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This chapter is from the book

Fourteen Aids to Self-Manage Successfully

Today’s sales environment is tough and unforgiving. The confluence of technology, market demands, and financial pressures provides unheralded challenges to the sales manager. This is a time to do more than think outside the box; you have to discard boxlike thinking and change the paradigms of traditional sales management thinking. Here are 14 essentials to consider as part of your personal management paradigm shift.

1. Reverse Appraisals Make Smarter Leaders

Do reverse assessments regularly. Give your people the chance to review your performance. Give them an assessment form of your critical skills and performance, including communications, responsiveness, technical knowledge, organization skills, vision, and overall leadership effectiveness. Insure anonymity so that your people will respond honestly. Reverse appraisals will show you areas for improvement but also gives your people a strong message that you care about them and the quality of their supervision. Be prepared to be disappointed. The glowing assessments you expect might not appear. That’s because behind every smiling face, there lies some resentment, frustration, or even hostility that might emerge in the reverse assessment. Naturally, the boss is always the first person to blame. So be prepared for unfair criticism while realizing that this process provides some real opportunities to improve your team if you take a tough-skinned, problem-solving approach.

Many managers benefit from 360-degree appraisals, which include feedback from reports, peers, and bosses. However, these are more complicated to implement and assess than simple reverse appraisals.

2. Manage Your Expectations

Stress is the gap between what you expect and what you get. To some extent, you can manage your stress by managing your expectations. Reps are not going to be as good as you. Otherwise, they would be the boss. Expect excellence and inspect results but don’t think your people will be as good as you. Nevertheless, don’t give up on trying to get them to that level. Be realistic in your expectations, assuming that improvement is always a difficult challenge and it takes time. You’re not going to turn around your team or individuals overnight.

Examine your expectations. Are you comparing yourself to your people? Don’t. It’s human nature to think, “I could have closed that sale in two weeks. Why did he take a month?” or “I could have easily overcome that objection.” This type of self-righteousness creates many problems in the workplace. First, it can create a subtle—and unfair—contempt of others and their abilities. This not only builds walls between you and your team, but also provides the manager with a dangerously handy “hook” on which to lay blame. After all, if the rep is just not good enough, what’s the point in analyzing and developing the rep? When managers use themselves as a comparison point, it’s simply taking the easy way out.

Second, it sets up the manager for constant disappointment and frustration. It’s doubtful that anyone is going to live up to your litmus test—yourself. Right or wrong, many of us in sales have an overinflated view of our own abilities, and—competitive creatures that we are—it’s hard to admit that someone is as good or better.

Third, it blinds us to our own inadequacies, which prevents us from growing into a better leader. Finding faults in others—through self-comparison—keeps us from examining our own failures or weaknesses in management. In essence, it makes us less accountable and more likely to point fingers.

To effectively manage your expectations, you have to enumerate them. That is, put your expectations in writing, quantify them where possible, and share them with your team. Discuss them, get team feedback, and ensure that everyone understands the rationale and specifics behind them. Your expectations will include sales objectives but might go well beyond the run-of-the-mill numerical scores we use on a daily basis. For example, if you expect your reps to make post-purchase contacts with customers, tell them how many and how frequently. If you expect new business leads to be worked promptly, provide a specific time requirement, such as 24 hours. Likewise, clearly communicate your criteria to ensure rep integrity, such as customer signature guidelines and pricing honesty. Your expectations might include a wide range of issues important to you, such as sales meeting attendance, professional behavior standards, and sales cycle recommendations. After those have been listed and discussed, you should require compliance with these clearly stated, mutually agreeable expectations of your sales team.

After that, expect the best and prepare for the worst.

Long term, we all want to inspire and motivate our people to achieve team success. In reality, we might inspire our people but not reach team objectives. Or we might reach objectives without really inspiring our people. It goes without saying, sales is a battlefield of best-laid plans, derailed missions, distractions, recalculations, and adjustments. As with sales, we have to shoot for the moon but prepare for a cancelled launch. It takes time. Don’t expect too much too fast. If your people are meeting your daily expectations, you are getting closer and closer to your long-term expectations. By simply articulating your expectations, you are helping create the sales culture that will lead to success. In essence, you have created boundaries for your people that help them function effectively. No matter how much we talk about the independent nature of salespeople, they do need structure to be successful.

