Simply put, sales enablement is the tools, programs and strategies that help organizations achieve their sales goals. Norman Behar, chairman and managing director of Sales Readiness Group, identifies four elements of sales enablement: the sales process, tools and technology, training, and coaching. But there is one key component to sales enablement, without which any tool or process, no matter how well-designed, will likely not lead success. That component is effective sales management.

The sales manager is the lynchpin in each element of sales enablement, from ensuring that the sales process is aligned with the customer journey to providing coaching to each member of his or her sales team. “That’s why we’re seeing a big push right now for manager enablement,” says Elay Cohen, CEO and co-founder of SalesHood. Companies should “pull the managers into the enablement process, and let them know that they can’t just be a manager who runs deals; they’ve got to be a manager who develops their people.”

To support managers in that responsibility, SalesHood launched an “Expert System for Sales Managers” earlier this month. The platform automates the delivery of coaching tips, content recommendations and workflow to give sales managers the template for the coaching, training and meeting management that are critical to team success. “What we’re doing with the expert system,” Cohen says, “is pulling the managers into the enablement process, and we’re saying, ‘You have an active role.’”

The most important way for sales managers to take that active role, Behar says, is coaching. “That’s the frontline manager’s most important skill. It’s the one that I think most closely ties to results, because it really empowers the sales team and helps them become better at opportunity management and also improving selling skills.” In fact, sales coaching was identified by respondents to a Training Industry, Inc. and Sales Performance International survey as one of the areas most likely to impact job performance.

Helping Sales Managers Become Sales Coaches

“A good coach,” says Behar, “is somebody who can really improve motivation, who empowers their sales team, helps their salespeople improve how they sell and improves win rates.” The problem is that most sales managers are promoted because of their success as sales reps – not as coaches. That’s why it’s important to train your sales managers in how to lead and coach their reps.

“Managers tend to think they’re coaching when they’re actually just telling their employees what to do,” wrote Julia Milner, a professor and researcher at EDHEC Business School, and Trenton Milner, general manager of the International Centre for Leadership Coaching, in a recent Harvard Business Review article. “The good news is that managers can improve their coaching skills in a short amount of time … but they do have to invest in learning how to coach in the first place.”

Behar recommends creating a coaching culture, collaborating with sales managers to identify areas of improvement, making sure salespeople have ownership of their coaching and development plans, and consistently following up on coaching activities. Additionally, the following best practices are based on research by Training Industry, Inc. and Richardson:

  • Implement frequent sales coaching programs to help managers practice coaching skills.
  • Formalize the structure of coaching.
  • Train coaches on product and service portfolios, the sales process, and how that process is linked to business outcomes.
  • Gamify coaching to increase coachees’ motivation and engagement.
  • Support coaching through multiple delivery modalities, such as videos and phone simulations.
  • Adapt coaching based on the experience level of the sales employee.

A Comprehensive Sales Management Strategy

Sales management encompasses more than coaching, of course. Make sure your sales managers are effective at these other key responsibilities as well:

  • Hiring: HR may help sales managers identify candidates, Behar says, but the manager is usually the one doing the interviewing. “Make sure they know how to conduct a behavior-based interview and how to compare candidates to select the right people.”
  • Performance management: “What are those key performance indicators,” asks Behar, and “what are the results you’re trying to achieve?”
  • Leadership: In addition to coaching, sales managers must develop other critical leadership skills, such as communicating vision, gaining buy-in to that vision, and motivating and inspiring employees.
  • Delegation: Related to leadership is delegation. One of the biggest mistakes Cohen says he sees sales managers make is trying to make a deal themselves instead of helping their reps make deals. “Managers end up developing the deals and developing the transactions versus developing their people and helping them become top performers.” While this approach may work in the short term, in the long run, you end up with a group of one or two high performers who carry the team’s attainment.

From coaching reps to leading sales strategy, the sales manager is key to enablement success. Make sure your managers are well trained in providing reps the support and leadership they need to be successful.

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