Maximize the Impact of Your Front-Line Sales Managers

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Generally speaking, the mindset about getting more from sales training for front-line sellers has slowly evolved and improved over time. More sales leaders, training leaders, and sales enablement leaders are attuned to the reasons why sales onboarding and ongoing rep training don’t produce better results. In response, many are adjusting content, how they train, and how they reinforce that training to foster adoption and produce a return on investment.

Unfortunately, the way we train and develop front-line sales managers has not evolved nearly as much. This is a troubling reality but also represents a huge opportunity for many organizations. An investment in your front-line sales managers can yield excellent returns.

If I had only one dollar to spend on sales training, I’d spend seventy-five cents on the sales managers. Research showed an increase in revenue and customer satisfaction for companies with skilled sales managers. Wilson Learning found “high-skill” sales managers drove 29 percent higher revenue performance and 16 percent higher customer satisfaction than managers with low-skill ratings.

Research showed an increase in revenue and customer satisfaction for companies with skilled sales managers.

Front-line sales managers can be a performance lever for change and a force multiplier to amplify your organization’s sales training efforts. But how do you maximize the potential of your front-line sales managers?

Develop Effective Front-Line Sales Managers by Removing Barriers

Many organizations overburden their sales managers with meetings, assignments, committees, manual reporting, and other tasks or responsibilities that reduce the time they can spend with their team. This is completely counterproductive. To have the best chance of maximizing their impact, you must remove the barriers to front-line sales manager engagement with their teams.

Let’s look at the steps you can take to turn your front-line sales managers into that force multiplier for exponential growth.

Step 1: Teach managers how to use sales analytics to diagnose improvement areas

Do you teach your front-line sales managers how to use the analytics you provide or how to diagnose sales performance issues? Hardly anyone does this. Teach your managers how to read reports, analyze results, tie shortfalls or growth opportunities to skills and behaviors, and then determine the appropriate path forward.

In the same way that your sales reps diagnose a root cause and apply a proper solution to resolve a customer’s problem, sales managers must diagnose and apply the proper solution to improve sales performance. For example:

  • Training is the right solution when reps don’t know what, why, or how to do something.
  • Coaching is the right solution when they know what, why, and how, but need to do it better.
  • Neither training nor coaching will solve a problem caused by misaligned consequences.

Using our adaptation of Fournies’ reasons for non-performance (our Solutions Chart from Sales Coaching Excellence), can be extremely helpful in this regard.

Step 2: Ensure managers are process and methodology experts

Many solutions to performance shortfalls or growth opportunities lie within better process management and higher quality sales methodology execution.

Sales Process & Methodology within the Customer Lifecycle
Click to view image enlarged.

The diagram is just one example of a sales process aligned to the customer lifecycle (including the buying process), and the elements of sales methodology that support the processes. Both processes include stages, the objectives per stage, the tasks to perform to reach the objectives, and the exit criteria, or those critical-path tasks that must be completed to exit the stage.

The tasks in the sales process include the methodology, or the buyer- and client-facing selling tasks. Whatever your process, and whichever methodology your company uses, sales managers must master both. And, aside from the obvious reasons why, managing the process (what and when) and effectively executing the sales methodology (how and how well) are often what’s needed to improve seller performance.

Step 3: Teach field training and sales coaching models

Once an issue or opportunity is diagnosed and the correct solution is determined (both solution type – such as field training or sales coaching – and solution content), the manager needs to implement the solution with their rep. This is where training and coaching models come into play.

When training is the right solution, managers should use an effective field training model. We use the Tell/Show/Do/Review model.

When coaching is the right solution, managers should use an effective coaching model. We use the Engage/Practice/Do/Review model. If it’s a simple matter of clarifying expectations or providing effective feedback, this can be done separately, or as part of either model.

Click to image enlarged.

Field Training

  • Tell: Manager trains with rep knowledge check (summary/recap)
  • Show: Manager demos with rep skills validation (role play)
  • Do: Rep develops an action plan with manager support and executes
  • Review: Meet again to check progress with train/coach Loop

Sales Coaching

  • Engage: Manager leads an engaged discussion, with joint solution design
  • Practice: Rep practices the skills with their manager (feedback and coaching) 
  • Do: Rep develops an action plan with manager support and executes
  • Review: Meet again to check progress with train/coach loop
Sales Coaching Excellence, SCE

Sales Coaching Excellence

Develop sales managers into sales coaches.

Identify ways to help reps maximize performance in targeted areas. Establish a regular coaching cadence to help reps attain sales mastery and achieve the best results possible.

Step 4: Implement a sales management operating system

A sales management operating system helps FLSMs identify the right management activities and the right meetings to hold and engage their team.

Click image to view enlarged.
  • Activities: Ensure the right activities are identified (those in the diagram are only examples). A system ensures the best practices are in place and executed effectively for all sales management activities, and that an effective cadence is implemented for each activity.
  • Meetings: Ensure the right team and rep meetings are identified. Conduct each meeting effectively using known best practices and do so in the right recurring cadence for each meeting type.

Working with sales leadership and managers to implement these elements of the Sales Management Operating System is one of the most impactful things you can do to develop front-line sales managers. These elements help support them in operating at their highest possible level of efficiency and effectiveness.

Step 5: Develop a coaching culture with a cadence of continuous improvement

Next, beyond just having the previously discussed elements of coaching in place, it’s time to implement the full sales coaching framework. The Sales Coaching framework supports the coaching process with loops until skills improve and the desired results are achieved. And then, the entire process loops back to the beginning to start again.

Click image to view enlarged.

This framework, often cycled quarterly or biannually, fosters a coaching culture, and creates a cadence of continuous improvement. Developing your front-line sales managers to implement such a framework with the previous steps will turn them into the force multiplier for exponential growth.

Stretch Further to Reap Even More Rewards

Lastly, ensure sensible use of all available sales technology and train managers to understand it and support their reps in using it effectively.

  • Stay the course with steps 1-5 above.
  • Measure/Evaluate/Adjust as needed until you achieve results.
  • Report results and share success stories: Make your managers heroes. This won’t be hard, because when you develop them to do the above, even they will be surprised by the impact they make and how their teams improve.

Maximize the potential of your front-line sales managers by removing the daily barriers that limit their effectiveness.

Many companies focus on training their sales reps, but training front-line sales managers is just as important if not more. Ensure your front-line sales managers effectively manage a team by developing their skills in interpreting sales results and diagnosing performance issues to determine solutions. Enabling them to know when to coach and when to train the sales team is also a valuable skill that helps them engage with reps effectively.

There is a great opportunity to invest in front-line sales managers through training, which reinforces your organization’s sales training overall. Maximize the potential of your front-line sales managers by removing the daily barriers that limit their effectiveness.

If some or many of the concepts in this article were new for you, this might seem daunting. That’s normal. Taken one piece at a time; it’s easier than you might think. Top-down support is required, but given the possible gains, you should be able to secure that, even if it requires a pilot. As the old saying goes, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

To start maximizing the impact of your front-line sales managers, we’re here to help. Explore our sales management resources for tips and insights to help your company build and lead a best-in-class sales team.

Sales Coaching Excellence

Build a culture of better sales coaching.

Sales Coaching Excellence is a training program that provides a solid framework to transform sales managers into sales coaches. Fast-track your sales talent development through coaching.

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