By the way, expectations work both ways. Ask your team to list expectations they have for you. Not only will that help you lead effectively and sharpen your empathy, but it also will let your people know you care about their opinions. That is a great way to build trust and communication.

3. Best Practices Help Stimulate Success

For self-management purposes, a well-organized Best Practices program will help expand your knowledge base and your sales management capabilities. Not only does it help drive successful sales techniques and processes, but it also keeps you and your team up to date on the latest sales and technology trends. The most effective best-practices program encourages participation from everyone on the sales team, from reps to managers to support staff. To emphasize its importance, include it as part of every job description that has anything to do with sales. The manager should always be on the outlook for best practices through close observation of and discussions with your salespeople. In addition, all team members should be encouraged to identify practices within and outside the company, and share them. Best Practices is everyone’s job, not just the manager’s. The manager should, however, facilitate the cataloging and coaching of best practices to make sure that everyone has access to the practices. Best Practices is a formal, orderly process. At the same time, it should be an informal, ongoing activity between salespeople sharing ideas and practices with each other. (See Chapter 3 for additional details on Best Practices.)

4. It Takes More Than Money to Motivate

Study after study indicates that today’s workers are in it for more than money. Arthur Brooks, author of Gross National Happiness, says that higher income does little to raise people’s happiness, after basic needs are met. Even more importantly, beyond the basics, satisfying work matters more than money. “Like nations, once individuals reach subsistence, they get little or no extra happiness as they get richer—even massively richer.” Brooks says the real value of money is to mark our success and measure the value we are creating.

Yes, your people are interested, very interested, in making money. That’s why we get up early every morning and rev our engines. But simply making money is an empty, meaningless pursuit. There’s much more than money that motivates today’s salespeople. They want to feel valued, respected, successful, and involved.

The new generation of salespeople—millennials—especially seem to be less money driven than their baby boomer predecessors.

5. Get Out of the Way and Let It Flow

Provide training and support, set high standards, and then get out of the way and let your people sell. That’s what salespeople do best. Closely monitor results, provide daily tracking reports, and let your people know that you’re staying close to the action. But give them room to be the salespeople they aspire to be. Flow is what you want (see Chapter 4, “Fourth Step: Becoming a Successful Servant Leader”)—that is, helping your people get in “the zone.” They won’t get there with you standing in the way. Few salespeople wake up in the morning and say, “I’m going to do a really crappy job today and see whether I can decrease my commission.” On the contrary, 99% of your people come to work hoping for—maybe even expecting—that big sale. They want to do well. They need the money. And they crave respect. Your job is to help them marshal their resources to get there, to remove roadblocks and speed them on their way.

6. Grab the Tool Kit; a Hammer Just Won’t Do

Ineffective managers embrace the old saying “If a hammer is your only tool, then everything looks like a nail.” You know them, the managers who give directives and then sit back, hammer in hand, waiting for their orders to be carried out. They measure their own magnanimity, not by how much grace they extend to their people but by how much punishment they withhold. They are likely to pat themselves on the back for telling a salesperson, “I’m not going to beat you down this time, but don’t let it happen again.” It’s like the man who says he’s a good husband because he doesn’t beat his wife very often. Even worse is the sales boss who threatens and intimidates reps to achieve sales results. Subtly or overtly, they push their reps with a results-at-any-cost approach. Many times, they’ll try to minimize the coercion, masking it behind humor such as the manager who jokes, “If you don’t produce, I’ve got a shotgun, a shovel, and an alibi.” In other words, there’s no hesitation to kill careers and dash dreams in the pursuit of a quota.

The truth is that a sales unit is an intricate mechanism of nails, screws, nuts, bolts, and even circuit boards and memory chips. It takes a lot more than a hammer to fine-tune it.

Getting hammered occasionally as a salesperson—deservedly or not—goes with the territory. But managers don’t always realize the impact of negativity on sales reps’ job performance and health. When it goes too far, it’s called workplace bullying. In fact, 20 states have introduced legislation since 2003 against bullying in the workplace. The Workplace Bullying Institute says that 35% of the U.S. workforce report being bullied at work. The Institute’s definition of bullying includes “Verbal abuse, offensive conduct/behaviors (including non-verbal) which are threatening, humiliating or intimidating.”

