When you’re a top-notch salesperson, the sales manager really only checks in to find the status of deals and then lets you do your thing…or at least they should.
I had a couple of sales managers in my career who were far too hands-on with their day-to-day input into my processes. These are the ones that I had to learn to manage as much as they managed me. Actually, they never just managed me; they micro-managed me.
When I made my way to the sales manager ranks, I promised myself I’d never be that kind of micro-manager. It shocked me when I found a portion of my sales force actually wanted to be micro-managed to a degree that was more than I could imagine.
I found there were two types of reps who were always on top of me, wanting to share where things were at every little step or asking for advice on even the simplest things.
The first was the salesperson who was in a slump and lost their confidence. They were suffering from “paralysis by analysis” and second-guessing every decision they made. The longer their sales slump continued, the more they needed me to make their decisions for them, which wasn’t in my job description.
The other was the kind who constantly needed my approval and seemed almost frightened that I would disagree or challenge them for a misstep. They wanted to make sure they wouldn’t get in trouble, so they ran every move they made by me.
Needless to say, neither of these kinds of salespeople were our top sellers.
Obviously, I wanted to stay in the loop with what my team was doing, but I didn’t need a rundown of the 17 emails and six telephone calls they made that day.
With my superstar sales reps, we met once per month to discuss where their various potential clients were in the sales cycle. If they needed me in a pinch, they knew I was there, but I was confident with their abilities.
I decided to take those reps who were on top of me and make their one-on-one meetings every week, which helped, but ultimately what I figured out, and what helped the issue, was to take their unnecessary interruptions and turn them into counseling sessions and learning opportunities.
With some of them, it clicked. Others never quite got it and moved on. This exercise made me realize that the chief job of managing the sales team was to continuously attempt to improve their skills and performance, and often that was by encouraging them to think independently.
Managing Below And Above
The reality of multimillion-dollar sales is that it takes a team to close the deal. I could have the greatest rep working the account, but at some point, it will become time for me to sit down with one of the client’s top managers.
That front-line rep who will get the commission on the deal is really playing the role of the tactical lead on the deal and, as sales manager, you’re the strategic lead. It’s like you’re the general in the battlefield, who hangs back and makes the general plan of attack, but it’s your soldiers who are out there having to adapt and make decisions on the fly.
And much like a general who constructs the plan for battle, you’ve still got people back at the Pentagon you’ve got to answer to, and they don’t always fully understand what’s happening out on the front lines and are just looking for results.
I’ve worked with great CEOs and vice presidents who let me guide a team and weren’t always on top of me for information; and then I’ve worked with some who felt like they were on me multiple times a day wanting status reports. It really depends on the style of the organization.
Just don’t forget, those people above you are part of the team as well. You may likely need to call on the CEO of your organization to be part of a meeting to seal the deal because you’re too low in the pecking order. It’s a balancing act and takes a special kind of person to get it perfect from the beginning.