Managing Up – “Managing Your Manager”

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

  • Communication
  • Empathy
  • 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.

Team Players

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
  • Yourself

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.



Great Customer Action Plans (CAP’s) – “Hitting the Number”, Part 2

You’ve heard about this great new restaurant that you want to try but you’re not familiar with it…what do you do? You might go on Yelp to get additional information or ask your friends for help. Finally, once you’ve made the decision to go, you’ll load the restaurant address into your map app and hit the road. Common sense, right?

You’ve just received your annual revenue goals and you have your customer list and it’s a big number to hit…what do you do?

If you’re going to reach your destination, you need to have a roadmap and plan to get there…that’s true with both a restaurant and your sales revenue goals. You can’t ‘wing it’…you need to have a written Customer Action Plan (CAP). You can use CRM programs like Salesforce and others or you can even create your own CAP on a spreadsheet, but you need the plan.

Here are some elements to putting together great CAP’s that will help you to do a better job in providing solutions to your customers’ goals and challenges.

CAP Elements

  • Overview
  • Key Players
  • Customer needs/goals
  • Selling solutions
  • Revenue action plans

Build Your Overview

It’s very important to create an overview of your current status and relationship with your customers. There are a couple of reasons for this:

  • You need to establish a baseline in order to measure your progress with your customers.
  • You need to be able to know your customers as well as you can in order to recognize when you may have a product or opportunity that will help them achieve one of their goals. You know your own company better than they do, obviously, and the better you know your customer’s company, the better value you will provide for them.
  • You will be asked at some point by your management, or senior management, for your POV on where you are trending with your customer list…usually before one of the management team has a meeting with someone at your customer’s company. It will be in your best interest to be able to respond to the request quickly with your customer overview. Everyone at your own company assumes that you are the expert on this particular customer as they are on your list and responsibility. Make sure that you ARE that expert.

Know Key People at Customer’s Company

Many times, I’ve talked with salespeople, and even sales managers, who believe that they have a particular customer covered well because they have a good relationship, and are friends, with one or two buyers at that customer’s company. The reality is that this is a very dangerous bit of ‘wishful thinking’ on the part of that salesperson. Suppose that the one or two buyers that you are close friends with leave the company? Suppose they get promoted to another division within that company? Suppose they leave the buying side and go to the sales side? Suddenly, you are left high and dry with no key contacts. How do you prevent this from happening?

  • Get to know as many people as you can at the customer’s company…not just a small group of buyers but people in a wide variety of departments.
  • You can get to know this wider group of people by providing information or data that is valuable to them and can help them do their jobs better.
  • I strongly recommend getting to know the wider group of people professionally before socially entertaining because you need to establish that you, as the salesperson, are not just selling something but are interested in solving the customer’s problem. 

Customer Needs/Goals

I was at a meeting last week when a senior level client mentioned that what she was looking for in a sales executive working with her was someone who could be an “industry impact consultant.” This means that the salesperson is so knowledgeable about the industry that the customer’s business is in that the customer looks forward to the sales meeting…and, in many cases, will request the meeting from you.

The ‘superstar’ salesperson is gathering information all the time and at every meeting. They are a resource because of their experience and ‘point-of-view’ expertise in their industry. The top salespeople are asked to speak on panels, give presentations at industry events, and to help the customer with their own internal presentations to their management.

Doing your homework and listening to your customer to understand their needs and goals will help you to utilize your industry knowledge best to provide true value…your customer will look forward to meeting with you as they know that they will learn something of value.

Next week, we will look more at understanding your customer’s organization, selling solutions/not products, and revenue action plans.

“Hitting the Number”, Part 1 – Establishing Revenue Goals

One of the best things about being in sales and sales management is knowing how you’re performing at all times. Unlike some other careers, when you’re in sales you are evaluated not just by qualitative opinions but by where you are quantitatively relative to your revenue goal. That goal could be a division goal, a department goal, a team goal, or your own individual goal. It could even be a combination of all the above. I believe that being in sales and sales management is like being a small businessperson…you may work for a big company but your own success depends on you.

