You thought, “Great!” It’s about time. My team will be behind me 100% and be enthusiastic and hard working. Finally I can make changes and, as a result, everyone will be happy working here. The sky’s the limit!”
So, what happened? Of course you hoped your leadership would be the catalyst that would immediately transform everyone into top producers. Surely your example, drive and passion to refocus the organization would make a difference, right?
Since you first heard the words proclaiming you as manager, have you had to wake up and smell the cappuccino? Has the realization hit home that the performance issues staring you in the face have probably survived numerous managers before you?
Well, take heart. As a manager, you’ve joined countless others who were initiated into the “baptism by fire” school of management. The increased responsibilities are indeed staggering and your new priorities can be overwhelming as you confront reality. So, to ease the transition and to give you a better shot at succeeding, here are some observations and inside management tips.
There is an existing work climate and culture. It may be negative and cynical or exactly the opposite — positive and exciting — but, regardless, some kind of climate already exists and it’s your job to diagnose the culture before you haphazardly make any adjustments. Get an accurate reading on where things are so you’ll know which direction to take.
Most team members are the exact opposite of you. New leaders assume their co-workers share the same goals, desires, motivations and passions. Nothing could be further from the truth. People are different and you will frustrate yourself by assuming that they are interested in following your personal agenda.
To avoid being ambushed, profile your people at the beginning of your tenure. This will give you some idea of their strengths and weaknesses. You’ll learn what makes them tick and ticked. From here, you can map out a strategy that will motivate — not frustrate — your sales staff.
Leadership is not a popularity contest. Everyone likes to be liked, but that shouldn’t be your first priority. Of course you say to yourself, “I want my people to respect me.” Well, who doesn’t? But remember, as a leader, your most important responsibility is to effect and direct change. And guess what? People naturally resist change. Therefore, they will resist you. So, be ready to acquire more than a few skeptics and critics as you lead your team in new directions.
Leadership requires a plan. It’s tough to address performance challenges. Your team members are doing things their way for reasons that are logical to them, though it may be totally illogical to you. To be an effective leader, you must accept this, be prepared and present them with a better plan. If you go in trying to “wing” it, your ideas won’t fly and you will frustrate your team. They will prefer their old, tried-and-true ways of working to your new, organized approach. To channel them into your way of thinking, you must give them a well-defined pathway to follow and time to adjust to the new route. Otherwise, you’ll lose them.
Changing a team member’s performance isn’t your responsibility. Your biggest obstacles to team performance are the people who don’t carry their load. You may be tempted to stick your head in the sand and avoid the non-performer. If you do, you’ll learn that it doesn’t take long for morale and productivity to erode because of one person’s poor performance or bad attitude. What it comes down to is that your team is counting on you to address performance and/or issues of attitude..Now!
Changing a bad attitude or mediocre performance standards isn’t your responsibility. You can’t force someone to improve. But you can provide the types of tools and environment that will stimulate personal growth. And you can motivate. How?
Praise publicly. Author and positive-thinker Dale Carnegie advised, “Catch others doing something right and praise them.” Pick one specific thing that you have observed a salesperson doing that you appreciate. Then, in front of others, give specific, sincere praise.
Clearly articulate. Summarize and specify what you want from your sales force. Don’t expect them to read your mind. In addition to sharing information with them about the company, sales expectations, policy changes, etc., let them know that you are receptive to their comments and suggestions. Emphasize that you want open communication between sales and management.
Initiate incentive programs and bonuses. Practice rewarding good behavior and it will continue. This could include special recognition (salesperson of the month), monetary compensation, trips, gift certificates or whatever would be considered a “perk” for performing. If you’re on a tight budget, be creative. Give them a free lunch and an afternoon off, special parking privileges, a celebratory cake and coffee mug, free massage or magazine subscription. Search the library for books and magazines that reveal how other managers have rewarded their staff.
A study conducted by Clemson University in the mid-nineties asked respondents in the sales profession to rate the value — on a scale of 0 to 100 — of the six most common sales incentive rewards. Their responses were: personal vacation trips (91.4%), sales conference trips (91.1%), cash (85.7%), merchandise (73.4%), recognition rewards (69.4%) and status awards (64.7%).
Encourage them. At some time, all salespeople walk that fine line between comfort zones where they equally fear failure and success. They probably know how to handle failure better because they’ve had more experience but they might subconsciously be afraid of success because becoming successful means changing and increasing the expectations others have of them. It’s your job to boost them over the bump and to provide an atmosphere in which they feel safe stretching their wings.
Demonstrate the work ethic you expect from them. Don’t ask your salespeople to do something that you won’t do.
Be fair. Don’t play favorites.
Keep your word and set moral standards. This will send a clear message about the level of performance you expect.
Share the spotlight for bright ideas and it will reflect favorably on you and your company.
Be a mentor. Pass the art of salesmanship to others. Teach your secrets of success to those who are willing to learn. Years ago, following a celebrated international career on the stage, the world-famous violinist Jascha Heifetz became a professor of music at UCLA. Someone asked him the obvious question, “Why did you leave the glamour of performing to become a teacher?” And his reply was, “Violin playing is a perishable art. It must be passed on; otherwise, it is lost.” Then he recalled his former violin professor in Russia who told him that, if he worked hard enough, someday he would be good enough to teach.
And, finally, accept that there are minimal salespeople who are simply “putting in their time” until retirement or the next paycheck or until they can find another job that’s more suited to their talents. You can easily recognize them because they are content with their status quo, refuse to change, have no interest in their work and are unfocused. Don’t beat yourself to death trying to motivate minimal salespeople because it won’t happen. Nothing you can do will alter their mindset. Your choice will be whether to accept them on their terms or to send them packing.
In summary: To be an effective sales manager, don’t command and control your salespeople; instead, value and respect them. And let them learn from you how to make dust instead of eating it.