One of the most discussed topics amongst sales teams is their sales management. All of us in sales have had both really good and really bad sales managers. I’ve been fortunate in that the only truly bad managers I’ve had were early in my sales career. I’ve had very strong and effective managers for the last 20 years of my own sales and sales management career. In thinking about the reason for that difference, I believe a big part of that is becoming more aware of what managers need from their teams. In essence, the more understanding you have of what makes your manager ‘tick’, the better you will be able to ‘manage up’ and make both of your lives, and responsibilities, that much easier and more effective. The bottom line is that it is YOUR responsibility to do your best to successfully ‘manage up.’
What Matters to Managers?
Everyone in sales is a manager. Some of us manage people and some of us manage our customers and our business. In both instances, we want to grow our business, and have it run smoothly without negative surprises. Sales managers really don’t like surprises and that is one reason why it is critical to have a clear and consistent dialog with your manager about the state of your customers and business. Many salespeople feel that their managers are always in meetings and too busy to have ongoing business and customer conversations. They might believe that they are doing well if they DON’T hear from their manager. That is a big mistake on the part of the salesperson. It is everyone’s responsibility in sales, whether an individual contributor or regional sales manager, to reach out to their manager and set up meetings to brief them on the business.
The best managers I’ve worked with aren’t irritated by bad news…bad news happens all the time in sales. What does bother these managers is not hearing bad news immediately and not hearing potential solutions to the bad news. If a big sale collapses, the right thing to do is let your manager know as soon as you can…and deliver that news with your ideas that could mitigate the news with solutions. Managers want to know what’s going on with their teams because they are constantly being asked by their OWN management, “How’s your business?” Sales teams need to arm their own managers with enough information so that they can answer those questions from senior management without missing a beat.
How much communication should you have with your management? Enough so that your manager says to you, “OK, I’ve got it…I understand how your business is doing.” Let your manager be the one to ask to reduce communication.
Meeting your Customers with your Manager
I’ve mentioned that managers are often busy with a multitude of internal meetings and conference calls. While it is good to be included in important meetings to help determine leadership and direction in your company, the best managers are, at heart, really good salespeople. They understand the need for the internal meetings but dearly miss spending time with customers and getting out of the office. It’s important to invite your management to join you in both sales meetings and customer entertaining. But there are a ground rules to discuss before meeting with your customers.
The first rule is to properly brief your manager on the customer status and the situation with their particular piece of business. If there have been problems with your customer, make sure your manager understands the situation and is aware, in detail, of any topics to avoid in the customer meeting. Conversely, all managers like to be the ‘white knight on the horse’, so if something has been amiss, let your manager be the one to come in to solve the problem. This all needs to be carefully discussed before the meeting and the roles for each of you need to be assigned. When I’m with a salesperson on our team, I want them to run the meeting. It is THEIR customer and I’m the guest. I’ll add value where I can and when appropriate, but the salesperson should be the star. Managers also need to be aware of not speaking too much in the customer meeting. As previously mentioned, most managers have been very good salespeople and love to present and SELL. But, managers need to let the salesperson do that and be more focused on how the meeting is going and opportunities for the salesperson’s growth to discuss in the meeting post-mortem. I strongly suggest spending time to review the sales meeting with both manager and salesperson. Ideally, this done right after the meeting when everything is fresh in everyone’s minds.
Next week we’ll continue to look at how to successfully ‘manage up.’