The First Step to Success for Sales Managers: Manage Yourself
Here you are in the middle. Whoever said it’s lonely at the top never sat in a sales manager’s chair. It’s a maddening, lonely process—trying to activate your people and satisfy the boss. The objectives, the people, the paperwork, the procedures.... The challenges are legendary, your control over them limited.
In the past decade, huge shifts in corporate America have exposed sales managers to a dizzying rate of change. Customers have become more demanding and price sensitive due to the proliferation of online competitive information. If they don’t like your price, they’ll find a better deal online. Combine global competitive pressures and shaky economic conditions, and you have companies cutting costs at unprecedented levels. On top of cutbacks, you have baby boomers phasing out of the work world and being replaced by millennials who present a new set of managerial challenges. This volatile mix of economic, technological, and sociological issues presents a host of perplexities for sales managers:
- Rep-per-manager ratios are steadily increasing every year, consistently expanding managers’ scope of supervision while multiplying their workload.
- Training and administrative support for sales managers are decreasing because of increasing budget constraints.
- Pressures on managers to produce sales results are rising exponentially.
- New management techniques are required for the new generation of salespeople coming into the workplace.
It is the paradox of our times: At a point when sales managers are being asked to do more and more, they have less and less to work with. No wonder many studies of sales personnel are showing decreasing trust for sales managers’ ability to effectively lead sales teams.
Chances are you were a good sales rep, or you wouldn’t have been elevated to this exalted managerial position. But nobody cares. No matter how long you’ve been on the job, the expectations are the same: All your people want to know is that you’re going to take care of them. All your boss wants to know is that you’re going to deliver good numbers. The fact that you were a good sales rep might even be working against you. In fact, it is estimated that 85% of sales superstars fail as sales managers.
Here are a few reasons why salespeople don’t succeed as managers:
- Loss of Freedom—A good sales rep has the freedom to set a daily schedule, come and go, be in the office when necessary, and his sole responsibility is making sales. When he morphs from a sales rep to a manager, freedom is replaced with responsibility—the manager takes on the burdens of sales reps and bosses. A manager is shackled by paperwork, team objectives, deadlines, and company directives. Reps who yearned to be the boss, to set the agenda and make the rules, quickly discover that they have significantly less autonomy than they did as a salesperson.
- Inability to teach—Frequently, we assume that sales reps know how to sell, and therefore they can teach it when they become managers. Not necessarily. The biggest part of teaching is not knowing the topic but knowing how to get your “students” to learn. Much of sales is intuitive behavior—reading people, timing, body language—that is difficult to teach. The bottom line is that salespeople are doers, not teachers. It takes a huge amount of self-discipline, energy, and patience to analyze one’s steps to success and convey them effectively to subordinates.
- Deferred gratification—A sales rep works hard to make a sale and sees the outcome immediately. The sales manager sees outcomes over weeks, maybe months. Management takes a huge amount of patience, a virtue in short supply among salespeople.
- Unrealistic expectations—You were successful as a rep so you expect the same from your people. As a sales rep, you had an “I can do it” approach to challenges. You did, in fact, do it, and achieved success. Your success gave you expectations for your performance as a salesperson that consistently led to success. Unfortunately, the set of conditions that made you successful as a salesperson do not exist in sales management. You can’t expect your people to be like you or as successful as you. If your expectations don’t change, disappointment quickly sets in.
- Tendency to do it yourself—As a sales rep, if you don’t do it, it doesn’t get done. Sometimes, this thinking leads managers to micromanage, even to the point of selling for their reps. The result is chaos. For the manager, it means less time managing. For the sales reps, it means frustration and fewer opportunities to become effective salespeople. In sales management you simply can’t do it yourself. You have to do virtually everything through your people, and that can be frustrating.
- Failing to change your viewing lens from microscopic to panoramic, from pixels to landscapes—The nature of sales requires concentrating on one customer at a time to make the sale. The nature of sales management requires a panoramic view of the sales team, the customer base, the market, and dozens of other components.
- Independent nature of salespeople versus managers’ dependence on salespeople to reach goals—As a sales manager, you’re no longer the gunslinger who’s six-shootin’ his way to success. You’re more like a four-star general in the war room coordinating troop movements. Your success is dependent on your people.
- Propensity to “sell” instead of facilitate—There is a tendency for new managers to come onboard with a dozen preconceived concepts and begin selling them to their new “customers”—their sales team and their bosses. Essentially, they are continuing the sales process that made them successful. Unfortunately, the conditions and dynamics of managing a sales team are totally different. Now, it’s more important to become a facilitator instead of a salesperson—that is, to utilize the energy and talent at your disposal. The manager is no longer the lone wolf who has to come up with the Big Idea and sell it, but rather the person who extracts Big Ideas from the sales team and helps them sell it. This requires a change in mind-set from the knee-jerk reaction of continuously selling to one of coordinating.
