The Razor's Edge - Hosted by Barbara Giamanco


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Avoiding Extinction: The Evolution of the Role of First Line Sales Manager with Jim Ninivaggi, Brainshark

In this episode, I talked with Jim Ninivaggi, Chief Readiness Officer at Brainshark. Our topic was about how first line sales managers can avoid extinction.

We started by talking about what the first line sales manager role entails. Jim said it was actually 5 roles:

Leader, Coach, Trainer, Recruiter, and Manager

Which of these roles do you see managers doing well today? Where are they lacking?

Most sales managers really play one role – manager of the forecast and pipeline. The aggregate and interpret the data that reps report to them, they massage the numbers before they push them up to the Chief Sales Officer or VP of Sales. While this is important, the missed opportunities are the coaching, training, recruiting and leading teams that the role also requires.

Even from a coaching point of view, many sales managers simply assume the role of “super rep” – they join calls not to coach – but to be the hero – which makes them just another rep. This remains a pervasive problem as reps are promoted into the role often with very little, if any, training to help them be successful in their new position. Lacking training in how to manage and lead their teams, they default to what they know - closing the deal. 


Our title starts with the words “avoiding extinction” – how are managers at risk for extinction?

Artificial Intelligence certainly puts sales managers at risk. Think about it. If their primary role is to gather and communicate the forecast and pipeline information, with artificial intelligence the forecast will no longer come from the field but from data.

Without that need for “human interpretation”, that role of keeper of the forecast goes away. And if that is the only role that differentiates a manager from a rep – the role is no longer needed.

So how do managers avoid becoming extinct?

Expand their role and develop their skills as coach and trainer to their teams. What gets in the way of these things happening, according to Jim is that these things are not expected, not inspected and managers often lack the ability.

To address these managers need both strategic coaching and performance coaching to be effective in their role.

Since I'm a believer in "learn 2 earn", and I would suggest that if sales managers are not getting the training that they need to be successful, they should be accountable for investing in themselves.

Technology, including AI, can help in these roles with things like:

Leveraging video coaching technology to allow for asynchronous coaching.

Using AI to help guide managers to where they need to focus on coaching.

Using AI to create “sales simulators” in the same vein as “flight simulators” – allow a rep to simulate a call – and the rep and manager review their performance together.

Delivering “training in a box” digitally to help managers deliver learning to their reps during regular sales meetings.

There was a lot of meat in this discussion, so please enjoy the interview!

About Jim:

Jim Ninivaggi, Chief Readiness Officer at Brainshark. Formerly an analyst, Jim led the sales enablement research practice at SiriusDecisions – helping, in many ways, to define the space, and working at the research firm for 10 years, while publishing 200+ research reports and briefs. He has more than 30 years of experience driving sales productivity and great tips, anecdotes and best practices to share.

Connect with Jim on LinkedIn   Connect with Jim on Twitter