Think of a sales operation like a football team with the CRO or Head of Sales as the coach and reps as the players. The frontline sales manager is right in the middle, like a player-coach.

Frontline sales managers are among the hidden heroes of any successful organization. If we think of a sales operation like a football team — with the Chief Revenue Officer (CRO) or Head of Sales as the coach and reps as the players — the frontline sales manager is right in the middle, like a player-coach.

They need to be effective in both sales and management, delivering on their own pipeline goals and interacting with customers while developing their reps to be successful, too. They play an essential role that often goes unnoticed yet can have an outsized impact on both the team and the growth trajectory of their business.

I joined a panel moderated by Jairo Romero, Managing Director of Go-to-Market Excellence at LLR, with other LLR portfolio company sales leaders to share strategies for identifying and developing effective frontline sales managers. I was joined by

We talked about the unique challenges that frontline sales managers face and how CROs can best guide and nurture them in their organizations.

Find the player who wants to coach and win

Frontline sales managers often come from one of two sides of the spectrum. Either they have good domain expertise — on the product, industry or customer base — or they shine in terms of sales competency.

When in doubt, take the natural salesperson over the domain whiz. It’s much easier to teach a good seller the industry than to teach an industry person how to sell.

Another essential ingredient is knowing how to “walk the walk” and lead by example, especially when there are fresh faces on the team. Frontline sales managers must be able to do product demos, talk to customers and hop into any meeting or call if a rep is unavailable.

Frontline managers must demonstrate a desire to coach and care, creating a culture of high expectations and accountability for the group and with each member.

But success in the role goes beyond being a great salesperson — crucially, frontline managers must also demonstrate a desire to coach and care. Too often, sales reps report that their manager is a good leader in general, but they feel either singled out for feedback or ignored as an individual. An active mentor, by contrast, creates a culture of high expectations and accountability for the group and with each member.

Yet none of this matters without the drive and urgency to tackle both sales opportunities and internal problems. Frontline sales managers are running deals, offering hands-on coaching and consoling reps — all while feeling intense pressure from leadership. With so many plates spinning at the same time, the desire to both sell and coach is one of the top requirements for success.

Take your eye off the sale and tap into your managers as people

The first step in motivating and developing someone is to understand what drives them. Take time to get to know your frontline sales managers by asking them about their lives outside the office. Pay attention to the patterns and themes that show up in their answers, which can offer insights into how they think, interact and develop trust. Personally, when I’m trying to get to know these people, I take my eye off the sales process or the deal and make sure to understand what makes them tick.

Strong communication between the frontline sales manager and the CRO ensures alignment on goals beyond just quotas and pipelines, supporting broader sales targets.

This effort lays a strong foundation for alignment between the frontline sales manager and the CRO. It’s important to align on not just the more obvious goals like quotas and pipelines but also other factors.

Strong communication guides these goals into alignment and keeps them locked in. CROs should have regular check-ins with their frontline sales managers on these intangibles, which will ultimately support the broader sales targets.

“Focusing on alignment on non-obvious goals like performance improvement, speeding up the sales cycle, and key areas that focus on how you are going to grow your frontline managers and sales team to get to the next level will ultimately support the broader tangible goals and your quotas.” – Jessica Cook

Treat pipeline reviews as a coaching tool and invite your CEO

Pipeline reviews can be turned into one of the most helpful coaching tools. These meetings often feel like an onerous chore —conversation is robotic or punitive, attendees represent a hodgepodge of experience levels, attention spans are short and the urge to tune out or multitask is strong.

Yet pipeline reviews can be a valuable coaching tool if deployed strategically. Start by diffusing the anxiety that might be present — acknowledge the range of experience in the room and note that some people might not be learning anything new that day. Remind them that this is an opportunity for development, not a critique.

Making people uncomfortable is a golden opportunity for change, as addressing issues in frontline sales can have a positive trickle-down effect through honest and transparent communication.

To keep people engaged, hold smaller, more collaborative sessions (organize by vertical or other customer segments if relevant for you) and invite the CEO or CFO on occasion. Your team may not love C-suite presence, but it will set a tone of urgency and teach reps that it is OK to ask for help. Plus, it creates a great opportunity for leadership to provide a seasoned view on what good deals look like and what sales tactics they’ve seen win.

“We go through deals individually and talk about where we are in the process. How can I help in my role as CRO? How can our CEO or CFO be helpful? Getting their broader perspective and context on things and applying it to active deals can be very productive.” – Chris Elliston

Hold weekly manager meetings to review deals that are stuck. This opens up a platform to brainstorm and strategize together on the best way to move them forward. Diving deeper into the emotions of real scenarios changes the conversation from philosophical to tangible and relevant.

Remember: Making people uncomfortable is a golden opportunity for change. If you see your frontline sales managers getting a little uncomfortable talking about a deal, it’s likely the reps feel the same, so addressing the issue can have a positive trickle-down effect. With a solid foundation of honest and transparent communication established, these conversations become an excellent way to overcome limitations, strategize next steps and develop problem-solving in sales.

Here’s the bottom line.

Frontline sales managers are at the fulcrum of an organization’s success, balancing the demands of being both an effective player and a motivational coach. Not only that, but they’re also the ones responsible for identifying and developing the talent who will one day step into their shoes.

CROs should strive to understand and build their frontline sales managers’ strengths. Choosing and getting to know the right people, communicating to ensure goal alignment and fostering collaborative development through productive pipeline meetings is how they can make it happen.