Creating a Partnership with Frontline Managers
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Looking back to the early days of sales enablement, and even pre-sales enablement, the responsibility was really on the managers to figure out how to make their sales teams more effective. As sales enablement has taken hold and gained notoriety as a discipline in recent years, it has matured and taken on more responsibility. But in that growth, the discipline has swung to the other extreme, where frontline management is stepping away from sales enablement and becoming too hands-off.
Rather than counting on sales enablement to be solely responsible for ramping up and developing their reps, frontline managers and sales enablement should partner to give reps the proper training and coaching necessary to thrive.
For the pendulum to come back to center, frontline management must understand that they ultimately have to own the development of their team. They are accountable to their team’s success; sales enablement cannot be solely responsible for that.
With that understanding between frontline managers and sales enablement, they are able to have more balanced partnerships. The benefit of a balanced partnership is that sales enablement has influence without taking away the authority from the frontline managers.
No matter the size of the business or rate of growth, it can be a challenge for frontline managers to divide their focus between developing a new rep and still helping to drive the business. Sales enablement needs to create a framework for supporting frontline managers so that they can be more effective in coaching their teams.
To support frontline management better, be prescriptive about working with them. Also, encourage the frontline managers to be more proactive about understanding what their sales reps experience in their day-to-day. Over time, this will create almost a dotted line from the frontline managers to the sales enablement team, putting some of the ownership back to them. Here are three strategies for sales enablement to establish a partnership with frontline managers.
Align on Priorities
Alignment with frontline management is absolutely essential to the success of this partnership. If frontline management is not kept informed on what sales enablement is doing, if they are not reinforcing it in sales meetings, pipeline meetings, and daily conversations, then sales enablement initiatives are not going to gain traction with the reps no matter how good of a job enablement does.
Sitting down with frontline managers to figure out their needs, digging into the different divisions that may exist across multiple routes to market or regions, will help sales enablement design training, coaching, and development programs that are relevant to a variety of teams and pain points.
Then, there needs to be a shared responsibility to implement that training with flexibility yet consistency. It needs to be flexible to adjust to the different needs of teams and frontline manager priorities, but consistent in the level of experience it provides each rep.
Tools and Resources
A key way to partner with frontline managers on sales enablement is through accessible tools and resources that streamline training and coaching. If your organization does not already, work on implementing technology that will allow managers to have a span of control over development, training, and coaching programs.
For example, consider technology that assists with call coaching to see how well reps are performing with their pitch or voice analysis to assess how reps handle conversations in the field. Such technology helps frontline managers better tailor their coaching to specific needs of reps and track progress over time.
For companies with a global sales force, this type of technology also improves the ability of sales enablement to provide equal support to frontline managers in various corners of the globe. When development milestones can be analyzed virtually, it diminishes the impact of challenges such as time zones and language barriers.
All of the work that sales enablement does to support new reps in their first few weeks as employees should be building up to a soft handoff of responsibility to the frontline managers.
As sales reps are ramping, they should be checking certifications off a list to prove they have the ability to handle essential tasks such as pitching, demoing, handling objections, and more. While sales enablement provides them with the training and tools to meet these competency requirements, the frontline managers should be gradually brought into the process to begin assessing and coaching well before the new reps are expected to be fully ramped.
Once new reps have the foundational knowledge, sales enablement can bring frontline managers in to understand areas where each individual rep on their team excels or needs extra support. Then, frontline managers can slowly take on more and more responsibility, giving feedback on their performance as part of their training. When the manager assumes a significant portion of the responsibility at the end of the ramping period, this makes it so that they have a better understanding of what their team should know and how to coach them effectively.
By giving frontline managers a stake in the training and development of their team early on, sales enablement will help foster a positive relationship not only between themselves and the frontline managers but also between frontline managers and their team. This type of model better prepares the rep because they can understand what success looks like to their manager and establish clear goals right from the start. Since frontline management is involved in what sales enablement is doing, it also avoids the transmission of mixed messages and possible confusion as a result.
Frontline managers are key pieces to the sales enablement puzzle. Without their support and involvement in sales enablement activities, it can be hard for initiatives to produce the desired result or even get off the ground.
But since frontline managers are also typically strapped for time, it’s a delicate balance between enlisting the support of frontline managers and placing an unnecessary burden of responsibility on them. To better support frontline managers and earn their support in return, establish a partnership with them so that they are enabled to guide their team and drive sales effectiveness.