The good news is this simple fact: Your people want to be led. They want to believe in you. They want to be part of a winning team. They want to follow your example. Many want to give their full commitment to a boss and company they respect and trust. Remember when you were a rep, the enthusiasm and hope you felt in getting a new manager? And remember, in many cases, how quickly the honeymoon ended? Hope is hardwired into salespeople’s psyche. The manager’s job is to turn their innate hope into enthusiasm and commitment.
The goal of this book is to help you develop a successful sales team by using Total Quality Management (TQM) practices that have been proven effective over the years. The techniques include such things as continuous improvement, rep/manager collaboration, empowerment, team building, and shared learning. TQM is a powerful way to transform teams and individuals into champions, but it takes a strong leader to start the process.
The first step is addressing the one thing you can most influence: yourself. You wouldn’t think of starting a sales campaign without goals, objectives, procedures, ground rules, and training. The same applies to self-management. Manage yourself so that you can manage your people and therefore manage your success and your career. Self-management entails an honest inventory of your strengths and weaknesses. More importantly, it requires the discipline to build on strengths and improve weaknesses. Strong leaders have a high degree of self-awareness; they know their strengths and what complementary strengths they need from others. They avoid being surrounded by people like themselves. Similarly, strong leaders are self-developers who seek information, training, and feedback on ways to be a better leader. They don’t wait for a company-sponsored training program but proactively seek self-improvement.
As Dr. Wayne Dyer said in Excuses Begone, “Never underestimate your power to change yourself. Never overestimate your ability to change others.” As sales managers, we all are faced with continuous change to the way we do things—change prompted by the marketplace, technology, and social trends. This is the easy stuff. We tweak commissions and bonuses, we revise sales pitches, we create product discounts. These are all reactive changes. Making proactive changes, elective changes to ourselves, is tough and arduous. Proactivity involves freedom of choice, willpower, and self-discipline. It is hard work but it’s necessary. But no matter how difficult self-change is to you as a manager, it is the first—and easiest—step in the continuous-improvement process. The next step, changing others, will require twice the effort of self-change, so be sure to guard your expectations.
Self-Management Question Number One: Are You a Trusted Leader?
The business world has changed dramatically in the past 20 years due to technology, global marketing, and social/demographic trends. At the same time, the leadership paradigm has been turned upside down and inside out, from vertical and personality-driven to horizontal and trust-driven. The charismatic, hard-charging leaders of the past are being replaced with team players who have ample collaboration and negotiating skills.
A recent Forbes magazine article, “Why Trust Is the New Core of Leadership,” states, “Leaders can no longer trust in power; instead they rely on the power of trust.” In addition, the article says:
- They [leaders] themselves will be skilled at trusting, because trusting and trustworthiness enhance each other.
- They will be good at collaboration and the tools of influence.
- They will operate from a clear set of values and principles, because opportunistic or selfish motives are clearly seen and rejected.
- They are likely to be more intrinsically than extrinsically motivated and more likely to use intrinsic motivations with others.
The article touches on the most important single element of your management job, which is establishing trust. Do your people trust you? No matter how competent and talented you are, your people won’t follow you if they don’t trust you. The three components of trust are care, integrity, and competence.
Care Is a Vital Part of Trust
Do you care about your people? They know whether you do or don’t. You simply can’t fake it. If most of your efforts are tied to your own best interests, your devotees will be scarce. On the other hand, if you exhibit a modicum of selflessness, if you are willing to occasionally fall on your sword for your people, you’ll have loyal followers. Do you care about what they care about? Reps’ main interests are (in this order) security, respect, and pay. Are you aligned with your salespeople in these areas? Do your decisions take into account the interests of your people as well as yourself and the organization? Even more importantly, are you aware of your people’s interests?
Successful leaders fight for their employees. When it comes to pay, promotions, and working conditions, a leader is the sales rep’s champion—defending his reps even when it’s not popular with colleagues or bosses. Every time a sales leader goes to bat for a subordinate, that sends a resounding message to the team. Oddly enough, even when it means clashing with the boss, the boss will most likely respect your intentions and your principles.
Research shows that employees do want a personal touch from their manager. They want you to know them as people and know about their lives. But they do not want you to be their friend or confidant. It’s likely they don’t rely on you for emotional support. They rely on co-workers and friends for that.
The litmus test for caring is a single word: sacrifice. It’s easy to hand out spiffs and gift cards to your people. Those types of gifts don’t really require anything from you. The real gifts of caring are those that demand you take the time to go the extra mile, for example, to help a rep get a promotion. Or take a chance of failure to support an initiative from your sales team. Your people know you care when you have some skin in the game, when you’re willing to take a risk for them, fight for them, and protect them. That requires getting a little bruised occasionally and perhaps irritating your colleagues or boss.
