How to Make 2017 The Year of Sales Manager Enablement

By Mike Kunkle

As 2016 draws to a close, sales organizations are assessing what worked – and where improvement is needed – to drive even better results in 2017. With one in five companies offering their sales managers no training at all (CSO Insights), there’s ample room for improvement in sales manager enablement.

Buoyed by the strong results it generates, sales manager enablement will, I predict, continue to blossom and become more mainstream next year. Am I right? Only time will tell, but maybe we can give it a collective nudge.

Sales Manager Enablement Momentum

Some thought-leaders are already championing the cause. Tamara Schenk of CSO Insights has been at the forefront, citing the need for and impact of sales manager enablement. Consultant Mike Weinberg speaks frankly about the folly of how we get in the way of sales success. And thought-leader Dave Brock recently published a book that could be the foundation for an entire sales manager enablement program. These are just three great examples.

A True Story about Sales Manager Enablement: The Request

Personally, I often quip that, if I had a dollar to spend on sales training, I’d spend 75 cents on managers. There’s a reason for this, and I’d like to share a quick story and takeaways to help you take bold steps toward better enabling managers to transform sales results.

Back when I was consulting, a senior sales leader at a mid-market technology firm approached me, concerned that his frontline sales managers weren’t coaching. When I asked how he knew that, he cited a recent survey with lackluster feedback from reps on how they were (or mostly weren’t) being coached.

The Analysis: Too Many Meetings, Too Much Reporting, Too Much Bureaucracy

The leader wanted me to train his managers to be effective coaches. However, I’ve never been much of an order-taker without validating the performance need, so I first reviewed the survey results and set up conference calls with the frontline managers and their sales leaders.

What I heard from managers was that they were swamped with too many meetings, too much reporting, bureaucratic “C.Y.A.” activities, and more that prevented them from coaching in the first place. To validate that, we did a focus group, laying out all the things managers were being asked to do and documenting estimates for how long each should take.

As it turned out, managers were being asked to fit 110 hours of work in a week (which leaders deemed a conservative estimate). Obviously, not everything could get done, and managers prioritized based on what headquarters or executives were reviewing – none of which centered on coaching or performance management.

The Solution

Senior executives and sales leaders had an “aha” moment, took ownership, and made changes, including

  • Offloading many of managers’ administrative tasks
  • Reducing meeting requests
  • Redefining sales manager roles, with a primary focus on hiring, field training and coaching, pipeline management, forecast management, customer/prospect issue resolution, strategic account development guidance, and team leadership and performance management
  • Defining sales manager competencies and assessing frontline managers against them, with individual development plans
  • Developing a manager training curriculum and implementing an effective learning system to ensure managers’ knowledge sustainment, skills transfer, and mastery – culminating in a sales manager certification
  • Establishing a cadence or management operating rhythm and holding managers accountable for executing on it

Takeaways to Make 2017 the Year of Sales Manager Enablement

The investment and discipline paid off. Manager training was completed in late Q1, and, by year-end, the company had a top-line revenue lift of more than 34 percent, finishing the year over quota. The company subsequently reported a decrease in rep turnover, along with faster ramp-up times for new sales hires.

The strategies implemented represent best practices other organizations can incorporate. Additional tips and takeaways to make 2017 the year of sales manager enablement include:

    • Make the commitment. There’s a lot of boardroom head-nodding about the importance of frontline sales managers, but taking aligned action with top-down support is what produces results.
    • Get the role expectations and competencies right. Train to those competencies.
    • Provide the right tools to help managers work more efficiently and enable them to increase their time with reps and focus on what really matters.
    • Hire (or rent) someone to coach your coaches. Just as with reps, managers need knowledge sustainment, transfer support, and coaching too, so training sticks.
    • Measure the behaviors and outcomes you expect, and report on them transparently.
    • Capture the output of sales coaching sessions. Regardless of where you do so (be it your CRM, LMS, or HRIS/performance management system), capture them somewhere so analytics can be run pre- and post-coaching to see the impact, and so sessions and action plans can be viewed and reviewed by others.

When you enable your frontline sales managers in these ways, you’ll get far better results from your sales force and have the best chance of meeting or exceeding your sales plan. Good luck in 2017!

Mike Kunkle is a renowned strategist, practitioner, speaker, and writer in the field of sales. Mike has more than two decades of experience leading sales training, productivity, and performance initiatives. He is senior director of sales readiness consulting at Brainshark, a leading provider of sales readiness software. Prior to Brainshark, Mike spent 21 years as a corporate leader and consultant, helping companies drive dramatic sales results through best-in-class learning strategies and sales performance methodologies. You can follow Mike on Twitter at @Mike_Kunkle.

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