Here’s one way to look at the issue: Do you treat your subordinates with the same respect and courtesy as your boss? Realistically, few of us do. But think about it. Your sales force is going to have more impact on your career than your boss. Your salespeople, not your boss, produce sales that get you promoted. Your boss might steer your career path, but your subordinates provide the horsepower to drive the process. If your people aren’t receiving your best attention (patience, courtesy, and respect), you’re probably not receiving their best. You can bet that if your lack of civility morphs into bullying—no matter how subtle and surreptitious it might be—it will work against you.

From a practical standpoint, intimidation simply doesn’t work with salespeople. Of all professions in the world, salespeople are savants in handling intimidation. They face it every day from customers. A boss who tries to intimidate is more likely to inflame the sales force. And the only result is distraction from selling.

Unfortunately, the narcissism that drives intimidation also prevents managers from learning and growing into real leaders. As noted earlier, numerous studies have shown that leaders with narcissistic tendencies frequently are failures as managers. They gradually lose support from subordinates, which creates morale problems, which, in turn, create loss of support from superiors. Their sense of entitlement leads to breaking the rules and other integrity violations that can sidetrack their careers.

New managers frequently take this “I’m the boss and that’s all that matters” approach. After all, they’ve excelled in their previous role as a salesperson and they are ready to teach and lead. What they don’t always understand is that their people are not instantly ready to learn and follow. Getting people to follow your lead requires trust and credibility that could take months to establish. Showing up, touting your credentials, and giving orders just doesn’t work. It doesn’t take long for most young managers to learn this lesson, but some never learn. Some can’t learn because they are not able to forgo their self-interest for the good of the group: Meet the I-Manager, the manager who has learned to spell “team” with an “I.” This manager is largely Inconsequential because the primary management tool he or she has to work with is Intimidation. This kind of manager emphasizes not so much what is right but who is right. For the I-Manager, it’s more important to win the debate than to do what’s best for the company and its people.

Everywhere you go, you hear sales managers referring to their “teams.” Teammates, team members, team leaders—the words have become common usage in the business world to the point where they have lost their meaning. Some of the most autocratic, dictatorial managers refer to their subordinates as a “team” when the only teamwork existing is the shared resentment they feel for their boss.

Max DePree, in Leadership is an Art, said, “Abandoning oneself to the strengths of others” is the leadership approach that has made Herman Miller Inc. a leader in the furniture industry. DePree, president of Herman Miller, explained that the company’s leadership depends on employees’ suggestions and input to improve productivity, and that every employee has the “right and duty to influence decision making.... Around here, employees act as if they own the place.” This kind of teamwork has led the company to be repeat performers on Fortune magazine’s list of “Ten Most Admired Companies.”

7. Stop Selling, Start Managing

Studies have shown that many sales managers spend as much as 25% to 35% of their time selling (doing customer presentations and closing sales). Granted, some jobs—such as “hybrid sales managers”—are shaped for sales managers to also sell (especially in smaller organizations). But pure sales managers need to manage and not sell. It’s the manager’s job to make sure each salesperson is fully capable of selling alone. Don’t get the reputation of being “The Closer.” And don’t be the person who goes out on every possible account loss. There’s not enough time in the day. And, that’s not your job. Your responsibility is to make sure that reps can handle every phase of selling as well as you can. Yes, it’s important to ride with your salespeople to observe and train. In the training capacity, it’s good for them to learn your techniques, to see you sell, but selling for them is doing a huge disservice to them and you.

If you are a “hybrid” manager, it’s important to maintain focus on your reps, on their coaching and training. Look at it statistically. Your sales, as a manager, are probably less than 20% of total sales volume. Are you spending a proportionate amount of time, 80% that is, managing your people? As we all know, sales is a seductive passion. But as a manager, “hybrid” or not, we can’t afford to be lured into selling more than managing. Even the best-selling sales manager can’t come close to producing what the sales team can produce as a whole. You can catch fish for your sales team or you can teach them to fish, and multiply your efforts exponentially.

