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The sales enablement challenge has many facets to it, but whether you are tackling content, communications, training or motivation (to name just a few) – there is a limit to how much often small and understaffed enablement teams can accomplish on their own. In order to truly realize the value of sales enablement investments, you need to extend your reach and get to the sales teams where they live. And there is no better way to do that than by recruiting the front-line sales manager to be you enablement emissary. It really does take a village folks!
Now this is easier said than done, because let’s face it – frontline sales managers are on the front lines! Their success is completely dependent on making their number each quarter. Supporting and reinforcing an enablement plan that will make their salespeople more productive and develop their skills is important, but all too often good intentions are lost in the heat of making the number.
But what if you can enable the sales leaders to enable their teams? Is it possible to exponentially expand the impact and force of your enablement efforts by incorporating sales managers into your enablement strategy? So how do you make first line sales managers your partner in Sales Enablement?
At our final SalesCraft event of 2010, Walter Rogers of Baker Communications who specializes in coaching sales leaders walked us through the importance of investing in first-line managers as a critical component of a successful sales enablement strategy.
Walter presented some compelling data that brought home just how important front-line sales managers are to the business and highlighted the risk associated with failing to focus on this very important role within our sales organizations.
Not only are most of our sales manager’s coming into their roles with little or no training, many are basing their leadership approach on dated or ineffective styles of management that do little to retain and develop the best talent. What’s more, Walter shared a U.S. Bureau of the Census, International Data chart that showed the supply of skilled sales executives decreasing in both the U.S. and Europe over the next ten years. That means that not only will there be substantial competition for our best sales leaders, but that it will be hard to hire from the outside. It’s time to invest in developing this key segment.
Walter had more data than we had time to cover in one evening, so he focused on three key areas.
- Culture – Culture is a critical factor that determines how an individual responds to their environment. It is often overlooked or misunderstood. But a strong sales leader knows that culture has a significant impact on team performance. Walter suggested that sales leaders who understand this will leverage a strong culture where it exists and substitute an effective local culture when necessary to ensure the environment supports the team. Walter suggested honestly looking at the culture to determine if it is merit or entitlement based? Is the behavior characterized by straight talk or is it passive aggressive? And is the environment accountable or parental – meaning do individuals take responsibility for their actions or is there someone protecting them against possible repercussions? Once the assessment is made, take the necessary steps to enhance or adjust the culture to support the team.
- Coaching – The focus on this part of the discussion was on how to coach in the moment and make coaching part of the ongoing interaction and communication style between sales leaders and reps. How many of us really understand how to coach versus how to train? Is it a skill set we’ve cultivated in our sales manager’s? Walter showed examples of the differences between how a manager asks a question and how a coach will ask a similar question but achieve very different results. He also shared how the best sales leaders/coaches will breakdown questions into near term, long-term and situational scenarios.
- Leading Indicators – Walter suggested that while both lagging and leading indicators are relevant to managing the business, it is the leading indicators which indicate future success. These are often cause and effect efforts tied to pipeline, onboarding, account planning and more. By identifying the leading indicators for his or her team, a sales leader can manage to those outcomes and stay ahead of the game.
These concepts are a great starting point to understand how frontline sales managers can be more effective in their roles and as sales enablement teams look at where to invest scarce resources, it is something that is likely to have a big impact, but it will require dedication and follow-through to see results.
At the same time, leveraging these front-line sales leaders is low-hanging fruit for the sales enablement team. Here are some additional thoughts on how to “recruit” your sales managers to help you carry the sales enablement flag.
Create a Focus Group – This can be done formally or informally, but either way you must put the idea in front of your sales leaders and incorporate their interests and concerns into your plan. Ask questions!
- What are your priorities for enablement?
- How would you like the materials delivered?
- How do you see your role?
- How prescriptive should the program be?
- How would you reinforce and measure enablement efforts?
- How does this align with your personal development goals?
- What do you want to avoid.
Internal Selling – With your research complete you should have everything you need to put your plan together. Now you have to sell it. If your company is large enough to include regional sales directors and vice-presidents they must support the effort. Identify all of the key stakeholders and get their buy-in. This means you have the budget, staff and resources identified to pilot successfully. Set expectations now around what you will be asking for if the pilot succeeds.
Pilot with Metrics – Identify a set of front-line sales managers to pilot the program and determine how you will measure the impact. Select the pilot group based on enthusiasm and ability to influence the larger group and be an advocate for the program. Create success metrics that are both subjective and objective. Revenue impact is important, but can also take time and be hard to prove. Consider benchmarking the targeted teams on specific learning objectives at the beginning of the pilot and evaluate progress at the 90-day mark.
Rollout & Monitor Closely – As part of the pilot, commit the sales leaders to participating in a weekly call to determine what’s working and what needs to be adjusted. This is a great time to capture sound bites that you can use to update your leadership on the progress of the pilot. This is also an opportunity to teach your first line sales managers on how to enhance their coaching skills.
Hopefully this blog has given you some ideas on how to extend the reach of your sales enablement efforts by recruiting your frontline sales leaders to be your partner in sales enablement. Sales leaders like actionable, results-oriented activity and each and every one of them want to be better at what they do. Explore a program that both extends your reach with sales enablement and develops that very important and influential group of front-line sales leaders at your company.