The Missing Link in Your Field Sales Model

Peter Catalano

In my first outside sales job, each district had a dedicated field training manager. At first, I was intimidated. Not only did I have to deliver for my front-line manager, I also had another manager giving performance input. Long story short, the relationship that I built with both managers transformed my career. Years after leaving the organization, I still leverage what I learned from these individuals.

Modern selling is complicated. Buyers are smarter and more empowered. Competitive options are greater. All this means today’s sales process is no longer a simple, linear motion. No one sales strategy wins in every situation. Sellers face a series of back and forth actions that require deeper skills. Building rep situational awareness and selling adaptability means field skill reinforcement is more important than ever.

Despite this reality, too many companies don’t give their reps what they need to succeed. This is especially true for new sellers, who often leave ‘bootcamp’ training set up for failure. At the same time, average spans-of-control for front-line managers are rising. The virtual sales organizational model magnifies this issue. Field sales leaders are increasingly overwhelmed and time stretched. Our experience finds too many reps, particularly the less experienced, aren’t getting enough coaching and reinforcement.

In the past, the field sales trainer position was common, just as with my first employer. Yet, over the years, this role has all but disappeared. Cost is certainly a factor. But too many sales leaders seem to have forgotten the power of field observation and coaching. We can all agree that the front-line manager is the linchpin to a high-performing sales team. They should certainly be doing these types of activities. But, we need to be realistic about how much available time they have to do so.

We believe the field trainer is a critical component that’s all too often missing in today’s sales model. In partnership with sales enablement and front-line managers, they are key to helping reps make their number.

Where does a field training manager thrive in today’s sales ecosystem? How can organizations leverage a field training manager to keep sellers moving forward? Best-in-class organizations focus field trainers in three essential areas:

1. Reinforcement: Have you ever left a training session feeling empowered and ready to crush quota? Fast-forward two weeks, you're likely back to the status quo. Applying new skills while also dealing with ongoing noise and distractions is hard. The most significant challenge of training programs is executing consistent reinforcement. This is one area where a field sales training manager adds immense value. Some may argue that reinforcement responsibilities should fall on the front-line managers. And we agree with the intuitive logic of this. But the brutal fact is that today’s front-line managers are drowning. A non-quota sales trainer augments the sales manager. They work in tandem to develop the wide variety of sellers, regardless of front-line manager span-of-control. This is especially important in teams with high turnover. The field trainer provides practical leverage, making the time for day-long field rides and feedback sessions. All good front-line managers understand the importance of skills coaching. But for most, these time-intensive activities fall into the “important, but not urgent” category – thus, at the bottom of the to-do list.

2. Sales Innovation: What are we hearing from our customers? What are we hearing from our sellers? Where is the competition making a dent in our value proposition? What new sales enablement exist to drive our sales organization forward? How do we effectively deploy these tools to our sellers? A field trainer can be more than a resource to assist in reinforcement of skills training. Think bigger. Use this resource to help you innovate future sales team skills and capabilities. With this approach, field trainers serve as a core member of the sales enablement function. They become an ongoing feedback loop for insight around market changes and sales process. This proactive method will keep the sales organization looking forward. The practical views of field sales trainers become an excellent resource to improve sales enablement.

3. Front-Line Manager Training: It's a common misperception that sales training should only focus on individual contributors. Thinking in this fashion is fundamentally wrong and can lead to a variety of strategic issues. Individual contributors look to their front-line managers for coaching, strategy framing, and deal support. And front-line managers must lead by example. They must be able to demonstrate the skills and behaviors required to be successful. And true skill mastery requires ongoing manager training and reinforcement. Today, introduction of new skills, messaging, and methodology tools is ongoing. Field trainers can be organizational integrators, translating these initiatives to front-line managers. Coaching of front-line managers can materialize in many ways, including live training, 1:1's, and video practice. Field sales trainers should own the consistent execution of these efforts. Use this role to also provide objective feedback to leadership around front-line manager behaviors and gaps. 

Whether hiring your first sales trainer or structuring a team of 50+ resources, don’t underestimate the challenge of getting it right. Enable ongoing team development inside and outside of the classroom. And to maximize your performance, be sure to consider how to best deploy the field sales trainers. This old-but-new-again role can make all the difference in your results.

Contact us to learn more about designing a world-class sales training function and process. Our research-based insights can help you win in today’s complex market.

Peter Catalano

Peter Catalano

Senior consultant with significant expertise in sales strategy, training, enablement, and transformations. Peter combines his background as a sales practitioner with practical consulting experience to drive successful client engagements.