Sales Enablement And Sales Management – Enable Your Sales Managers First!

If you check out sales enablement definitions, approaches and discussions, think about the main questions that occur. What is sales enablement, where does it live, how to connect the dots between sales and marketing, what are best practices, how to use technology and so forth. Almost all discussions are somehow related to sales enablement technology, most of the time regarding product business and – for front line sales persons. There are only a few discussions on how to design our future selling systems in an outside-in manner to create customer value and to meet customer expectations from a strategic perspective (this is one of the reasons why I created this blog).

Are there any discussions regarding the role of sales management in a sales enablement context? Let’s be honest, that’s not the case. So far.

Sales Enablement definitions, let’s take for instance IDC’s or Forrester’s definitions, are currently focused on enabling sales persons to have valuable conversations with different stakeholders at each stage of the customer’s journey and at each altitude level, to increase performance.
Sales enablement, considered holistically from an outside-in perspective, should always start with a few core elements: the customer, a buyer role map, the customer’s journey. Sales enablement should always be designed with the end in mind, based on the real purpose of an enterprise – to create a customer. That’s what I call a GoToCustomer strategy. It sounds so easy, but it’s so hard to achieve, because GoToCustomer is based on the core belief that all people in sales, in marketing and in product or solution teams are part of one selling system, which is a value communication system, designed backwards from the customer. And that’s addressing many organizational and cultural comfort zones across many organizations and across the industry.

Sales Management doesn’t really exist in most of these definitions. It’s time to change that.

Imagine a Formula 1 team manager, the team of mechanics and the driver. Let’s imagine, the team manager decides on a zero stop strategy. So, no tire change. Let’s also imagine for a moment, that the team manager communicates the strategy directly to the driver – but doesn’t make sure that the team is on the same page. What could happen? Depending on the team’s experience, they might install normal soft tires, as usually. Of course, that won’t fit to a zero stop strategy. Top performance in that case? No, probably not… You might think “what a crazy example – that will never happen”. And you are probably right. These guys are always very well aligned to deliver top performance. Everybody in a Formula 1 team is aware of the fact that high performance can only be achieved if ALL team members across the entire racing system – the team manager, the mechanics and the driver – are perfectly aligned. Because they act as part of a very integrated system with one goal – to win the race!

Let’s go back to our sales organizations. Let’s review the alignment between business strategy, sales strategy and sales management. Do we systematically align all these layers? Don’t we have enough challenges when it comes to translate the business strategy in a sales (enablement) strategy and to execute on this strategy? Don’t we often support the sales managers just with the common stories (these are our numbers for each territory, and here are our focus campaigns on what we want to sell and to whom, and here are our collaterals, sales enablement content and trainings)?
Of course, this is black and white, but you get the picture, right?

What happens here is informing the sales managers, but not enabling them to achieve the sales goals and the transformational goals. It’s ignoring the fact, that the sales managers are the driving engine of strategy execution and the change agents in case of sales force transformations. Whatever we do for sales people might be successful, but we will never leverage its full potential, if we just “inform” this driving engine in the middle, the sales managers.

So, what could be done? Here are a few thoughts and experiences – to make no claim to be complete! Please chime in and add your thoughts and ideas:

  • Core principle – Enable sales managers first:
    We as sales enablement professionals have to change from informing to enabling sales managers – and to do this first! Both elements are important to make a commitment to their role as driving engine. Enabling sales managers first will help to make them change agents and evangelists to drive transformation to an outside-in sales organization.
  • Map sales enablement strategy to sales management key areas:
    Develop your sales enablement strategy backwards from the customer’s journey and map this strategy to the sales management key areas, such as leadership and strategy, business management, customer management and most important – people management (coaching and resource management for different seller roles and types).
  • Build a sales manager community:
    Create a team of first and second line sales managers to build a community. Integrate all sales manager roles you might have in your organization such as territory managers, industry segment managers, account portfolio managers etc.) to build a common foundation with them, not for them.
  • Collaborate with the sales manager community:
    Agree on the core elements of your sales enablement strategy, such as the customer’s journey, sales milestones along this journey, a buyer role map, prioritized products and services, focus campaigns, the mapped sales process and sales methodologies on how to create value as well as your account segmentation and account management process.
  • Design together a training and coaching landscape for both – sales managers and sales people:
    Use the incredible field, selling and management experience of your sales manager community and combine that with your sales enablement strategy and selling system approaches and the existing enablement landscape to design a tailored, transformational coaching and training landscape along the customer’s journey for your different sales management roles and for your different sales roles.
  • Define road map and goals, measure success and communicate:
    Define KPI’s for sales managers, for sales people and for the entire selling system to track progress and to measure success. Your senior executives may ask on their return on investment – before you start a big roll out. Additionally, it helps you in your sales enablement role together with the sales manager community to decide on progress, necessary adjustments or changes, priorities, impact and further activities – and to design a communication strategy.

As you know me, I could continue to write and to write, but I will stop here. I’d love to start a discussion, to learn more about your experiences, your lessons learned and your view points:

  • How do you see the role of sales management for sales enablement and the other way around?
  • How do you connect the dots between sales enablement and sales management?
  • How do you address and integrate the first and the second line sales managers?


  1. Tamara, this is such an important point. Staying with the “why” of this point, let me add a couple of ideas.

    1. Adoption — one of the challenges of sales enablement is adoption. Managers are key and need to be trained to do this.

    2. Coaching and reinforcement — to move from “one-and-done” approaches managers need tools and training to keep these behavior based change management initiatives alive and on track.

    3. Leveraged investment — I’m often observed that good programs targeted at managers, to enable them to conduct the broader enablement training, would be better, as well as more cost effective approach, than direct training only of the sales team.

    • Jim, thanks a lot for your comment, and sorry for being so late in coming back to you! The overall Q4 craziness…
      I totally agree, adoption is one of the biggest sales enablement challenges. From today’s perspective, I’d say that sales manager adoption is the biggest challenge, but with much more impact on the overall performance – it’s literally key to success.
      I also like very much your thoughts on coaching and reinforcement. My idea was always to work with outcome oriented key principles that can be applied to specific selling situations instead of providing checklists, todo-lists and other activity focused tools.
      @Leveraged investment: I hope that we will all develop sales enablement in exactly that direction. Additionally, I hope that we will be able to create a business case for that.
      Thanks again for sharing your thoughts – highly appreciated!

  2. Tamara –
    You are spot on there are too few discussions about future state selling systems. It is always curious to me that sales leaders and senior sponsors are so willing to invest heavily in sales training without considering that a management team unaligned with the selling system strategy constrains sales improvement far more than untrained salespeople. You present many effective countermeasures in your post to improve management alignment. We simplify in our client work to a single equation; sales process improvement = standard sales work + management and measurement system alignment.
    Karl Busch

    • Karl, thanks for your comment!
      Exactly, if the sales management layer is disconnected from strategy, how should execution look like?
      I really like your equation “sales process improvement = standard sales work + management and measurement system alignment”. The selling system’s foundation has to be mandatory for all client-facing people and espcially for managers.


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