Sales leaders who really take care of their people are likely to be confident and self-assured. These are the leaders who know they are good enough to take risks, to take chances of offending people. They know they can recover from failure and overcome difficulties in the quest to support their people. And they know that the payoff—trust—is greater than the risk.
Integrity Provides the Foundation for Trust
Tell the truth. Always. In The Little Book of Coaching, Ken Blanchard and Don Shula said, “Champion coaches operate out of unquestionable integrity. They call it the way they see it. They do not have hidden agendas. They do not say one thing but mean another. They do not manipulate people. They are genuine and sincere.”
From a practical perspective, irrespective of your moral or religious beliefs, honesty makes sense because few of us have a good enough memory to lie successfully, and your salespeople are pretty good at sensing untruths and manipulation. It’s just too easy to get caught and the potential gain is never worth the damage to one’s reputation.
Research at Bowling Green State University included a study of 193 salespeople from ten U.S. companies suggesting a strong, positive relationship between the integrity of a manager and sales force productivity/job satisfaction. In effect, the study supports the concept that trusted managers create better relationships with their sales team, which leads to job satisfaction and ultimately better sales results. The element of trust was measured by such statements as “My manager would never try to gain an advantage by deceiving workers,” “I have complete faith in the integrity of my manager,” and “I feel quite confident that my manager will always treat me fairly.” Results showed that managers who were role models of integrity, ethics, and fairness created a trusting relationship with subordinates, “which subsequently results in greater job satisfaction and overall job performance by salespeople.”
Competency Fortifies Trusting Relationships
Do you know everything your reps are required to know, such as pricing, product details, procedures, and paperwork? We all know managers who don’t waste time on the “details” as if those were beneath their lofty station as manager. Actually, it’s often a throwback to their sales days when it was more important to persuade customers than to inform them. These managers are the ones who expertly avoid and deflect questions on new products and pricing, for instance, referring reps to the appropriate Web site or binder. What they don’t realize is that everyone—their boss and their subordinates—notices their lack of knowledge.
An ill-prepared manager is viewed as incompetent and rarely commands the credibility needed to be effective. Managers need to know everything reps are expected to know. And it helps to know even more. For example, are you keeping up with the latest trends in selling techniques and technology? Do you know your industry and your competitors’ pricing and products? Here’s a key competency question: Could you lead a training session on any of your sales team’s major issues, including pricing, products, competition, and sales techniques?
Taking it one step further, are you going beyond basic competency and finding creative ways to apply your knowledge that your reps might not have considered? For example, look for ways to combine your product knowledge to develop creative sales applications for specific industries or types of customers. Use your acumen of competitors’ market positioning to develop selling strategies for your people. For example, if your major competitor is emphasizing product affordability, you can differentiate your selling strategy with a focus on product quality and durability.
Be the go-to person for your reps and you become the go-to person for your boss—a surefire way to advance one’s career. And, more importantly, it creates the foundation of trusting relationships.
What’s the Most Important Trust Factor?
Very simply, it is care. That’s the single most important factor in establishing trust. You can make mistakes in judgment. You can make factual errors. You can even have an integrity problem. But as long as your people know you care about their welfare, it’s all okay. Your people don’t expect you to be perfect all the time. They know you will occasionally be forgetful, inattentive, or preoccupied. They know you will take your eye off the ball at times. But knowing that your heart is in the right place—that you will protect and support them—makes the biggest screwups bearable.
On the other hand, if they see as you as self-absorbed and oblivious to their best interests, your team will continuously add your every mistake to their list of items that make you a bad manager. In fact, even the good things that you do will be marginalized and ignored by your people; they won’t want you to be successful because you don’t care about their success. Essentially, if your salespeople think you don’t care about them, there’s no amount of competency or integrity that matters.
All in all, the element of trust allows your team to be innovative and aggressively seek new ways of doing things and tackling problems. It allows your team to reach peak performance by being “in the zone.” Athletes describe it as moments when they play their best, free of distractions and self-consciousness while feeling confident and in control. Effective sales leaders enable peak performance through support and encouragement, letting team members know that the manager “has their back.” The reps know that management isn’t lying in wait for a “gotcha” moment. Without the distractions of fear or intimidation—but being held accountable—reps can relax and do their jobs productively.
David Novak, CEO of Yum Brands, which operates KFC, Taco Bell, and Pizza Hut, saw profits nearly double in three years. In Fortune magazine, he said, “What really made the difference was the idea that if we trusted each other, we could work together to make something happen that was bigger than our individual capabilities.”