8. Don’t Try to Sell a Salesperson

Remember, you are not a salesperson, you are a leader. We all are guilty, to some extent, of “selling” our ideas and directives to our people. Many times it is necessary. But if “selling” is your primary or exclusive technique, you’re overlooking the power of your sales force’s involvement and ideas. Look at it mathematically. A good sales conversion rate is 50%. Even if you’re very good at selling your ideas to your people, at best you’re going to have half of them committed and the other half either indifferent or opposed to your program. Your sales machine will only cough and sputter on half its rated horsepower. Granted, you’ll never have 100% support from your reps, but engaging them in decision making rather than “selling” them to follow your decisions should raise your conversion rate to well over 50%.

9. Develop an Effective Sales Culture

What is a sales culture? You might not be able to describe it, but you can feel it. It’s the general attitudes that sales reps have about the company, their place in it, their enthusiasm, and their beliefs and values related to selling. Do they speak well of the company and its management? Are they excited about selling? Do they believe in the product line? Are they seeking excellence in selling? Are they proud of their individual reputations as well as the company’s?

A sales culture can be characterized as who we are, what we do, how we do it, and how we feel about doing it. For better or worse, a sales culture is, first, a reflection of the sales manager. Second, it should be a reflection of the vision and mission of the company.

Within six months, most sales forces will become a likeness of the sales manager. Don’t underestimate your influence. But you need to carefully analyze what kind of sales force you are shaping. Are your salespeople picking up your best qualities, such as enthusiasm, integrity, product belief, and commitment to customers? Conversely, are they picking up any ineffective characteristics, such as tardiness, sloppy paperwork, failure to follow up, or indecisiveness? Look at your own weaknesses and you’ll probably find them embedded in your sales force. Analyze, and then address your weaknesses and reinforce your strengths to make sure your salespeople are receiving the correct signals to build a productive sales environment.

More importantly, are you actively planning and shaping your sales culture? Other than the attitudes and values your reps observe in you, are you consciously developing your culture on a daily basis based on your company’s vision and mission?

A productive sales culture is developed top-down. It’s up to you, the sales manager, to shape your sales ecosystem. If you don’t actively create it, your culture is likely to be dysfunctional and counterproductive, shaped by chance. In the absence of values and beliefs, reps shape their own culture. For example, if you have never clearly stated the need for integrity, your reps might know the difference between right and wrong but might take a “who cares?” attitude when it comes to deceptive sales practices. It’s the manager’s job to clearly state who cares and why. Managers have to establish operating philosophies in words and actions.

Imagine your ideal sales culture, tie it to the company’s mission/vision, and articulate it. If you can’t communicate it, it won’t happen. Describe in writing the sales culture you want to develop. Following is a sample sales culture profile of a fictional restaurant supply sales force:

Who We Are

  • We are the ten-person, professional sales force of Burns Restaurant Supply, Ohio’s second-largest restaurant supply company. Our mission is to lead the company to become the number one company in our category with sales topping $10 million.

What We Do

  • Specializing in full-service restaurants, we have the responsibility to effectively market a full line of restaurant equipment, supplies, utensils, and furniture to the state’s 13,000 restaurants.

How We Do It

  • Our first priority is to proactively protect and expand our sales to existing restaurants.
  • We will aggressively seek new business.
  • Every salesperson will actively build and maintain customer relations through regular one-on-one contact and through industry trade shows and meetings.
  • We will diligently promote our reputation with customers for honesty, integrity, and fairness.
  • Our sales team will work with each other collaboratively to share information and provide in-house support for each other.
  • We will stay up to date on the latest industry developments as well as selling techniques through extensive training and learning from each other.

How We Feel About Ourselves

  • We thrive on competition and work hard to find new sales opportunities that will lead us to the number one position in Ohio.
  • We are technically competent to solve customer problems and overcome objections.
  • We feel energized by an atmosphere that encourages aggressive selling and continual improvement.
  • We are proud of the company’s reputation for integrity.
  • Each of us feels valued as an integral part of the company’s success.
  • We feel empowered with the flexibility to take reasonable risks and make decisions in the best interests of protecting and expanding sales.
  • We feel accountable for our results and have control of our destiny.
  • Sales reps and managers feel secure in their mutual esteem for and trust of each other.

