How Sales Operations Can Enable the First-Line Sales Manager

Sophie Grais

Sophie Grais

How Sales Operations Can Enable the First-Line Sales Manager

It’s an old story: an exceptional sales rep is promoted after stellar performance in the field. Yet sales management proves nothing like selling, and many first-line managers enter their roles bewildered, with an eager team of reps seeking answers on pipeline management, sales forecasting… and more.

So as a Sales Ops leader, how can you help your first-line sales managers succeed? This question was the focus of our EXCEED roundtable discussion in San Francisco, where SiriusDecisions Senior Research Director Steve Silver facilitated the conversation with Sales Ops leaders from leading technology companies. Below are a few of their best strategies:

1. Train your first-line sales managers and enable success through shadowing.

Consider what core competencies you value in a first-line manager, and then consider which can be taught. For example, you can teach someone how to use a new tool, but coaching is a harder topic. For those more challenging areas, assign every new manager to a more experienced “buddy” who can help them answer the tough questions: now that you’re a manager, how do you bring more ownership and direction to client meetings? How do you build relationships with your reps that enable you to connect and coach them — and not just be their friend? These softer skills can be learned through shadowing more experienced managers, who likely encountered similar issues in their early days.

2. Differentiate between management for SMB and enterprise sales.

The role of a first-line manager for an SMB sales team will differ from the role of a first-line manager on an enterprise team. On SMB teams, reps may be closing smaller deals more frequently, so managers need to be less personally involved with deal execution. They might spend more time coaching their reps on holistic deal management. Enterprise managers, on the other hand, may more on on strategic engagement; enterprise deals are usually fewer, but larger, so managers might be involved in at least half of the deals that close. Consider mapping your sales manager competencies for each area and designing trainings around those areas.

3. But standardize your metrics between the two areas.

Whether your first-line managers focus on SMB or enterprise, standardize metrics across the board. Consistency will not only eliminate confusion across teams, but will also ease the transition for reps promoted to manager roles. They already understand the major business insights at their disposal, and what they are expected to provide. One customer recommended analyzing productivity versus time in the role. In general, the relationship between the two is linear: productivity increases as time in the role increases. The next challenge becomes to accelerate that growth. How can you make your managers more productive from day one — not Q4? A standard set of metrics will go a long way toward accomplishing that objective.

4. Expect ownership: of deals and the market.

As sales managers oversee their reps’ activity in the field, they gain incredible insight into market dynamics. What are prospects saying? Which way is the market trending? Encourage your first-line sales managers to convey the voice of the customer. When sales managers communicates their sales forecasts, they should be able to communicate a broader sense of what’s happening in the market. The best first-line sales managers can analyze trends in rep activity and customer interactions to gauge larger market shifts. That’s what separates the ok ones from the good ones.

How do you ensure your first-line sales managers are set up for success? To continue the conversation on Sales Operations, including learning about local EXCEED events in your area, join the EXCEED community on LinkedIn.

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