First-Line Sales Managers Are Your Secret Agents Of Change
Spies. Secret agents. They represent a world of intrigue. When major change is disrupting some portion of humanity, a government force quietly sends in their top agent to resolve the issue, mitigate the risk, and get things back on track.
But even in movies and books, the best agents accomplish nothing without a great supporting team behind the scenes, providing deep intel, detailed plans, and — let’s face it — really cool gadgets.
There’s a parallel here with first-line B2B sales managers. They’re often asked to step up and right the ship when change initiatives start to go off track or when their sales teams don’t seem to put the same weight behind the different priorities coming their way from company leadership. You can relate, right? Like when sales operations had to define a new opportunity review process with managers because the sales forecast was radically inconsistent … or how about when sales enablement needed to build a new coaching program because the feedback from sellers on career development was, to be polite, less than stellar? And not to mention an oldie but a goodie: when you had to work with managers to retrain reps on your new sales methodology because adoption was abysmal.
But there’s a critical element that’s missing from our analogy: Sales managers often don’t get the deep intel, or cool gadgets, that help them be successful.
We need to change this.
Forrester data tells us that first-line sales managers (FLSMs) are crazy important to reps — reps who are not going to come to work for your organization or stick around if their direct manager isn’t inspirational to them. Bottom line, reps tell us that their own personal success is deeply rooted in their relationship with their direct manager.
FLSMs also act as a first line of support for reps to help establish priorities when too much is coming at them or to assist with any internal hurdles, such as knowing where to find what they need, figuring out who can assist with getting a proposal over the finish line, or determining who can cut through the red tape of pricing exceptions, as a few examples.
In turn, first-line managers tell us that they are craving support to help their teams. In fact, 78% of sales managers feel that, when they have the resources and support from above to advocate for their team members’ needs, it helps support their own success. Also, 79% of managers agree that “when I support a corporate or leadership initiative, it is easier for me to drive relevant behavioral change among my team members.”
But here’s the disconnect: Of these first-line managers telling us that having the right intel, tools, and gadgets can drive the change they need to be successful, only 59% feel that they are getting the training and development support they need.
This is a huge problem that needs to be fixed.
We need to be able to turn overworked and under-pressure managers into suave, prepared, and ready-to-go secret agents of change who are supported with the right tools, teamwork, and design. So how do we get there?
- First, define the rationale for the change and answer the question, “Why now?”
Identify the impact the change will have for not only the reps but for the manager, as well. It’s also important to identify the cost of doing nothing.
This is the step that is so often forgotten when developing any program, no matter how big or small. Identify why you are doing this program, why now, and create a vision for “What’s In It For Me?” (WIIFM) for each role.
- Align expectations with managers.
For example, do you need to implement a stronger coaching skills program for managers?
By aligning expectations between sales enablement and FLSMs, you’re looking to gain commitment that the managers are supporting the change and that they understand the impact for themselves and their teams. In turn, you’re committing to providing the support they’re asking from you.
- Create the enablement programs that support the first-line managers.
As you develop programs such as new-hire onboarding or a new certification program, be certain that what you are developing is hitting the mark with managers by soliciting their input early and often. Remember, you are building this together.
It should also be at this stage that you have determined appropriate program KPIs and reporting cadences with managers and leadership. What does success look like for the initiative? For example, is it a matter of having reps adopt new technologies? Basically, what behavior are you looking to change, and how are you going to measure success?
As a result, you should have a complete set of activities, assets, and tools — all clearly aligned to measurable and observable outcomes that can be assessed by the managers.
- Implement your program and begin to capture initial performance metrics.
At this stage, your managers should be fully prepared, know what to expect with the program, and know how to coach their teams to handle the change.
Even though you are implementing your programs and managers have been aligned from the beginning, open communication and feedback cadences remain critical in supporting managers every step of the way.
- The last step is to measure and adapt the program based on feedback and observed behaviors.
In your first step, you identified a need for a change in behavior; managers and leadership agreed that the change was needed. Did it happen? Is it happening at the rate that the company needs it to happen?
Here’s where you take into consideration all the feedback, agreed-upon KPIs, reporting, and assessments and then determine if you need to modify the program in any way — again, working together with managers and sales leadership.
By bringing managers in early, you’re building consensus — and trust is key. Whether your change will disrupt the world or a tiny portion of a sales rep’s day, sending in your top agent with the right intel and cool gadgets will effectively activate the change you need.