Advice for Frontline Sales Managers on 1:1 Follow-ups: it's hard but worth every penny

Defining and following through next steps after a 1:1 review is a discipline Sales Managers need to master to be more effective, but often it's easier said than done. Here is why it's important and how you can get better at it.

The importance of Sales Manager-Seller discussions

In a previous post I discussed the value of establishing a proper inspection and coaching rhythm. Specifically, I made the case that the 1:1 discussion between frontline sales managers and sellers are the biggest lever sales managers have to improve performance, promote knowledge transfer and drive skill development through coaching.

These meetings are an essential part of a broader business management process that spans across the organization, from the individual seller up to the CRO and CEO and include account plans, territory plans and opportunity and pipeline reviews.

Frontline managers spend a great deal of time in these discussions (research shows that number to be between 45min to 1 hour per week per rep). That adds up pretty quickly, and it's well worth it if they are impactful. The challenge becomes how to make them sustainable and meaningful. Many best practices go into that, like structuring an agenda, preparing in advance, etc. In this post I'll talk about a simple and obvious one but yet often overlooked, which is the follow-up.

"delegation without follow up is abdication"

These 1:1 discussions (and any meeting for that matter) are valuable only if there are specific actions agreed that are followed up to completion. Again this may sound very obvious, but you would be surprised at the number of meetings with great agendas and preparation, great discussions and nothing happens after folks leave the room. This is of course a waste of money and time, but in addition studies show that it also decreases employee engagement and increases emotional exhaustion. I've heard many times something along the lines of "Coming out of that meeting I realized a needed a new Job”.

Andy Grove, former intel CEO summarized it well in his book, High Output Management: "Delegation is key to management. But delegation without follow up is abdication"

There are two specific aspects that entail the discussion follow-up:

  • Proper definition of the action items
  • Consistent follow through

Defining the right next steps

Consciously invest your time in formulating the next strategic action through a brainstorming effort between you and the seller. It's important to create clarity, accountability, productivity and empowerment (David Allan's book Getting things done is a great resource on this topic).

Make sure the seller understands exactly what the next action will be and who is responsible for it, this is crucial. If he is the owner, does he have the tools & resources necessary to complete it? Does the seller agree with the approach and the timeline to execute? Probing and challenging the due date will let you know if there is clarity on the steps to get there and on time.

The essence of the discussion is to ensure agreement, clarity and ownership on the next steps, so don't rush the process.

In your next meeting, try to finish any debate around any topic with the following question: "Then, what is the next immediate action to take here that will be relevant to you and the project?" Validate if there is any action that needs to be execute prior to that one. Make sure the next agreed action is aligned with the expected outcome.

The seller should build the plan for every opportunity and treat each opportunity like a strategic project which has a beginning and an end (a won deal). Similarly, they should have an account plan and use both as inputs during the 1:1 discussion.

Consistent follow through

This is mostly about establishing the personal discipline to consistently follow-up on each action until completion. Here are two fundamental practices:

First, ensure each discussion ends up with a wrap-up summary of what has been agreed to with clear dates and owners (ideally in the next 24 hours). There are multiple tools available out there that can help you with this, your CRM, Evernote, email, Wunderlist, OneNote, just to mention a few. A Chinese proverb says “powerful memory cannot compare with pale ink.”, the wrap-up summary is not only a clear way to cement the agreements just made, it's also a powerful way to influence others too, helping inform those not present.

Second, create the habit of starting each discussion with the pending action items from the last meeting, be religious about it. Reviewing a stalled action item is a good opportunity to reassess the action item for clarity and accountability or if it continues to be the right next step at this point. It's the sales manager responsibility to not let if fall through the cracks. Persistence is a key influence skill.

This consistency allows the seller to build his trust with the sales manager (proving he delivers on his commitments), clearly articulate the work they are doing in their accounts, and increase the effectiveness of the coaching that he gets from the manager. It also helps manage expectations on both sides on the outcomes of these meetings. Because of this last point, over time sellers will come better prepared for the meetings.

Productivity will improve only when involved individuals increase their operational responsiveness. A seller might start constantly doing things because they have to, gradually realizing the benefit of a clear action plan will translate to more sense of control and wins. As a result, the sellers will feel more confident.

Following the tips above will build the foundation for a strong Inspection and Coaching process. Consistency on how to run your 1:1s, and adopting a discipline in following up actions, will help sales organizations build accountability among sales team members, to be more predictable, and create a space for true coaching for development in every business management conversation.

Michele Lanzara is CoFounder of Convercio

Michele Lanzara is CoFounder of Convercio