This week’s post is going to discuss establishing a revenue goal and will be the first of a series of posts toward ‘working your plan’.

How are revenue goals developed?

Step 1 – Develop the baseline

I believe the correct way to develop revenue goals is to begin with the customer lists of all the salespeople on the team. Each individual customer should be evaluated based on past history, current status, and future prospects. For example, you might want to look at a 3-year history of the customer’s investment with you and your company.

  • Are they a growing or declining customer?
  • Have there been changes in their leadership team?
  • What outside events have impacted them (technology issues, legal issues, PR issues, natural disasters)?
  • How is this individual customer doing relative to their own competitors?

These questions can be answered by doing research within your company and by also researching industry publications and websites to obtain the more macro data. In addition, nothing beats having a conversation with someone at the customers’ business and listening to their insights and opinions. Many times, you will learn a great more from an ‘unvarnished’ conversation than from public information.

After reviewing the history of the customer, you will then want to review how they are currently doing…with their relationship with you and your company and externally. Things to look at are:

  • How is your overall current business relationship with them?
  • Are there any major pain points that they have with you personally or with your company?
  • If there are challenges with this client, can they be easily resolved?
  • What one thing could you do to improve the business relationship?

Make sure and also understand how is their business doing…sales, culture, leadership, and morale. If you are fortunate to work for a company with an analytics or research team, take advantage of that expertise to help you get current information and data. Finally, work to discover how this customers’ prospects look for the next 1-2 years. You will need to include overall industry data as well as individual information for that specific customer. Remember, this will by definition be a prediction.

Step 2 – Develop the goal target

This part of the revenue goal process can be the most difficult if not done correctly. Sales management is responsible for agreeing to an overall sales goal number (% increase) and for disseminating that number equitably throughout the sales team and, eventually, to the individual salesperson. Determining the revenue goal increase is impacted by a number of factors:

  • How is the growth of your company’s industry segment doing?
    • Double digit % increases? Flat year-over-year (YOY)? Declining industry revenue?
  • What are the growth goals for your individual company?
    • Is your sales division subject to greater or lesser % growth increases?
  • Are there other factors which could impact achieving the increased sales growth for your team?
    • Unfilled sales positions? Lack of internal support teams? Morale issues? Lack of new products available to sell?

All of these factors should be taken into consideration when sales management is developing revenue targets for the next year (or any time frame, really). Most of the time, you are going to be looking at increases in revenue goals…that’s the nature of the business. However, in 2009, our sales team was struggling to have our customers equal their previous years’ investment and we coined the term, “Flat is the new up”!

Once the overall percentage increase for the team has been established, it is sales management’s responsibility to take that overall increase and assign it to individual salespeople. I’ve heard of some managers who might just assign the same increase to everyone on their team…across the board. While that approach might appear to be equitable, I don’t believe it is the right thing to do for a number of reasons. The first reason is that each customer is different and has different issues. Salesperson A might have a list of customers that includes one client that has significantly increased their investment with your company and is continuing to do so next year. Salesperson B, through no fault of their own, might have a customer on their list who has cancelled all business with not only your company, but also your competitors. In this scenario, I might increase the sales goals for Salesperson A as they have a greater opportunity to achieve the increased goals. I might then also lower the percentage increase on the sales goals for Salesperson B, as they are going to have more of a challenge reaching their target.

Now, I am fully aware that the reality is that we are sometimes given unrealistic revenue goals and don’t have the luxury or opportunity to go through the process described above. I get it.
But, it is well worth the time going through the aforementioned steps to give yourself and your team or management the ‘reality check’ needed to make good business decisions. A responsible and logical goal setting process is critical in retaining the best talent on your sales team…conversely, a pattern of setting unrealistic goals will drive away the highest achieving salespeople on your teams. Not a smart or cost-efficient way of doing business.