Describing your ideal sales culture not only fixes it in your mind, but also helps your team envision it and move toward your goal. Developing a sales culture profile is different from sales objectives, mission statements, and vision statements. It enunciates your team’s values and beliefs. More than statistical goals, your culture profile is the soul and conscience of your organization. It sets the standards from which you measure right and wrong, good and bad. It is, for example, the foundation from which you develop code-of-conduct specifics. It is the way you describe your sales organization to job applicants and other outsiders. And, finally, it provides the conceptual framework that serves as a behavioral lighthouse for your salespeople. In advertising lingo, it is your product personality.

Simply stating a value or belief provides clarity for your sales team. The opposite is also true. Be careful of what you omit. That’s not to say that you need a laundry list of everything that might be important now or in the future. Include only the things vital to team success, never more than ten items. Put them in order of priority to sharpen your team’s focus.

When developing the profile, envision the kind of people you want to be surrounded by. After all, your people are the embodiment of your sales culture. What are their principles and sales ideologies? List these characteristics and make them part of your profile and your hiring practices. They might include such traits as these:

  • Aggressive and competitive
  • Honest and fair
  • Loyal and trustworthy
  • Technically proficient
  • Customer service oriented
  • Unafraid to take risks
  • Hardworking and resilient
  • Engaging and polished

Next, compare your ideal sales characteristics with your company’s mission and vision statement to ensure a good match. Look for disconnects. For example, if your company values employees over customers, obviously a customer service orientation is of secondary importance.

Of course, the obverse is true if your company takes a strong customer-first orientation.

Finally, share your profile with your sales team for their input and discussion. The sales team will help you refine and amplify your thoughts. In addition, it will increase the chances of their owning the outcomes since they participated in the process.

10. If You Want Followers, Lead by Example

To develop an effective sales culture, you have to lead by example. If your people are required to be in the office at 8 a.m. every day, be sure you are there every day at 8 a.m. If you ask for quick response time from your people, it’s your responsibility to give them quick responses. Dr. John C. Maxwell, author and speaker, said, “If you want your team members to be dedicated, then you must show them your commitment. If they should be willing to put the team first, then you should be willing to make sacrifices. If you want them to care for each other, then you must demonstrate your love for them. There’s no substitute for showing them what you expect from them.” Think about the autocratic bosses you’ve had in the past—chances are the more despotic they are, the less of an example they set. They are usually the ones who come in late, who respond slowly to their subordinates. Wherever you see this sense of arrogant entitlement by managers (who think they deserve special treatment because they are the boss), you will see resentment and resistance from subordinates. It is not possible to passionately follow someone you don’t believe in, someone who doesn’t walk the talk.

11. Knowing Your Reps Builds Understanding

Take the time to know your people—what motivates them, how they respond to authority and peers, their strengths and aptitudes. It takes time, close observation, and dialogue to analyze a salesperson. Rocket science and brain surgery pale by comparison. It means you have to understand your people individually. Managing successful sales teams occurs one salesperson at a time. Put yourself in their place, analyze their psyche and motives. Forget what you’ve learned about personality types. Labeling people with arbitrary tags—such as introverts, extroverts, type A, and analyticals—without a professional’s help is dangerous because it oversimplifies the complexities of human personality. Though these typologies can be useful for general understanding, especially in hiring—when you need a quick assessment of candidates over a short period—they are not a substitute for careful study of your people’s unique psyches. General typologies can provide an easy, but misleading, explanation for people’s actions and for their potential. Take this statement, for example: “He’s an analytical; therefore, he won’t be able to take the lead in this project.” The truth is, in a day’s time he will morph from an “analytical” to a “visionary” to an “initiator” depending on the situation. He has components of all the typologies that rotate from occasion to occasion. No one fits into any one “type”—we are all products of our genetics, our experience, and our environment. It’s easy to describe people with bumper-sticker clichés and simplistic caricatures. However, not only can that be misleading, but it also can condition us to think of people in one-dimensional terms, overlooking the richness of people’s sensibilities. We’re truly a weird mix of all the typologies, and each of us defies easy analysis. It’s hard enough to understand ourselves, much less subordinates with whom we might spend only a few hours a week. The trick is to make those hours count. Observe, really observe, what makes your people tick. Ask questions and take notes, but above all resist the convenience of fitting them into a “type.”

