by Michael Lautner

In the 1980s, there was a popular cartoon depicting a knight charging into battle. Under a hail of arrows, he ignores a waiting salesperson with a dismissive cry: “I have no time for salesmen! Can’t you see I’ve got a battle to fight?”

The rejected seller’s offer: a machine gun.

Sellers have long appreciated the cartoon’s spot-on representation of the attitude they face in the field. But the panel also captures the relationship between sales operations and front-line sales managers. Managers, like the besieged knight, constantly dodge “arrows” and view demands from sales ops as additional incoming barbs. Sales ops, like the spurned salesman, has a solution that could eliminate many of those arrows—but also like the salesman, has not presented the “product” (metrics and data) in a way that captures managers’ attention.

Typically, sales operations is accountable for improved CRM usage by managers and their reps. We see these departments deliver reams of data, sometimes without highlighting what’s important and relevant to managers. And not surprisingly, we see busy sales managers deflecting sales ops in favor of more urgent issues.

Changing this dynamic to transform both sales performance and CRM usage starts with the sales operations team. Sales ops must approach sales managers not as impediments to driving better CRM usage, but as customers to whom they need to “sell” an offering. In the same way sellers seek to understand their clients, sales ops should meet with each front-line manager to understand their biggest challenges related to sales performance. The best data points can then be determined to shed light on those challenges.

For instance, say a manager is frustrated by low win rates. Following an examination of pipeline data it transpires there is a significant drop-off between opportunity qualification and influencing criteria. When this data and related insights is presented to the manager, he or she may realize coaching is needed to help reps better determine what constitutes a real opportunity. After focusing on this area with individual reps, the manager is likely to see an improvement in win rates.

Ultimately, it’s a virtuous cycle: when sales ops takes the time to understand managers’ biggest problems and effectively packages data and insights to address those problems, managers naturally begin to press their teams to update CRM, recognizing this as foundational to the data upon which they are coming to rely. We’ve seen it many times: by providing a great service to managers, sales operations often discovers managers no longer need to be pushed to improve CRM usage. Managers demand it themselves, knowing they can’t get critical insights if reps do not regularly update systems. As CRM becomes ever more current and accurate, insights from sales ops become even more valuable . . . and on and on. You get the picture.

When we talk about this idea with companies, sales ops often counters that they are already providing insightful data and that managers simply need to take the time to find what they need. But that’s the problem—managers don’t have the time. Expecting front-line managers to go line by line through all the numbers provided by sales operations to find something significant to them would be like dumping all a company’s sales literature on a prospect and expecting them to comb through it to see what’s relevant. It’s not going to happen.

By approaching sales managers as clients and delivering powerful insights that arm them to eliminate many of their incoming arrows, sales operations can create a powerful synergy that leads to improved cooperation—and improved revenues.

Michael Lautner is Vice President, Global Accounts at Vantage Point Performance, a global leader in sales management training. Michael is responsible for business development and key account management at Vantage Point. He has more than 30 years of experience in B2B sales, sales management, training, curriculum development and coaching across many industries. Michael is a graduate of Western Michigan University. Sign up for Vantage Point’s newsletter to stay up to date with the latest sales manager research and best practices.