4 Tips on Better Customer Entertainment

Expense accounts and entertainment budgets are always a part of a balancing act for sales organizations. New and existing customers are being bombarded by sellers to go to parties, concerts, sporting events, dinners and trips. Salespeople are expected to ‘wine and dine’ their clients. Sales management is always being pressured to keep an ‘eye on expenses’ by their own senior management as well as the CFO’s. And, when sales goals are not being met, what is the first thing to get scrutinized and cut? Entertainment expenses.

What are some best practices for customer entertainment?

Align sales management and sales team on ground rules

I believe it is critical that both management and sales have transparency and agreement on what is the amount of the expense budget. Too often, the actual expense budget is kept vague…which, of course, makes it very difficult to manage to a number. My experience has been, as both a salesperson and a sales manager, that if the number is well known then the sales team will be responsible and keep within budget. As a sales manager, I want to trust the sales team to behave like adults and view the company expense budget as if it were their own personal expense budget. I believe that it is always better to trust a salesperson on the team unless, or until, they prove otherwise.

Entertainment Etiquette

You might think that common sense would always prevail in regard to etiquette but sometimes somebody really screws up…let me describe such a situation. The most egregious example that I saw was at a business networking event that I had helped organize. This event was honoring a well-known buyer and it was an opportunity for sellers to introduce themselves and make a connection. Unfortunately, one over-zealous seller proceeded to pull out their iPad and begin to give a presentation to the surprised buyer while they were standing at the bar. Yes, a seller actually walking through a deck next to drinks, bottles, and mixed nuts. Needless to say, I went and rescued the shocked buyer immediately upon seeing this and apologized for the rudeness of the seller. Here are some basic entertainment etiquette ideas that have worked for me:

  • Do not give any kind of a presentation at a social event or when entertaining clients
  • Let the client bring up business…they will do so 99% of the time as they know that they are being entertained for business reasons
  • Treat the customer as though they were a guest at your home…would you try and sell a guest something?
  • The purpose of business entertainment is to get to know your customer in a casual social setting as opposed to facing each other across a desk…treat it that way

Think Different

The number of different entertainment options available to a salesperson is often determined by the location of the customer. A larger metropolitan area could have a greater quantity of entertainment options…whether it be restaurants, concerts, or sporting events. But, even in a smaller metropolitan area, the quality of entertainment options can be equal to, or greater, than those of a big city. And that’s my point in this…try to think about something unique or different that you could do with a single customer, or a customer team. Here are some unique entertainment ideas:

  • Think about ‘experiential’ entertaining ideas
    • Participatory sports (golf, tennis, hiking, horseback riding, etc.)
    • Cooking classes or wine tastings (or craft beer/bourbon, etc.)
    • Performance driving classes on local raceways (not after the wine tasting!)
  • Family entertaining ideas (everyone wants to spend more time with their family)
    • Set up dinners and/or events with you and your customers’ and their significant others
    • Consider events where your customer could bring their children
  • Exclusive opportunities
    • Access to private clubs or exclusive events
    • ‘Behind-the-scenes’ at music or sporting events

Spend Wisely

As I mentioned earlier, it is very important for sales management and the sales team to be on the same page as to entertainment expenses. If you, as a salesperson, have a ‘great’ idea for a customer event and you’ve got this nagging feeling it might be too expensive, you definitely want to run it by your manager. Be prepared to think and discuss why the extra expense is worth the cost. Would it be better to add more customers to get more mileage on the expense cost? Would it be better to add another salesperson from your team to the event you are planning so they could include their customers, too? Remember, you need to treat company expenses as if they were your own personal expenses…and, particularly when sales goals are not being reached, think carefully about how you are entertaining your customers. I would never advocate a complete shutting off of entertaining but I would encourage the sales team to be smart about who and where they are entertaining.

Finally, when entertaining, always make sure to have your credit card with you and some cash, or a digital wallet, as a backup…I learned that the hard way as a new salesperson!

