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Manager Enablement to Drive Behavior Change

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The demand for managers has never felt quite as high as it does now. The last few years have dramatically altered the organizational structure of work – and through every disruption and uncertainty, sales managers have served as the critical bridge between senior strategy and field-level execution. This means that for sales enablement, engaging with sales managers is key to the success of facilitating behavior change that drives meaningful revenue impact.

There is a symbiotic relationship between management and sales enablement — one cannot thrive without the other. And where many enablement activities may tend to over-index on seller enablement, there are several compelling reasons to buck this trend and focus on manager enablement to drive successful behavior change at scale.

“Modern sales enablement organizations are dramatically increasing their investment in sales managers,” said Gerry Hurley, senior director of enablement at Tripadvisor. “It’s rare to see a salesperson outpace a sales leader when it comes to doing the right things. The lesson in my mind is clear – you need to invest in your sales managers first to drive the change you want to see in your sales force.”

Here are three key ways enablement can set up sales managers for success and foster sustainable behavior change that drives meaningful impact on the business.

Invest in Sales Managers With Comprehensive Training

Enablement professionals are particularly adept at creating the roadmap to behavior change among reps, but sales managers can be the key to helping embed that change to turn into long-lasting habits.

However, sales managers may need some help, too. Frontline managers often become managers because of their success as high-performing sales reps. Many first-time managers are not provided with the proper training needed to help them navigate leading a team to achieve positive sales outcomes quarter-over-quarter. Managers risk feeling uncertain about what they can do to maximize their impact across their team and within the organization.

For many organizations across industries, the expectation of a sales manager can be quite a broad remit. It can range from keeping reps engaged and motivated to improving business acumen, managing special projects, closing deals, generating forecasts, or driving adherence within the sales process.

“You can see why sales managers struggle to find the right balance to drive behavior change at scale because we’re asking a lot of them,” said Hurley.

For Hurley and his team at Tripadvisor, the need to invest in the training and coaching of their sales managers became clear due to the new reality they were facing from the COVID-19 pandemic, which drove a large reduction in their sales force. Once the recovery from that loss started, Tripadvisor introduced nearly half of one of its core field teams in the last year. The impact of rapid hiring was deftly felt as nearly 40% of their managers were in the first one to two years of their management career.

“We set about investing and up-leveling managers to build a consistent sales operating rhythm by building manager playbooks, a management development program, and by setting in place manager KPIs that link to key sales priorities with a manager performance scorecard to track improvement,” said Hurley.

When thinking about how to best train and effectively invest in their sales managers, Hurley laid out four key pillars practitioners can consider as they build out a global manager enablement training program:

  • Core Management Development Skills: Including soft skills like how to deliver feedback, how to delegate, managing inclusion within teams, and more
  • Manager Up-Level Program: Taking the core learning and building playbooks around manager expectations, specific selling skills, reporting, forecasting, and more
  • From Theory to Practice: Challenging managers to put their skills into practice and demonstrate what was learned directly with their reps
  • Manager Community: Scheduling regular book clubs, lunch and learn sessions, or monthly syncs to create opportunities for managers to connect and offer support to grow together as colleagues

Building a training program that has clear objectives but is agile enough to accommodate the growing needs of a sales organization can help lay the foundation for a supportive environment where managers can thrive. Enablement can help ensure that these programs build consistency and accountability within a manager’s day-to-day role to help them succeed and build their leadership skills with tangible results.

“When you’re on a flight, and you’re a parent, you’re supposed to put your life jacket on first, and you then are set up to be safe and take care of your children, for example,” said Emily Drew, senior director of global sales leader excellence academy at Salesforce. “In the case of the leader, if you set them up for success and provide them the ability to become excellent at what they do and equipped to better coach and enable and encourage their teams, that has just such a waterfall effect and enables everyone beneath them to see greatness in action.”

Building a Culture of Coaching That Sticks

One of the main roles a manager immediately takes on is becoming a coach to their sales reps. Yet, managers may find themselves struggling to navigate through day-to-day complexities within the organization while simultaneously driving measurable impact on the business with adequate time to coach effectively for their teams.

“We all know a universal truth in sales and in sales enablement is the belief that coaching is by far the most important driver of sales manager impact,” said Hurley.

In fact, Gartner found that employees whose managers drive sustainable performance – high individual performance while contributing positively to others’ performance without compromising their health – are 17% more productive and almost twice as likely to stay at their organization than other employees.

“Now we’re in a place where we can’t keep up with the demand from leaders and that’s been achieved in a few key ways,” said Drew. “I think the first one is building trust, and the best way that I would recommend that people try and apply this if they’re enablers with the leadership team is by using a coaching approach. Building key relationships with leaders of all levels through coaching them, through getting to know them, listening, and deeply understanding what’s going on for them in their world.”

Coaching unlocks the potential of all sales reps to become higher performers and drive scalable success for the business. Managers are the guideposts reps can look to when faced with more challenging selling situations. To make coaching more accessible and effective, enablement can help curate a culture where coaching is expected and integrated more easily into the sales team’s day-to-day roles.

“We then enable [coaching] by encouraging work groups within the organization to take that on within their teams,” said Hurley. “This ranged from fun events to facilitating sessions with external speakers to competitions and career development. A massive range of programs has helped us create a culture that is inclusive, energizing, and has growth for people.”

Creating opportunities where managers can coach their reps with as few time constraints as possible can help alleviate some of the pressure managers feel to prioritize effectively. Building coaching opportunities into the everyday role for both the seller and the manager can help encourage managers to invest in coaching wisely and help fully realize the impact and importance coaching has on driving better performance.

“We’ve seen the development of a coaching culture, which is a knock-on effect in creating this sense of psychological safety on teams,” said Drew. “And that, in turn, has meant reduced attrition, both among leaders themselves and their account executives.”

Leveraging Data-Driven Insights to Gain Leadership Support

Time is a scarce commodity, but it’s felt even more acutely by managers. To ensure that investment in training, coaching, and other manager enablement programs is driving visible benefit to the manager and positively impacting the business, enablement professionals can think through how they are tracking that impact in tangible ways.

“We partnered with our sales leaders and established KPIs that went after really hard output metrics,” said Hurley. “Things like what percentage of your tenured reps are up to the 2019 level of productivity? What percentage of your reps are profitable? What percentage of your new hires are profitable? We worked with our RevOps team to build out a dashboard where we could report on a rolling stream of trends and improvements in these areas.”

Establishing core KPIs that demonstrate the value of manager enablement and align with overarching strategic business initiatives can help gain critical buy-in to keep and expand those programs for the future. For Hurley, framing the manager enablement programs in the context of a key solution to support the business’ main priorities helped keep a focus and energy in supporting manager enablement. For the managers, this created momentum to engage with and participate in the programs. When enablement can demonstrate how its programs can help solve some of the big-picture challenges an organization faces, it can help drive more investment and understanding in making that a priority for leaders.

The world of work today requires managers to take on increasingly more responsibilities that prioritize agility, help coach performance, boost engagement, and ultimately drive effective behavior change. These new demands to the manager role call on enablement to help support and navigate manager enablement to help drive lasting behavior change across the sales organization.

“For me, [sales enablement and sales management] is a symbiotic partnership,” said Hurley. “But here’s the difference: with clear lines of accountability and hand-off [where both teams] are united in the focus to drive measurable impact on efficiency, effectiveness, and revenue.”



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