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ATD Blog

ICE 2012 Sales Enablement Zone Blog Series 4-4


Wed Apr 04 2012


The job of the front-line sales manager is one of the most challenging jobs in any organization. They are part player and part coach.  They are part CFO and part IT director.  They must answer to their leaders and cater to their sellers.  They are always accountable, but rarely in control.  All told, sales managers should be the recipients of a tremendous amount of training and development.

Sales management is hard to develop and train, though. Most sales training is targeted at salespeople, as well as most sales processes and tools. Most training aimed solely at the sales manager level is one of two flavors: 1) generic leadership training – such as Situational Leadership, or 2) generic coaching training designed to facilitate positive interpersonal interactions. Neither of these forms of generic training help managers improve the way they perform their job on Monday morning. Oftentimes, sales managers are left to connect the dots between the training they’ve received and the best way to implement that training on the job. Because much of the training sales managers receive is either targeted at the wrong level or generic in nature, they become jaded and resistant to training. No hard-working sales manager wants to take time out of the field to attend the latest ‘solution selling’ program or a leadership training that has no real staying power.


What is needed is a new set of innovative and practical frameworks that can help sales managers actually manage sales. For such a training program to be exceedingly valuable, it should accomplish four critical things:  1) It must focus on the sales manager’s unique role.  2) It must be focused on near-term value and applicability. 3) It must tie to the metrics the manager is measured against.  4) It must have built-in reinforcement. Let’s tackle each of these items in more depth.

So, what is the key to focusing on the sales manager’s unique role? The training must focus on the unique aspects of the sales roles that report to an individual sales manager. If a sales manager is managing a team of inside salespeople, he or she has a remarkably different challenge than a sales manager who manages a team of national account managers. Consequently, the content of the training has to apply to the realities of the sales roles that the manager supervises, because different sales roles require different sales processes, tools, and associated metrics .

In order to ensure sales manager training has near-term value and applicability, we must build upon and amend a manager’s current practices. For example, if a sales manager already holds weekly one-on-one discussions with each of their salespeople, it will be much more productive to adjust what happens during those existing one-on-ones, rather than fundamentally change the rhythm for that sales manager. If sellers are using existing tools, it is much more productive to leverage the use of those tools, rather than replace them with other tools. In the spirit of continuous improvement, a series of small changes is much more palatable and practical than a fundamental change in the way a sales manager does their job.

For training to tie to the appropriate metrics, the manager must see a clear line of sight between the content of the training and the likelihood of achieving desired sales results.  For example, if a sales manager is measured against forecast accuracy and the health of the pipeline, the training must provide skills, tools, and processes that directly impact both forecast accuracy and pipeline health. The content of the training might include rigorous criteria for inclusion in the pipeline as well as coaching tools to better qualify good deals into the pipeline and keep bad deals out. If it is up to the individual manager to make the connection between the training and the desired outcomes, it is unlikely to happen.

To ensure training is sustainable, we must address the system that the sales manager resides within. The tools, processes, and metrics associated with the manager’s current role must be incorporated into the training. And the training must reflect the actual environment of the sales manager. The more closely the training resembles the real world, the more likely the manager will embrace it and apply it immediately on the job.


Finally, a critically important component of the system is the sincere involvement and support of sales leadership. It doesn’t matter if a front-line sales manager has great intentions to change their behavior if their sales leader continues with business as usual. Sales leadership’s involvement in and endorsement of the training is a key enabler of long-term training sustainability.

To learn more about the most effective way to train sales managers, attend our “Training Sales Managers: How to Develop this Critical Role” session on May 8, 2012 from 1:45 – 3:00 PM at the ASTD International Conference and Exposition in Denver, Colorado. You can also purchase our groundbreaking new book, Cracking the Sales Management Code, released in October of 2011 by McGraw Hill. Our book provides an operating manual for sales managers and is available at Amazon.com,  800ceoread.com, Barnes & Noble, and many other book retailers.

If you'd like more, please consider attending ASTD 2012 where you can hear Michelle Vazzana at her session in Denver.

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