3 Ideas for a Better Presentation Deck

Whether you’re building your own sales presentation deck from scratch or getting an off-the-shelf template from your company’s marketing team, it’s your responsibility as the salesperson to customize and make the deck more effective in communicating your message to your audience. When you take ownership of creating a great sales presentation deck you will also be more familiar with the content of the deck…which will greatly improve the delivery of your presentation.

Creating a great sales presentation deck is really the hardest part of the entire presentation process.  To use a golf analogy, creating the deck is working on your swing at the driving range …giving the actual presentation is going out on the golf course and scoring birdies, eagles and maybe a hole-in-one!

Structuring a sales deck can appear daunting but with the following ideas, you can ensure that your audience will “get your message” and be engaged during your actual presentation. And, because of that, they will be more receptive to your ideas and recommendations.

Begin at the End

How do you determine if you gave a successful presentation? No, it’s not just that you got through all the slides within the prescribed meeting time and that your customers were nodding their heads in unison. The true measure of success will be during and after the presentation when they ask questions or request next steps. But, in order to do that, you need to make sure that you effectively communicated your message. When you build your deck, start at the end of the presentation with the three takeaways you want your audience to understand and remember. Why do I say only three? Because the people in your audience could be sitting through up to 1-3 presentations per day from salespeople and they would have a tough time retaining all the information presented at those meetings. Keep it simple and make it easier for them to understand and retain your main points with only 3 takeaways in the final slide.

What’s in it for the Customer?

When you are creating the sales deck, it is tempting to try and squeeze in as many possible bullet points or products from your portfolio that you have to sell into the slides…after all, it may have taken a long time to get the meeting scheduled and you don’t want to forget anything. However, this can be a huge mistake because your audience will see that the deck doesn’t reflect what their needs are and, very likely, has just been pulled off-the-shelf with a name change. Instead:

Think about what the customer has told you about their goals/needs

Use the customer research you’ve found to develop slide content

Personalize the deck using any of their company terms or acronyms

Put their company logo on each slide

Remember that it’s all about solving a problem for them with your ideas.

Another point to consider is making the sales deck easy enough to understand so your audience member can explain it to their supervisor or another decision maker. Sometimes, the attendees at your presentation have to sell your idea to someone else. Making the deck easily transferable can help them to achieve your goals.

A Picture is worth 1000 Words

Now, I’m not suggesting you create a deck which looks like your Instagram posts…though it would be interesting for you to give a presentation completely without words in the deck! What I am suggesting is that you dramatically reduce the verbiage in your deck. How many times have you heard a presenter exclaim, “I’m sorry for the eye chart slide?” Rather than be sorry, just get rid of all eye chart slides. Reducing the words and increasing graphics will force you, as a presenter, to really understand the information that you’re presenting…which will enable you to focus on the actual presentation (a future blog post) rather than scrambling for the content of the deck. You need to really KNOW your presentation deck. And, you don’t want to be one of those presenters that is just reading the slides out loud to your audience.

These ideas are applicable not only to an external presentation but also for any internal presentations you might give to other team members in different departments. You want to make sure that you are effectively communicating to them as if they were an outside customer. I’ve consulted with analytic teams who needed help in their internal presentations and these ideas worked for them and improved their presentations to other teams.

Remember to put yourself in your audience’s shoes…think about what will make your sales deck stand out versus your competitors’ sales deck. Think about what resonates when you are watching a sales presentation given to you? I’ll bet you’ll be far more engaged if the content is relevant to one of your needs or goals.

Let’s talk about Sales Call prep

Great news! You’ve finally got a meeting scheduled with that impossible-to-reach client and now you’re working on your PowerPoint deck before the meeting. Hold on, though, because you still have a lot of work to do besides just working on the deck (we’ll talk about the deck in a future blog post). Remember that in preparing for the client meeting, keep your focus on the customer and their needs.

