Frontline Sales Manager Challenges – Same, Same, But Different!

11.14.15I had the pleasure to travel across Europe with the frontline sales manager story, “The Frontline Sales Manager’s Dilemma – Being a Coach, a Leader and a Business Manager” and to learn from different sales leaders in different countries what their perspectives, main challenges, and approaches are. Here is what I learned in London, Milan, and in Berlin in my home country. Madrid and Paris will follow early in 2016.

Executives agree on the current state of the FSM role

Poorly defined and enabled:
This is where all sales executives in all countries (and last year also in Australia, Asia, and the US) agreed: the frontline sales manager’s role is poorly defined and enabled. Role definitions are often only focused on results – not on how to get there. The huge relevance of leveraging the potential of an entire sales team with coaching is often not reflected appropriately; not in role definitions, metrics, or compensation. This is especially true in the so-called old industries. See details in our CSO Insights 2015 Sales Management Optimization Study.

Lack of tailored FSM development programs:
There was no country that did not diagnose the same problem: the lack of tailored development programs for frontline sales managers. It’s not that there are no training programs existing, but most organizations provide only standardized management and leadership courses, which are not tailored to the specific challenges of the frontline sales manager.

A sales executive had this to say about his early years as a newly promoted frontline sales manager in Berlin: “This is exactly the problem! I needed two years to figure it out on my own on a global level. There was nobody who helped me with that.” Many others in the audience nodded their heads, sharing the same experience.

Frontline sales managers need enablement – because “figuring things out” does not produce comparable results, is not repeatable, and most important, is not scalable.

Please have a look at this blog post on the subject of why frontline sales managers need enablement. And I have explained here why “figuring things out” is not a scalable sales leadership approach.

How do we address the issue, drive change, and get started?
Awareness, consciousness, research, data, and expertise combine to create a great story

The most difficult challenge for many executives is how to address the issue. Sales leaders shouldn’t only consider their investment in the FSM role, but also their involvement in the FSM development process. How sales leaders lead them and coach them may help or hinder the frontline sales managers in the future. This is an unspoken issue that seems to stop many good approaches in the very beginning.

Analyze the sales performance data:
People don’t want to get disturbed in their routine until the numbers are OK. But are the numbers really OK? In my experience, numbers are a great entry point, because even if numbers look “OK” on the top line, they are often not OK at all. What was discussed in all countries is the fact that producing recurrent revenue gets harder and harder every year, and, again, this is especially true in the old industries. Often, the top line seems to meet the goal, but the revenue growth in existing customers is actually declining. In parallel, there hasn’t been enough new business generated. Often, the famous “big deal” saves the fiscal year, which is mostly not the result of a structured approach.

Build an alignment with sales operations:
Enablement, training and sales executives who want to change this should build an alignment with sales operations to get transparency in the details of the numbers. That’s your foundation to incorporate our general research data into your specific context. Please ask for our CSO Insights research note Four Reasons to Invest in Frontline Sales Managers to get hard sales performance data (e.g., impact of coaching on win rates up to 9% and forecast accuracy). There is no reason for an ambitious sales leader not to invest in frontline sales managers.

Create your case and your story:
Put the things elements together – begin with creating awareness of the FSM role’s real challenges and complexities. The FSM Triangle and the driving license story can help you with that. Then, address the need to shift the focus from the rear view mirror to the windscreen. The FSM mantra story may help you with that. Now, you can build your case based on research, your own data analysis and an outline how to design a FSM development program. Our FSM maturity model and FSM capability framework may be of great assistance for you to build this case.

Related blog posts:

What Triangles Have To Do With Frontline Sales Managers

What Driving Licenses have to do with FSM Development

Frontline Sales Manager’s Mantra: Managing Activities and Coaching Behaviors

How the Frontline Sales Manager’s Mantra Drives Sales Effectiveness and Productivity

Frontline Sales Managers: What Are Their Key Capabilities?

Related Research Notes (membership required):

Four Reasons To Invest in Frontline Sales Managers

Assessing Frontline Sales Manager Maturity

Building A Case For FSM Development

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