Along the same lines, examine your top salespeople. What are they doing to be successful? Identify their best practices and replicate them for others. Novartis, the pharmaceutical company, developed an entire sales training program based on skills, style, and procedures of their top salespeople.

On the group level, take time to analyze your team’s dynamics. Know the leaders and followers. The leaders, when cultivated carefully, can help support and reinforce your objectives, adding momentum and credibility to your efforts. How do you cultivate them? Have frequent, informal one-on-one meetings to ask them what they think about new ideas and existing programs. Let them know you depend on their input as a leader of the group and how much you appreciate their involvement. Conversely, take care not to neglect your group’s followers. They are your foot soldiers, and need to feel part of the process. With proper attention and grooming, some followers will become group leaders.

12. Understand Your Customers’ Needs

Most customers don’t need to be sold. They need to be informed. They need solutions, not presentations. There are exceptions, but customers really don’t want to be manipulated, controlled, cajoled, directed, or interrogated. They don’t want their objections to be overcome—they simply want to be heard. They don’t have time for lengthy presentations. They detest being the unwitting victim of a six-step sales process, and they object to being “closed” after the recommendation.

In many ways, the millions of dollars we spend to train salespeople work against effective selling. That’s because we target our efforts at wooden stereotypes we call “prospects” and sometimes forget our real target, which is human beings. We spend so much time focusing on sales that we ignore the buyers and their many needs. As top salespeople have proven time and time again, product knowledge and the ability to listen trumps any amount of sales technique we can teach. Good salespeople understand that the way to stand out is be the one who doesn’t play the sales games, the one who can sit down and have a normal conversation with customers, having their best interests in mind.

Customers humor us and our sales spiels. They play the game, sometimes just to get us out the door. But, in reality, what they want is a conversation with a knowledgeable person to help them make a buying decision. Customers’ expectations are highlighted in a recent Harvard Business Review article titled “What B2B Customers Really Expect.” A study of 200 customers from a cross-section of U.S. firms showed that the top attributes they preferred in sales reps were first “Subject matter and solution expertise” followed by “Understanding of customer’s business and industry” and then “Professionalism” (flexibility, responsiveness, respectfulness, and integrity). In addition, 39% of the respondents expressed dissatisfaction with their reps’ level of “Understanding of customer’s business and industry.”

The same study showed a huge contrast between what customers want and how salespeople are hired. These customers’ vendors were asked what criteria they considered most important in hiring sales reps who would call on the customers. Ironically, they said “Professionalism” was the first attribute. “Subject matter and solution expertise” (the first-ranked trait preferred by customers) ranked third in hiring criteria.

The research suggests that we, as sales managers, have a tendency to emphasize sales skills over customer needs. Perhaps in all the hustle and bustle to achieve objectives, we overlook the most important part of the equation: the customer. And the customer wants honest information first and foremost. This indicates the need for strong product and technical training for reps in addition to consultative sales techniques in order to ask questions that identify customers’ real problems and challenges rather than merely symptoms.

In addition to being informed, many customers expect (either consciously or subconsciously) a sales appointment to be a “buyer’s moment”—a stress-free experience that they control and even enjoy. Put yourself in the buyer’s shoes. Whether the customer is a business owner or midlevel manager, a sales appointment is one of the few times of the day when he’s not being controlled or manipulated. It’s a moment when he’s not confronted by demanding employees, scrutinized by bosses, buffeted by competitors, and scathed by unrelenting financial pressures. By the time a customer meets with a salesperson, he’s probably frazzled by the demands of the day. This, finally, is a moment when he is the supreme decision maker, one to be respected and revered. It’s a time when he can talk about anything he wants to discuss—family, politics, the economy, religion—and be listened to and acknowledged. (Or, if short on time, he may elect to get directly to the point, make a decision and move on to the next meeting.) This could be the only time of the day that he controls, and a moment when someone (the salesperson) expresses any interest in him. The last thing a customer wants is to have a sales rep take control of the moment and press to a close. Managers who understand this dynamic help their reps take advantage of the “buyer’s moment”—to facilitate buyers to buy instead of making it a unilateral selling endeavor. These managers ensure that their training regimen includes the “soft” skills of sales—such as listening and empathy—in addition to product and technical training.