I will generally allow a minimum of 2 hours of prep work for a 1 hour meeting. If you are already working with this client/individual, you might allow for less time and if it is a new client, you might allow more. Here is a checklist of things you definitely want to cover off before the meeting:

Try to get a list of all the attendees in the meeting and their job responsibilities

It’s important to know what the ‘pecking order’ is with the meeting attendees and who is the key person that needs to understand your points. Obviously, you address the entire group but make sure you’re focused on the decision-maker.

Allow plenty of time for travel to the meeting

This is certainly important where I live in Southern California but it even more important if you are on a business trip and are unfamiliar with the city. Imagine flying into a city for meetings and not realizing that it is an hour between locations for your meetings…definitely a challenge in LA. Double-check locations and travel times.

Arrive early to the meeting

I have always said that it is better to be 30 minutes early to a meeting than 5 minutes late…plus, you have time to gather your thoughts before the meeting starts. This is also very important because you can make any last-minute changes to the deck or to your comments opening the meeting. It’s much better to be relaxed, composed and confident at the start of the meeting than being rushed, flushed, and disorganized. People will notice the disorganization rather than the content you’re presenting.

Make sure to do your homework about both the companies and/or individuals attending the meeting

You should already have a file on an existing client and you should do research on new clients, too. LinkedIn is a great resource for researching both companies and people…I find that it is a great icebreaker in meetings to acknowledge shared LinkedIn contacts or friends. Make sure to always check headlines the day of the meeting for any late breaking news about their company, too.

If your boss is joining you, make sure to prep them on your meeting goals and the attendees at the meeting

This is under the category also of “Managing Up” (which will be a future blog topic). It is important that your boss is aware of any topics that are “red flags” in the meeting. You want to make sure that the boss is comfortable enough to have a good conversation even if they are not directly involved in the presentation.

Before the meeting actually begins, confirm if you have a ‘hard stop’ or if there is some flexibility with the end time

This is not only a common courtesy to the meeting attendees but it is critical in your pacing of the meeting. It is a meeting fail to be 75% through your presentation and, because of Q&A, you aren’t able to finish. Confirming the amount of time that you actually have will enable you to pace the presentation appropriately and allow for questions. None of the attendees will be upset if you finish 5 minutes early!

Make sure to confirm the meeting, in writing, the day before

People are busy…calendars are crowded with back-to-back meetings. There would be nothing worse than arriving in time with your boss for a meeting only to find out that it is cancelled. Depending on the client, it doesn’t hurt to confirm more than once, too.

Check on all tech requirements the day before…hotspot for Wi-Fi, projector remote, etc.

How many times does your internet connection need to be rebooted in your home? Make sure and have a backup Wi-Fi hotspot with you (can be your phone) if you are giving a ‘live’ demo online. Check to make sure the remote is working for advancing your slides. Doesn’t hurt to have back-up screen shots available in case the live demo still doesn’t work.

Congratulations, again, on landing that big meeting! Go through this checklist to make sure that you are thoroughly prepared for a successful meeting.

I welcome your comments and questions…





Let’s talk about Commission Plans

Compensation for a sales team is always a subject to arouse a lot of interest from both sales management and the sales team. It’s basically a balancing act of sufficiently paying a fair and motivating commission combined with keeping costs in line with annual commission budgets.

I’ve found that the most successful commission plans motivate and reinforce positive behavior from the team…rewarding team members for their hard work and motivating them to achieve and exceed sales goals. I believe the best plans are clearly understood by the sales team and reward at least quarterly but preferably on a monthly basis.

Successful commission plans:

  • Pay for what is sold
  • Encourage the sales team to look at the greater team goal
  • Provide incentives (spiffs) for selling new or targeted products
  • Reward extra on whatever is sold after achieving the revenue goal.

Unsuccessful commission plans:

  • Limit commission payouts to only hitting the actual goal
  • Encourage the sales team to ‘only look out for themselves, not the team’
  • Cap maximum commission payouts
  • Are very confusing about how commission is calculated and paid out.

Successful sales teams are working together to achieve their own sales goals and are also conscious and supportive of other team members in order to achieve, and exceed, their total team goals.

I welcome your comments…