Did you know that everyone in a sales organization is a manager? It may not be in the job title and it may not be in the job description, but it is a fact. Some people manage teams that report to them but everyone needs to manage their manager…also known as ‘managing up’. Some people are able to master this skill with ease and others have to work hard on learning this skill. But the truth is, you won’t be successful or fulfilled in your sales career until you indeed learn this. My comments here are based on lots of trial and error and on learning how to improve my skills in managing up.
Let’s look at 4 different skills to help you learn to manage up:
Managing Up Skills
- Team players
- Solutions not problems
All sales managers like to know ‘what’s going on’ with the business or with the team. Managers may want to hear this in a variety of ways: in-person meetings, phone calls/conference calls, emails, or written reports. The absolute first thing that you want to establish with a new manager is how they want to be communicated with. I’ve worked with managers that have no problem with you poking your head in their office in the morning with coffee and having an impromptu chat…others want to formalize a set appointment time. Here’s what you should ask your manager:
- What are your expectations in terms of frequency of communicating with you? Daily, weekly, bi-weekly?
- What times of the day work best for these communications? Early morning before meetings, lunchtime meetings, late afternoons?
- What format(s) works best? Email, phone call, in-person?
- What types of information are you specifically looking for? Revenue numbers, progress to specific customer sales goals, trending topics with customers, ‘water cooler talk’?
I’ve heard salespeople (including me) comment on a request from their manager “Why do they need to know that info? I’ve already given that info before? How is this relevant?”
Most of the time, when you receive a seemingly bizarre request for information from your manager, it’s because THEY are being asked for this by THEIR manager. And this is why I call this skill ‘empathy’. Remember, the more senior the management is, the more removed they are from the day-to-day reality of the business. There is a colloquialism about ‘stuff’ rolling downhill and it is true…your manager may also think what they are requesting from you is bizarre, but they still need your answer. Empathy is something that great salespeople have and it is the art of putting yourself in the other person’s shoes. Think about this when working with your manager. Also, you may find yourself actually in that management role in your career and you’ll definitely appreciate this.
One of the most important things I’ve learned in my career is how important it is to think of the team first, not the individual. Managers want their teams to run smoothly and to collaborate and work well together. I’ve found that when teams have issues, or challenges, the best managers will encourage the team to solve that challenge themselves…rather than the manager doing it for them. Nothing will sabotage the individual contributor’s career growth and opportunities more than being perceived as not being a team player. This was something I had to learn early in my career and I guarantee that if you are known as a team player, career opportunities will open up for you. Your manager has enough to do without worrying about ‘drama’ within their team so, as a team, try to resolve things yourselves.
Put this on your whiteboard:
- Your company
- Your division
- Your team
This is how you want to prioritize what is most important to the success of your team and will help you to visualize being a team player.
Solutions not problems
I think that this topic is equally important for managing up and managing your customers. There are always going to be problems facing sales teams…whether they are external or self-induced. Sometimes, something has happened and you need to go to your customer with some bad news…never a good meeting. Sometimes you need to go to your manager with bad news, too. I’ve always felt that, as a manager, I want to hear bad news as soon as possible so that I could communicate it to my management, if important enough, and to work with the team on solutions.
Great salespeople, and great teams, will go to their managers (and their customers) with both the problem and with potential solutions. Effectively managing up means being proactive with these challenging situations by giving your manager potential solutions. Maybe your manager feels that your suggestions won’t solve the problem but they will give you the credit and respect for coming to them with ideas…not just problems.
The best thing that a salesperson can do (besides achieving their sales goals!) is become a true asset to their manager and to the overall health of their team. Just remember the ‘Golden Rule’: Treat others as you would like others to treat you.