Why Frontline Managers Should be the Stars of Your Sales Enablement Strategy_ Top Five Takeaways

What is sales enablement? The definition can vary greatly depending on who you ask. Most often, Sales Enablement is defined as “Salesperson Enablement” – or how we help our salespeople to execute day-to-day responsibilities. Astute organizations realize that just as important, if not more, is the notion of Sales Manager Enablement. This includes providing frontline managers with the tools, training and technology they need to elevate the skills and stature of their sales team.

To better understand how to incorporate this key component into a comprehensive sales enablement strategy, Sandler invited three enablement experts to come together for an interactive discussion focused on one of the most overlooked subjects of enablement – frontline managers.

Our panel included Andrew Quinn, Vice President, Sales Productivity and Enablement at HubSpot; Michelle Kanan, Sales & Productivity Lead at Amazon; and David Mattson, President and CEO of Sandler. Damon Jones, Head of Global Strategy & Growth at Sandler moderated the discussion.

Here are the top 5 takeaways to consider when you’re working to make frontline managers the stars of your enablement strategy. You can watch the entire discussion for additional takeaways and details here.

1. Align and define the role of Sales Managers

When thinking about sales manager enablement, managers need to know in advance what their role will be. In many organizations, sales managers have been pinch hitting as sales enablement. If you consider how enablement first takes shape, its usually by sales managers or top reps taking time of out the day to do the heavy lifting. When an organization commits to taking the leap to hire full-time sales enablement resources, the responsibilities between sales enablement and what the organization has previously been asking managers to do, can create blurred lines of responsibility. Sales leaders should plan to sit down and explicitly outline roles and responsibilities, rather than assume all stakeholders will eventually sort it out. There must be clear lines as to where each respective role starts and ends.

2. Create a culture of mutual accountability

When sales managers ask for an educational program and enablement shows up to run the training, but no subsequent behavior change occurs across the sales team, neither side wants to take blame for that. To avoid this game of hot potato, sales leaders must create a culture of mutual accountability. For this to occur, sales enablement needs to take responsibility for the strategy while working in tandem with sales managers to help them to identify the gaps. This must be agreed upon up front (think Sandler’s Up-front Contract) and intertwined with a reinforcement strategy. Siloed training sessions won’t foster accountability. Accountability lies in the reinforcement phase that needs to take place day-to-day.

3. Smooth the wave – coordinate, sequence and communicate

Organizations lay so much at the feet of frontline sales managers – from connection to customers, to a feedback loop back to organization, to coaching sales reps, to hitting sales numbers, and so much more. Each month sales managers face a big wave from organization with all sorts of new initiatives – products, campaigns, go-to-market strategies, trainings, etc. The job of sales enablement is to try to knock that wave down by serving as “friction reduction.” The key to smoothing the wave is an ongoing plan to coordinate, sequence and communicate enablement activities. Everyone wants to help sales organization, but sales managers can’t be drowning in trying to make quota at the same time. Being a trusted gatekeeper, calming the wave, and prioritizing for sales managers is critical.

4. Don’t assume rock star reps make rock star managers

One of the biggest challenges in sales manager enablement is that many who are promoted into the role, arrive without management experience. They are often top performers from the field who are assumed to naturally make for top performing leaders.

As a result, organizations are taking top performers as reps and turning them into mediocre managers because they don’t take the time to evaluate true capacity for leadership. On top of that, sales managers are not receiving the tools, training, and enablement that help them to get any better. While some figure it out, others cling to what made them successful as a rep, which is often pure force and grit. This approach can trickle down and impact other reps, who go on to mimic the same cycle of bad management habits.

Part of the role of sales manager enablement is to help evaluate leadership capacity. A pure quota buster may not have the ability to lead other people to success. This requires a change in mindset to retool the best core competencies expected for sales managers. Consistently hitting revenue numbers makes for a rock star rep, but inspiring others to follow you, is what makes for a rock star leader.  

5. Build a pipeline of frontline managers

We’ve already seen that taking a top performing and plunking him or her into a sales manager seat doesn’t work. A pipeline is needed to move people up as they build their competencies and get ready for the next role. That is where sales manager enablement comes in.

When building program, enablement has the unique ability to bring all sales managers together. There are often very few instances where they can come together to learn what it means to be a sales manager, gain new skills, understand how to leverage enablement, and so on. Sales manager enablement is not just about onboarding, it’s helping managers to move into the day-to-day role and succeeding at it. 

Also important is to position sales enablement as the “source of truth” for the discipline of sales management and continuously fine-tune the core competencies that the organization expects managers to possess. For example, what is the right way to forecast, what is the right way to have a 1-on-1, what is the right way to coach, what are the best practices to do those functions and so on.

The best sales managers are those who help people succeed on their own terms. Sales managers that try to clone themselves always struggle. Enablement can create simple frameworks to help managers to learn, do and master the skills needed to get on the path to proficiency.

Remember, Sales Enablement is process, not an event. Skills adoption and knowledge acquisition should be continuously applied throughout the sales career, with reinforcement serving as the conduit for true behavior change. When organizations invest in sales enablement, the investment will invariably earn a higher ROI if sales manager enablement is a core part of their strategy.

Click here to watch the full panel discussion on-demand.

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