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Frontline Sales Manager (FLSM) : How can they build world-class capabilities?

This is a special curated section from acclaimed sources that captures some of the challenges and complexities that FLSMs operate in. This article looks at First Line Sales Manager role with different lenses and provides key insights on how they can be situationally fluent and build their executive presence.


The role of the Frontline Sales Manager is a much involved one, encompassing multiple stakeholders, functions, geographies, cultures, expectations, competition, customers and finally of course managing team quotas and delivering for themselves as well.

From selling features and benefits, to selling value and efficiency today’s new generation of FLSMs must be aligned to customer needs and lead them with insights and predict the future for them. Which means they must be smarter than their customers and know their customer industry and its trends even better than them.

However, in this VUCA world if we explore to see if FLSMs have the right support system, we draw a blank, sadly they are not supported in terms of sales tools, sales enablement platforms, and do not have enough time to coach and develop their teams. This is the dynamic environment most FLSMs are working in, the sooner they transform into leaders who can lead and deliver simultaneously then individual success, team development and organizational growth are natural outcomes.

While there are a plethora of leadership and management programs there is completely no learning intervention that is tailored to suit the sales manager expectations, and all of them are figuring it out even at a global level. Figuring it all out has never been scalable approach which is why FLSMs require a structured development.


Firstly, FLSMs must initiate the new team members into the organization and help them understand the overall culture and language. While a methodical orientation happens there should be comprehensive goal setting exercise in progress included. Frequently and clearly what the organization expects in terms of tangible deliverables must be communicated without any ambiguity. Once they move out of this initiation phase there is a transition stage where they are valued for their contributions. This is the stage where a lot of their potential and weaknesses emerge, as a leader it is important you provide the necessary technical and non-technical learning support.

This is where most of the emerging FLSMs are spotted. So, it is important to get them to grow, learn and continue with their contributions. Successful FLSM must coach younger team members for better performance and they should build a strong second line. Their success here is dependent on how many successful team members they have created. Also, they must build bonds with other functions so that can deliver as a collective whole rather than as an independent unit.

Finally, as Sales Managers how you resonate with the market conditions, changing landscape will be crucial to set the organization direction. If you are to truly become a leader, and if you have a burning desire to take key roles within your organization, then having differentiated client conversations and responding to market dynamics will catapult you to the next level.


Here are several pitfalls that many FLSMs invariably fall into:

Initial Success: If numbers are met most sales managers and organizations seem to be happy. Nobody thinks of a structured coaching and learning to ensure there is a methodology or process to the selling lifecycle. Without this, numbers may have come through purely owing to several factors, but will this approach stand you in good stead? Will it garner repeat business, new logos and expansion? Most certainly not, FLSMs often get trapped in these initial wins that are only a result of ad-hoc approaches.

Promoted Manager: High performers being promoted as Managers is yet another common cause for tension. Their confusion is never ending when overnight they are at the mercy of their teams and get hauled up for their poor performance. So, this overnight transition is mind boggling and many of them drop off at this stage.

Leadership or Friendship: It is tough for them to adapt to lead teams which they were part of just a few months back. Problem arises when you are no longer a peer but their manager, and many go for friendship instead of leadership and end up with a team that takes advantage of them. So slowly as a new FLSM you need to create boundaries and be their manager first, and then their friend.

Lead More: No point in you selling all the time, it is likely you carry the baggage of an individual contributor. But you continuing to sell well and being a star is no longer an achievement and it will only demoralize the team. So, STOP and see how you can get them to deliver through continued support and coaching.

Trust but Verify: This concept is something you need to adopt, while you can go with your sales representatives forecast, ask them probing questions before you settle down to their estimates.

Be a Guide: Also, don’t get into the habit of solving all your team’s problems then you will end up going back to your individual contributor days. So, sit back and make them resolve issues, but be there for them. And poor performance is non-negotiable, the sooner you see and weed it out the better it will be for you and the team.

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