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In this podcast, I talk to Natalie Bering of ServiceNow on how to support frontline managers by coaching them to think big, maximizing their 1-on-1 time with staff, and focusing on professional development. Keep reading to find out more.

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In this article:

  1. What Are Frontline Managers?
    1. Coach Your High-Potential Leaders
    2. Help Them in Discussing the Pipeline
    3. Give Context to the Numbers Game
    4. Make the 1-on-1s Count
    5. Make Time and Make It Non-Negotiable
    6. Have a Shared Document
    7. Add a Personal Touch
    8. Start High, Then Go Deep
    9. Balance Praise and Opportunities for Improvement
    10. Discuss Career Development
    11. Have a Career Development Plan
    12. Get It in Writing

How to Effectively Support and Grow Frontline Managers

Natalie Bering is in charge of Sales Leadership Onboarding and Development at ServiceNow. She’s always worked in sales and later discovered coaching, which has led her to her current role.

In her position, Bering ensures that sales leaders who come into the organization are on-boarded effectively and have the support they need. She also provides a full sustainment plan for them as they move within the organization.

What Are Frontline Managers?

Frontline managers, also known as supervisors, store managers, junior executives, among others, are the middle managers of an organization. As the first rung of the leadership track, they manage up and down the organizational chart and have a significant amount of responsibility.

However, frontline managers end up doing so much of the grunt work (like data jockeying) that the reason they get into a management role in the first place (like their leadership skills) gets pushed aside.

According to Bering, here are some things organizations can do to prime these frontliners for success:

1. Coach Your High-Potential Leaders

The best way for frontline managers to grow is to get the buy-in from the organization to aid in their professional development. Operationalizing things like leadership development and training encourages even the most tenured of sales managers to form good habits from day one.

Make sure the manager has space and time to really get to know their teammates. If the manager doesn’t connect with and understand the rest of the team, attrition happens.

What is attrition? This happens when a company loses employees through resignations and retirements, and are not replaced. This reduces the company’s workforce.

New managers especially need a lot of coaching time during the first few weeks on the role. The right coaching arms them with the right tools to oversee operations and increases employee engagement.

2. Help Them in Discussing the Pipeline

One of the things new sales managers need a bit of help in is leading a tactical discussion. Just because your frontline managers know how to close a deal doesn’t always mean they’d intuitively know how to talk about things from a higher-level perspective.

The pipeline discussion is one of the topics that gets commonly derailed. What usually happens is, instead of talking about the overall health of a sales pipeline, people tend to zoom in on one thing and the conversation becomes a deal discussion.

You want them to look at the big picture.

Have them assess the pipeline’s shape and think about what opportunities are present. To illustrate an example, if the sales funnel is lacking at the top and full at the bottom, ask your manager what they think they can do to get it to a much healthier state.

3. Give Context to the Numbers Game

Numbers and metrics are the backbone of sales, but it’s more important for frontline managers to make sure their reps know how they can get those numbers in the first place. Letting a field rep do whatever they want without a clear goal is a surefire way to kill a sales team.

It’s not enough to spew a number and call it a day. Have them develop the skills and get into the mindset of knowing how and what they need to get to that number.

High potential employees bring into an organization a lot of talent and promise, but they tend to be rough around the edges and need some amount of sharpening to be the best they can be.

4. Make the 1-on-1s Count

businessman listening to his colleague | How To Support Frontline Sales Managers w/Natalie Bering @ServiceNow | frontline managers | frontliners

Focusing on the 1-on-1 for effective management

There are two types of people in a sales organization:

  • Those who think the sales rep should own the 1-on-1
  • Those who think the manager should

The reality is that a 1-on-1 needs to be a joint effort.

5. Make Time and Make It Non-Negotiable

Both managers and reps need to be making time for the 1-on-1. If the manager keeps pushing back the time, it sends the message to the sales rep that they’re not a priority.

On the other hand, if the rep is indifferent or even dreads the 1-on-1, dig deeper. A tense relationship between the manager and the rep seeps into all other aspects of the sales team.

6. Have a Shared Document

One way to make the most of 1-on-1 time is to create a shared document that describes the agenda for the 1-on-1 and allows the sales rep to add in things they want to discuss.

This allows both parties to know what the priorities are, what can be covered in the 1-on-1, and what can be discussed at another time. This tool allows both the manager and the rep to have some amount of control and empower them to learn how to make the time count.

7. Add a Personal Touch

First and foremost, don’t forget to ask reps how they’re doing and if anything is bothering them. The 1-on-1 is one of the rare opportunities a sales manager can get to know their reps on a personal level.

If the team doesn’t feel invested on a personal level, they’ll be less committed to the organization.

RELATED: Essential Tools and Tips for Time Management in Sales

8. Start High, Then Go Deep

senior businessman explaining work to woman officemate teammate | How To Support Frontline Sales Managers w/Natalie Bering @ServiceNow | frontline managers | front line managers

Looking over the complete picture for better support in sales

A good way to structure these conversations moving forward is to start at the high level first. Give the rep a rundown of what is happening in the company and leave room for them to ask questions.

Once that’s set, then you can start with the operational matters.

9. Balance Praise and Opportunities for Improvement

Everyone on the team has their own strengths and weaknesses. Most of the time, however, the perception of sales reps with regards to 1-on-1s is that it’s the period where they get chewed out.

To put them at ease, we recommend dedicating at most 20% of the allotted time for discussing opportunities for improvement.

When and how this feedback is presented also matters. It should ideally happen well into the conversation and balanced out with some amount of positive feedback.

10. Discuss Career Development

One thing the manager should ask the sales reps at least once a month is how they want to grow in their career.

It doesn’t have to be the next step in terms of advancement. It can be how they can grow and improve in their current role.

11. Have a Career Development Plan

Everyone in the organization (both the managers and the sales reps) needs to have an idea of what they want to do and what trajectory they’d want their career would go.

It’s important for the manager to let the sales reps under their wing know that they’ll be cared for. This is doubly important for the lean days in sales when this kind of conversation can prove to be difficult.

12. Get It in Writing

businessman writing something at work | How To Support Frontline Sales Managers w/Natalie Bering @ServiceNow | frontline managers | front line manager responsibilities

Documenting ideas to improve sales management

Avoid generating ideas and leaving them in thin air. Get them in writing and have a concrete plan in place.

Better yet, put these plans into the performance review. If these goals aren’t written down somewhere and inspected regularly, things won’t happen.

According to Bering, frontline sales managers are some of the most often forgotten members of the sales team, and they shouldn’t be. A great thing to remember is that you’re dealing with humans, not numbers.

And most importantly, when walking into any meeting, don’t forget to put the data you need into the CRM to not duplicate any efforts. These make things so much more productive.

Are you a frontline manager? What are the things you wish that leadership knew? Let us know in the comments section below.

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