Best Practices to Enable Frontline Managers

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Frontline managers are like the coaches of a sports team. Calling plays from the sidelines, they are just close enough to the action that they can observe and help their team make adjustments in the moment to beat the competition. Still, they rely heavily on the training and conditioning leading up to game-time to prepare each team member to execute effectively on the plays.

Being the coach takes a specific type of skill set. Just being a star player does not mean a person will be an exceptional coach. The same is true for frontline sales managers.

Often, however, frontline managers end up being “super reps” – top-performing sales reps that get promoted into management. While this approach can be beneficial from a mentorship and peer learning perspective, talent alone will not necessarily transfer to management skills.

Truly effective managers are those that are more concerned with the success of the people on their team than their own personal success. But frontline managers even differ from senior, upper-level management in the sense that they are in the trenches with the sales reps every day, helping them prospect and guiding them through calls.

To be able to elevate the team, frontline managers need to be enabled themselves. They need the tools, resources, content, and coaching to influence the behaviors of their team. Here are three steps to enable frontline managers.

Alignment on objectives

For sales enablement to gain traction, it needs the frontline managers to be champions of the enablement efforts to get them out further and faster in front of reps.

“If frontline management isn’t bought in to what we’re doing, if they’re not reinforcing it in pipeline meetings, in those kinds of daily conversations and sales meetings, then it’s not really going to go anywhere no matter how good a job sales enablement does,” said Paul Butterfield, head of global sales enablement at Vonage.

Without alignment on objectives and initiatives for sales enablement, frontline managers will just see it as one extra thing on their seemingly endless to-do list rather than a direct aspect of their job as a manager. Work to develop relationships and build trust with frontline managers so that they see themselves as partners to sales enablement and feel a sense of responsibility to help it succeed. In turn, this will create a symbiotic relationship in which both parties benefit, as sales enablement professionals can make sure they are driving the changes that the sales managers want to see from their team.

“I’ve definitely made the mistake in the past of either running a training or a program or pushing something out to the team where I hadn’t worked with [the managers] first, and it just kind of falls flat,” said Julie Newhouse, senior manager of sales enablement at Lyft. “I really need them to help be the vehicle to either drive that change management piece, drive a new behavior, or whatever it might be.”

Ask the frontline managers exactly what activity they want to see, and design sales enablement programs to specifically meet those needs. Then when training and introducing new initiatives to them, position sales enablement as the driving force behind those changes. That way, frontline managers can see the value in enablement and understand why it is worth their time to participate in sales enablement programs and hold their teams accountable to participate as well.

“I expect to see a trend toward topics, sessions, modules, and titles that are directly aligned to our strategy, so that [the managers] see if they miss it, they’ll be at a loss and behind the pack for all the conversations around change that they want to be part of,” said Marcela Piñeros, senior director of sales enablement at New Relic.

Train the trainers

It is easy to assume that because they are in a position of leadership, frontline managers know what good looks like. In reality, leading and managing a team is not necessarily intuitive, especially in the case of former star reps that got promoted. Coaching, facilitating, and training the team may not come naturally for all managers, so sales enablement professionals need to help them hone those skills.

“We need to take the action of providing them with the resources, giving them manager toolkits, helping them help us avoid skill-fade with the team long after onboarding has happened,” said Piñeros.

With all of the other priorities and responsibilities that frontline managers are accountable to, it is important that training and coaching are provided to them in short, digestible segments and reinforced through a consistent cadence. Work within their schedule and understand what days, weeks, and months they are most likely to give their full attention. Then, provide the resources in a format that cuts out excess and gives the most important information upfront. That way, it encourages participation without burdening them.

“We have a monthly webcast, and in that webcast, we provide a critical call to action for managers,” said Piñeros. “But we’ve become more and more judicious of really editing back the content and figuring out, if there isn’t an ‘aha’ moment in that first two minutes, we’ve lost them.”

Create coaching playbooks

Similarly, create coaching playbooks that walk frontline managers through what good coaching looks like. Outline the different questions that should be asked for different types of coaching. Then, let them practice different scenarios they are likely to encounter and learn from watching their peers. Most importantly, provide this in a format that they can reference down the road.

“You talk about coaching guides, opportunity coaching, pipeline coaching, deal coaching, conversation coaching,” said Matt McClendon, president of DSG Consulting. “How do you frame that up? What does a 60-minute coaching meeting look like? What are the questions that you should ask? Give them videos that show a roleplay of that kind of coaching session done right and allow them to get feedback from their colleagues.”

Just like sales playbooks help reps navigate a variety of conversations with buyers, coaching playbooks help managers have more effective coaching sessions with their team. Not all coaching looks the same, as reps have different skills and stages of the sales cycle they need to work on. Having resources at their fingertips to guide them through these critical conversations will enable frontline managers to enable their team.

Frontline managers are critical agents of sales enablement. When they are on board and in tune with sales enablement initiatives, they give it momentum among the sales reps. Build credibility with frontline managers by involving them in conversations about priorities and objectives and giving them resources to be more effective in their jobs. In doing so, sales enablement becomes a critical component of their job rather than just another item on the list of things to do.

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