We know from research that only about 30% of training content is retained by participants. When they go out into the world they end up simply reverting to old habits, putting hundreds of thousands of training investment to waste.
Instead, focus your sales manager enablement program on improving specific, real-world interactions they have in their daily lives. For sales manager development, consider focusing on 1-on-1, pipeline review, deal review, or forecast meetings. For sales reps, this may include interactions such as the discovery call, the demo, or negotiation call.
The message is clear: sales organizations need to focus on sales manager enablement by providing them with the training, tools, and coaching they need to coach and develop their reps. In so doing, we create force multipliers within the sales organization who can help create agile, sustained revenue-generating sales teams now and in the long-term.