First line sales managers: at the heart of B2B sales success


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I know many CEOs believe that hiring the best sales people is the recipe for sales success, and of course, they are partly right. But there is a critical missing piece to that puzzle - and it’s not just about giving your new hires the right sort of product training…

The critical success factor - and it ought to be blindingly obvious, if you think about it - turns out to be the effectiveness of your first-line sales managers. Yet that’s often the place where sales performance problems have their roots.

You’ve probably seen the situation play out dozens of times: a vacancy emerges in the sales management team, and a top performing sales person gets promoted to fill it. After all, they can lead by example - can’t they?

And that assumption, of course, is where it all breaks down. Because it turns out that being a top sales performer is a hopelessly invalid predictor of that individuals’ ability to successfully lead a team of sales people.

Avoiding the obvious mistakes

Sometime the reason is predictable, and the issue avoidable. You probably know who your “lone wolf” sales people are, and you’ve learned to live with their anti-social behaviours, because if they didn’t keep the orders coming in, there’s no way you would tolerate them.

It’s blindingly obvious that promoting them would be a bad idea all around, and if they had any sense, they would probably refuse the promotion even if you were foolish enough to offer it to them. So organisations typically manage to avoid that most obvious of mistakes.

No: the real problem lies with high-performing sales people who appear to be well-integrated with their colleagues, and who behave like good corporate citizens - it’s just that a critical part of the front-line b2b sales managers skillset is missing.

Coaching - the pivotal skill

The ability to coach - to help sales people learn how to succeed through their own efforts rather than have the manager take over when the going gets tough - turns out to be a pivotal front line management skill. Yet it is so rarely taught.

Some of your front-line managers might have more of an innate talent that others, but experience has convinced me that intelligent new front-line managers can develop strong skills in this area with the right guidance and training.

So here’s the problem: even organisations that invest regularly in sales training often fail to invest in their front-line sales managers. It’s not that they are not involved in the same training as their sales people are - it’s obvious that they need to be.

Preparing your front-line leaders

The issue is the lack of specialised training and mentoring in the key skills needed to be an effective sales manager. Coaching is a big part of this, but it’s not the only area where development would often be beneficial.

What about running effective forecasting and pipeline review meetings? What about conducting continuous performance assessments? And what about opportunity and team coaching, as well as 1:1 sales person coaching?

What about the skills and techniques necessary to support the implementation of the company’s defined sales process? What about the effective use of the organisation’s CRM system? And what about the regular reinforcement required to make your company’s chosen sales training methodology stick?

A pivotal role

Your front line sales managers are pivotal in achieving all of this. But how much time and money are you allocating to their professional and personal development? My bet - in most cases - is that the answer is “not enough”.

And yet these are the very people you are relying on to make sure the numbers are made, to ensure that your expensive sales training investments deliver the desired results, and they are your critical change agents when driving new initiatives.

Are you really doing enough to support them?

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Bob Apollo
Bob Apollo is the CEO of UK-based Inflexion-Point Strategy Partners, the B2B sales performance improvement specialists. Following a varied corporate career, Bob now works with a rapidly expanding client base of B2B-focused growth-phase technology companies, helping them to implement systematic sales processes that drive predictable revenue growth.


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