13. Shhhh...Are You Listening?

As managers, we’re proud of what we’ve accomplished and what we’ve learned. That means we’re always eager to let others know what we know—sometimes too eager. Often, we’re too busy telling salespeople what we want, and not listening to what they need in order to deliver what we want. If you listen, and ask the right questions, your sales reps will tell you how to reach goals and even throw in the details of how to get there.

Your salespeople want to be heard, and they won’t be fooled as you nod your head and make eye contact while all the time formulating your next comment as they are talking. Listen, really listen. Put away your smartphone and pay attention to what your reps have to say. One of the best ways to show you’re listening is to take notes. Don’t offer a quick answer and don’t interrupt. Just make sure they are done, and then summarize what they said and respond. You might get some valuable input, maybe not, but the important thing is that your reps will feel that you have listened. That alone is worth a lot because the information you receive will help you manage the team and will help your people feel as though they are an important part of the organization.

14. Make Yourself Promotable

We all know that the single best way to get promoted is to make your objectives. However, it’s really a little more complicated than that. First, are you making your numbers the right way—on budget with low turnover? Do you have profitability metrics in place that measure your cost of sales including product discounts, sales commissions and bonuses, training, and costs associated with sales employee turnover? You can make your numbers day in and day out, but if the cost of reaching your objective is disproportionately high, the result is as bad as missing your numbers. That’s a surefire way to derail one’s promotability.

In addition, how do you distinguish yourself from the other sales managers who are also making their numbers? Bosses love the No Excuse Management style and hold its proponents in high regard for promotions. Simply put, the No Excuse manager assumes responsibility and accountability, focusing on solutions to problems rather than explanations, and taking the responsibility to seize opportunities as they emerge rather than waiting for directives to do so. These are the kind of managers who effectively execute their assigned responsibilities and all other responsibilities not specifically denied them. It’s a bit risky and takes a lot of self-confidence. But remember, those who risk nothing do nothing. In the end, bosses admire and reward the No Excuse leader. Here are the major components of No Excuse Management:

  • Accountability—Assume full responsibility for your duties. We, as sales managers, can’t control the economy, the market, or the competition. But we can control our reaction to them. If we don’t adjust according to the elements, there’s no one to blame but ourselves, certainly not the reps. Finger-pointing is a quick way to lose the respect of your boss. It also sends a signal that you’re at the mercy of market conditions and lack the control needed to make positive change. Your boss wants a winner, a doer, a fixer—not a victim or a whiner.
  • Responsibility—Take on all responsibilities of your job description, and ask for more. Seek new opportunities, especially those that match your skill set, which might take pressure off your boss. For example, develop sales training for use by other managers or create an analytics program that goes beyond your scope of supervision. Volunteer for projects that other managers don’t want to do or can’t do.
  • Proactivity—Take the initiative to identify and address problems and opportunities without being told to do so. Proactive managers are willing to take risks because they are self-assured, having a certain intuitive feel when and how to act with no supervision. They have the ability to launch the boat quickly, making midcourse corrections as they go. They have a “speed to market” mentality that provides a distinct competitive advantage.
  • Knowledge—Bosses want go-to guys, people who know their market plan, rates, procedures, and paperwork. They want a manager who knows everything the reps should know, and more. They want managers who learn, on their own, everything from the latest management techniques to economic trends.
  • Flexibility—The best sales leaders are nimble, able to function effectively in ambiguous situations in which there are no instructions or precedents. These situations are tests of a manager’s judgment and creativity under fire. Weak managers get stuck. They stubbornly insist on plowing through situations rather than having the flexibility to seek alternatives. The No Excuse manager realizes, first, that no one else is going to fix the problem, and therefore goes about a complete work-through that includes as many options and variations as needed.
  • Complimentary Skills—Promotable people think two levels above. What skills are lacking in your boss and your boss’ boss? Help them where they are weak or time-deprived. If they are strong on people skills but weak with numbers, your strength in analytics will give you an advantage when the next job opens up. Look for ways to highlight your strengths up the line. For example, develop a new sales tracking program and share the analysis with your superiors. Let them know subtly that you have the skill set for that position when it opens.
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