Improving Frontline Sales Manager Effectiveness: Developing and Arming Managers for Seller Success

One main theme of the Gartner CSO & Sales Leader Conference was improving frontline sales manager effectiveness. A recent Gartner study showed that sales managers are the key to seller productivity, and development of frontline managers was the preferred driver for improving it by 33% of participants.  Gartner further identified the three areas where sales leaders need to hasten that manager development.  They are:

1.Acquire high quality manager
2.Develop managers’ ability
3.Arm managers for success

Acknowledging that sales management recruitment and staffing is an entirely separate discipline from sales management enablement and training, we’ll focus on numbers 2 and 3 in this article—and with the understanding that robust and actionable dashboards are essential to effective implementation.

Develop Managers’ Ability

Gartner contends that the key to developing managers is helping them identify strategic goals and then linking those goals to desired behaviors and KPIs.  While we support this stance, we assert that you need to take the process further by measuring your performance against your KPIs using both qualitative and quantitative standards.  Why?  Because qualitative standards, create common understanding between seller and manager by documenting and tracking what good looks like.

For example, it’s not enough to say you want to improve SMB revenue by increasing prospecting in the segment and recording the number of relevant leads generated and converted per month.  You need to go beyond, and measure things like research levels and identify key business drivers.  But, the problem is:

  • Determining qualitative standard performance is challenging
  • Linking qualitative standards to quantitative standards usually falls entirely upon the sales manager

Arm Managers for Success

Which brings us to the notion of arming managers.  There is usually plenty of content and information to enable managers and their sellers.  But, managers must often make the hard decisions around what gets utilized and how—meaning with what regularity—in addition to what topics to coach on.  Interestingly, our own research has found that the most successful sales managers coach less than their lower-performing counterparts.  They coach on fewer items for longer durations but do so less frequently.  That’s because they focus only on high-impact activities and coach with depth.

They also prepare.  Perhaps that goes without saying, but high-performing sales managers don’t wing it in their coaching calls.  They determine their Activity (their topic), the Conversation (their agenda, inputs, and outputs), and the Rhythm (the cadence of the intervention), and then they execute.  We recommend that these items be documented and codified—with three words of caution.  Don’t overengineer it.  Formalize your sales coaching but concentrate only on the most important activities. And, remember:  if everything is important, then nothing is.

Dashboard drill down

Gartner’s sales manager effectiveness presentation was meaningful for the whole Sales function but directed at Sales Ops.  So, it included recommendations around sales indicators and metrics, and specifically:

  • Producing dashboards that get used>Simplify dashboards to only showcase metrics relevant to use cases
  • Helping managers interpret content>Standardize metrics definitions across dashboards for consistency
  • Translating into action>Select and combine metrics to make next steps clear

This approach aligns with the VantagePoint Performance ROA Framework.  In fact, many of our clients leverage it to optimize their own dashboard metrics.

ROA Coaching Model
  • Results>
    Start with the results you want to achieve.
  • Objectives>
    Link the results to specific objectives that provide direction and guidance for salesperson effort.
  • Activities>
    Identify and coach the activities most closely aligned with achievement of sales objectives.

Note that we focus on sales activities rather than skills or metrics.  That’s because coaching to activities ensures clarity of task, which is the direct connection between the actions you are asking sellers to take and the results you are holding them accountable to achieve.  And, it’s worth noting that our own research shows that clarity of sales task is the most powerful predictor of seller motivation, accounting for more than three times the variance compared with incentive compensation.