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2013: The Year of the First-Line Sales Manager

November 28, 2012|Jim Ninivaggi

We call it the first-line sales manager paradox: While most sales leaders agree that it is one of the most important roles (if not THE most important role), the first-line sales manager is also the role that receives the least support, structure and guidance.

Here in the United States, much of the post-election news coverage is focused on the so-called “fiscal cliff” we are fast approaching. At the end of this year, unless action is taken, certain federal tax rates will rise, while several budget items will be slashed. No matter who they voted for, most Americans would agree that our current fiscal situation of spending well above our means is not sustainable. How we are working simply is not working – and unless we change, we can expect more of the same in future years.

One can take a similar view when it comes to first-line sales managers in b-to-b sales organizations. We call it the first-line sales manager paradox: While most sales leaders agree that it is one of the most important roles (if not THE most important role), the first-line sales manager is also the role that receives the least support, structure and guidance. Indeed, during a recent webcast we conducted on building a sales management system, when asked to describe the hiring and onboarding process for first-line sales managers, 65 percent of attendees responded with “We promote our best reps and hope for the best.”

Sales force automation adoption. Implementing a new sales methodology. Accelerating new hires’ time to productivity. Moving from product- to solution-oriented selling. These are just a few of the common initiatives that sales organizations will undertake in 2013. Many will fail for one simple reason: lack of first-line sales management support. But organizations that realize that the way they have been working simply isn’t working, and are looking to make 2013 the year they will finally solve their sales management paradox, are more likely to see their initiatives succeed. To begin, organizations need to isolate and create a developmental path for the five key roles we see managers playing:

  • Manager: This is the traditional role played by first-line sales managers – and 83 percent of webcast participants highlighted this role as more developed in their organizations. Responsibilities include managing pipeline and forecast, running internal interference and conducting joint calls. Here the focus is to increase efficiencies so managers have more time to perform their other roles.
  • Leader: Part of the manager’s job is to motivate, inspire and turn strategy into execution. This is especially vital for any transformational sales organization.
  • Coach: 61 percent of webcast attendees indicated that this is the role they want to focus on in developing their first-line sales managers. Sales is a skills game that is ultimately about improving human performance. Without proper coaching, improving sales effectiveness is almost impossible.
  • Trainer: Continuous improvement requires ongoing learning. To augment and enhance online training and formal training events, managers need to provide just-in-time training in the field.
  • Recruiter: Finding the best talent is one of the most important roles any manager can play. First-line sales managers need to maintain a bench of talent to minimize fallow territories and ensure competitiveness.

Jim Ninivaggi

Jim Ninivaggi is Service Director, Sales Enablement Strategies, at SiriusDecisions. Jim’s focus is on helping to deliver data, knowledge and insight that our clients need to improve sales performance and drive ROI. Follow Jim on Twitter @jninivaggi.
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