Sales Enablement Analytics: Prioritizing Frontline Manager Enablement

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Frontline managers are the glue between sales enablement and the field. Their support is crucial for sales enablement initiatives to take hold and for behavior change to stick among sales reps.

As research from the Sales Enablement Analytics 2019 report found, sales enablement practitioners recognize the critical role that frontline managers can play. In fact, a reliance on frontline managers to improve sales proficiency is one of the key themes identified by the practitioners interviewed for the report. It is the responsibility of frontline managers to help the sales reps on their teams reach their full potential, but to do so effectively, frontline managers need support themselves.

“Most people don’t get promoted to be a sales manager without having been a good salesperson, but it should not be taken for granted that they don’t need some extra help,” said Cori Hartje, senior director of sales enablement and technical training at Poly. “We are putting people in our sales enablement team that are specifically focused on sales management coaching…to work as a business partner with the sales management team.”

While a strong partnership with frontline managers is one of the most critical relationships for sales enablement to forge, it can also be difficult to formalize. Practitioners focus heavily on designing training and onboarding programs to improve sales proficiency, but there is an opportunity for practitioners to take these programs a step further with frameworks for frontline managers to reinforce and drive behavior change among their teams.

In order to strengthen the impact that sales enablement can have on business results, practitioners need to prioritize frontline manager enablement. In doing so, frontline managers will be better equipped to coach and guide their teams. Here are three ways sales enablement can elevate the effectiveness of frontline managers.

Teach foundational leadership skills

For many high-performing sales reps, moving into management might seem like a natural next step in progressing their career. However, managing people requires a significantly different skill-set than just being a good salesperson. Leadership skills do not come naturally to everyone, so sales enablement should take special care in helping to develop these in each new manager.

“A lot of times what [frontline managers] say is, ‘I just want to show them what to do, I just want to do it for them,’” said Sharon Little, senior director of GTM enablement at Amplitude. “It’s not effective. So, one of the first things that you need to do when you’re looking at first-line manager training around enablement is to teach them how to be a coach, how to be a facilitator, to teach them to fish rather than give them the fish.”

Part of that foundation is helping managers understand the purpose and value of being an effective leader. Sales enablement can better prepare managers by connecting their passions and personal goals to the expectations of the role.

“I’ve seen this time and time again: there’s this inner desire of ‘I want to be a manager’, but when I ask people, ‘why do you want to be a leader,’ if people can’t give me an answer that feels unbelievably real…it’s often potentially for the wrong reasons,” said Darlene Samer, director of sales enablement at Yelp. “They need to get very connected with what is in it for them that they are so inspired by and passionate about.”

Define role expectations

It is important to set expectations with managers for what the role is, as well as what the role is not. Team performance is the ultimate goal for every manager, but within that there are other responsibilities that sales managers need to be accountable to.

“Every company is going to define that slightly different, so some might have more administrative, strategic planning, coaching, or teaching expectations,” said Samer. “It’s important for an organization to define what this job is, because sometimes managers get into the role and they say, ‘I didn’t know it was this tough.’ I think it’s very important to bring clarity to the role in advance.”

In clarifying the responsibilities required for the role, sales managers can have a better idea of areas where they might need some extra support from enablement to develop the right competencies. Just as sales enablement provides sellers with the training and content they need to be successful, enablement should also provide managers with that same level of guidance around the defined role responsibilities.

“We spend a lot of time equipping our sellers, we create playbooks that have content and tools and training for reps, but what would that look like for a manager to have that same set of tools that would support your cadence of meetings,” said Matt McClendon, CEO at DSG Consulting. “We find that in building for your managers, ‘here’s what good looks like, here are the expectations,’ you can begin to get momentum.”

This clarity can also help frontline managers know exactly what is expected of them in terms of supporting the professional development of the reps on their teams, and how they can best utilize sales enablement resources to do so effectively.

Provide frontline manager coaching for sale coaching

Sales enablement professionals understand the impact of positive reinforcement with reps, which is why coaching is one of the hottest topics in sales enablement today. When done effectively, sales coaching can unlock the potential of middle and low-performing sales reps and accelerate the career trajectory for top performers.

While many sales enablement practitioners recognize the importance of coaching, most organizations still have significant work to do to put formal coaching processes in place. In fact, the Sales Enablement Analytics 2019 report found that many organizations are not able to track metrics related to sales coaching yet. The most common metric in this category, call scoring/evaluations from sales managers, is only tracked by 23% of respondents.

coaching chart

The core problem is that the frequency of coaching is often inconsistent and unregulated. For example, the report found that 42% of respondents either have ad hoc coaching at their organizations or no regular coaching sessions at all.

coaching graphic

This is why the partnership between sales enablement and frontline sales managers is so essential. Sales enablement practitioners need to ensure frontline managers are enabled to help drive positive sales behaviors within their teams through consistent, high-quality coaching at a regular cadence – oftentimes, doing so through being coached themselves on ways to improve their coaching efforts.

Sales enablement practitioners need to focus on building trust with frontline managers to secure their buy-in and help them see the value of coaching. When frontline managers are reinforcing sales enablement concepts in coaching sessions, it drives adoption and embeds those behaviors into the daily workflows of the sales reps. To do coaching well, sales enablement needs to rely on frontline managers to carry it out, but provide them with the tools and techniques they need to do so.

Enabling and establishing a strong partnership with frontline managers can have cascading benefits for sales enablement. By empowering frontline managers to better support their teams, sales reps receive the personalized attention they need to boost performance. Further, positive coaching and management help create a healthy, supportive sales culture, which can be crucial to retaining top sales talent.

With a strong bond between sales enablement and frontline managers, both can have visibility into where reps are struggling and need extra support, both from the birds-eye-view and on the ground. In prioritizing this partnership, sales enablement can ensure that frontline managers are helping to guide their teams to success every day in a formal and consistent way, aligned to sales enablement’s vision.

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