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Avoid These 3 Sales Manager Enablement Mistakes [Q&A with Tamara Schenk]

May 30th, 2017


More than 80% of organizations invest in training for sales managers, according to 2017 CSO Insights Sales Manager Enablement Report. That may sound promising, but nearly half of those companies spend less than $500 per year on sales manager enablement programs. Those meager investments often fail to provide value for managers and their reps.

“Sales strategies are implemented at the frontline, or not at all – we cannot forget that sales managers are responsible for implementing sales strategies,” said Tamara Schenk, research director at CSO Insights. “The main sales enablement — and sales manager enablement — mistakes arise from underestimating the complexity of the sales manager role, and its huge relevance for implementing sales strategies and driving sales performance.”

I asked Tamara to share some insight on common sales manager enablement mistakes to avoid and here’s what she said:

What are the most common sales manager enablement mistakes and how can they be avoided to optimize sales enablement investments?

TS: Here are three of the most common sales manager enablement mistakes I encounter:

1. Enabling sales managers with a generic manager development or coaching program

Many organizations say they provide sales manager enablement – but in reality, they only offer general leadership and coaching programs that don’t align with the sales manager’s unique role and challenges. This mistake is a direct consequence of treating sales managers like any other manager role. As discussed in our blog and in the 2017 CSO Insights Sales Manager Enablement Report, the sales manager role is highly complex and involves navigating customers, business and people.

Organizations may onboard new managers with a set of internal management policies and teach them how to conduct performance reviews according to HR’s prescribed standards. They may also send their managers to offsite seminars that teach them management and leadership skills. These programs are great as a foundational layer but they don’t teach the specific skills and behaviors needed to lead the sales team’s efforts in the field.

Sales manager enablement programs are most effective when they are aligned to the complexity of the role. Sales managers must deepen their knowledge in the areas of the business and customers, as well as existing skills. Most importantly, they must develop additional skills from scratch, such as coaching and hiring (if this happens to be their first managerial role).

2. Assuming that effective coaching only requires coaching skills

To be effective, sales coaching requires more than just excellent coaching skills. Often times, sales managers complete a general coaching program but become frustrated because they struggle to apply what they have learned. Learning how to coach is essential, but to become a successful frontline sales coach, coaching must be specifically tailored to the situation, which requires a formalized coaching approach.

Almost 50% of our study participants have a random coaching approach where coaching is left up to managers. This approach led to win rates of 42%. Another 25% have an informal approach, which means there might be coaching guidelines but no coaching process or formal implementation. This approach led to win rates of 48%. The last 25% have a formal or dynamic coaching approach, meaning the coaching process has been defined, follows the customer’s buying journey, and sales managers have been trained and given coaching guidelines for sales scenarios, customer journey phases, and more. This led to the highest win rates – more than 12 points higher at 60%.

Related: The Most Common Misconceptions about Sales Coaching

3. Underestimating sales managers as very special internal customers

This misconception is based on the idea of simply replicating the enablement approach for salespeople. It won’t work for three reasons:

  • Sales managers are not used to being developed in the first place. Putting them in a program without framing the specific expectations and objectives might foster a defensive attitude. “I need sales training? Ridiculous!”
  • There should be a pilot program for sales manager enablement in order to test key parts of the program with top sales managers.
  • Schedule time for them to find themselves in their roles. It may sound unnecessary, but it’s very important, especially in organizations where sales managers are responsible for every single sales problem, but are not supported accordingly, because their responsibility is perceived as simply “making the numbers.”

The most important ingredient in a sales manager enablement program is the sales leader’s full support and sponsorship. Let the sales leader nominate top sales managers to form the pilot group. Take the time to integrate them in your program design and approach. Make them feel that this is a joint initiative and that they are welcome to co-create the program.

Finally, encourage them to build a sales manager community to coach and mentor each other and to strengthen the role in the organization.

For more information on sales manager enablement: