Managing sales people is not easy. If it was, everyone would do it well. But it should not be as hard as it appears for most agency owners and sales manager. It depends on HOW you manage, by edict or by agreement. Here is a scenario that we’ve encountered many times in many places – only the names have changed (to protect the guilty)….
It’s time for Dave to once again hammer his producers on why they aren’t meeting their goals. But he’s tired, worn out, and it feels like the same old thing, just a different month. He wonders, “is anything ever going to change?” (Does this sound familiar, sales managers?)
Just then, The phone rings, a welcome relief from the internal conversation he’s having. “Hello?” It’s Sylvia, a buddy Dave started selling with years ago, now they’re both in sales management.
Sylvia, always upbeat, drives him crazy.
She asks how things are going.
“Sylvia, I’m bummed out, it’s these meeting, I just can’t get people motiviated, maybe you can do me a favor,come in and motivate people, I just can’t seem to get it done…”
She asks him, “give me one of the reasons your people don’t produce…”
He says, “I’ll tell you one of the problems, we’ve set these annual goals, even met with these people individually to review them, and these jokers tell me they’re just too busy keeping up with renewals and requoting in the market to write new business.”
Sylvia replies, “So it sounds like they’re telling you they don’t have time and circumstances are getting in the way, right?”
Dave, frustrated and sarcastic, replies, “Yeah, Sylvia, nice job of parroting back to me what I just said.”
“Look, Dave, I hear you, we’ve had the same challenges in the past, but I think I’ve come across something that’s helped. So Dave, do you really buy the fact that circumstances make it impossible to meet your goals?”
“No, Sylvia, because we have a couple people the office that seem to excel at everything they do!.”
“There are a couple things you can do to help the producers that aren’t performing, do you want to know what really works?” She asks.
“Okay, but you have a responsibility to make changes as well, Dave, are you up for that?”
“Yeah, I guess.
“When I first started it was uncomfortable and different for me, too, but I stuck it out and it’s really working for us now.” She says, “First, telling people what to do does not get it done.”
He replies, “Yeah yeah, we’ve used terms like ‘get them to buy in’ for years, but do little more than tell our producers and staff what they have to do and give them deadlines.”
He is on a roll, “Or we do that ‘annual goal setting’ with forms to complete.” “It’s like pulling teeth, I tell ya.”
He continues, “Reality is, no one likes to be told what to do, but we have to run this thing like a business.”
She decides to step in, “Hey Dave, there’s a saying, ‘When you have agreement, you have accountability.’” She continues, “Agreement gets you closer to the person and to the objective.”
He is skeptical, “Sounds like a lot of RAH RAH to me.”
“Yeah, I suppose, until you actually try it.” She replies
Feeling like Sylvia may be onto something, he says, “Okay, big shot, try it on me, then, how does this sound in the real world”
She slyly replies, “Well, how about this: Say you have a producer that you keep having the same conversation with over and over again. You talk about the same stuff, and nothing different ever happens”
“Got those all day long” he rebutts
“So, how about this approach: “Greg – or whatever their name is – we’ve talked about your goals several times, but we don’t seem to get anywhere, do you agree?”
She then reminds Dave, “Then wait for him to answer.” and then continues,
“I want to create a new way of making this work, something that will work for the both os us.” Now she moves for the agreement, “Does that sound more productive than me calling you in all the time and both of us leaving frustrated?” Again, “Wait for him to answer.”
“Why don’t you tell me what you think you can do for the next 30 days in line with your 20XX goals.”
She reminds Dave, “Ask for specific timelines, what will be done, and BY WHEN.” “Then Wait.” “Then, what are the circumstances that you anticipate that will get in your way?” “Wait for a response.”
“What will you do when those things come up?” She goes to say it again, but now Dave has it and replies in a child like tone, “Wait.”
She asks him pontedly now, “Why do you think I’m telling you to shut up every time you ask them a question?”
He replies, “Because, we preach that good communication comes with asking questions and then listening for the other person to answer. AND I suppose them telling me gives me information I can use to help support them later instead of me being the one to constantly feel like I’m chasing them down”
Syliva quipes excitedly, “YES, EXACTLY!”
But then Dave gets skeptical, “so, what if Greg doesn’t do the thing he says he’s going to? What then, superstar?”
Sylvia’s been here before: “Well, you have to find out what the circumstances were that got in the way, and have an open conversation about the WHYS not just that it did or did not get done.”
She continues now to him, “This is not an interrogation, Dave, you are taking a different approach now. They need to believe that they will find you on their side to help them break through instead of staying stuck.”
“Most people will test you to find out if you care enough as a manager to support them through the tough stuff.”
Now Sylvia is ready to help him understand, and says,
“Dave, you and I have been there, and you have a lot of experience living this as well, you remember what it was like to have that broom riding sales manager back in the day, don’t you?
She continues, “All we wanted was the true mentoring – meaning – some real world solutions when things got tough, not advice on another book to read, or being told to just go out and ‘sell sell sell’.”
His tone is more inquisitive than harsh this time, “Seems like this takes a lot of time.”
She replies confidently, “Look, of course this isn’t going to be easy, and you’re used to just reacting when people don’t meet your expectations. But if you stick with it and actually show them you care about the team instead of them as objects producing numbers, things will get better.”
Dave is thinking that this is actually starting to make sense. Finally, a simplier formula than the one he’s been using!
He asks, “How long have you been doing this this way?”
“A long time, you know that.” She laughs but then asks more seriously, “If you keep doing this another year where will you be?”
He knows where this is going, “The same place.”
She replies, “In the long run you’re going to be in a different place, it won’t take as much time, and you can train the new producers with this new accountability conversation, an honest conversation about what’s really going on…”
She continues, “Let’s be clear, that doesn’t mean everything’s all sunshine and rainbows – we’re still about the numbers, about tangible results, and about measuring what we do.”
“It’s just that the conversations will be different, they will be geared around the person, their individuality, their needs, wants, and goals, and how they can contribute to the agency’s vision for the future.”
“We’re just going to attack the reasons from a different angle.”
She is certain he’s listening, and says, “Look, ‘the market’, ‘not having time’, those are all bogus. We know they’re bogus, because somehow others are producing in spite of this. We’re going to address more about what’s really going on.”
She’s getting ready to run out for a meeting, and says, “Do you get it yet?”
Feeling a little better, Dave replies, “Yeah, I think so.”
She smiles, “Good, so BY WHEN will you meet with each of your producers?”
“What?! Now you’re using this on me?” he says with a smile and a bit of his old self again
She is amused that he’s really picking it up. “Of course, this is how things move from DISCUSSION INTO ACTION – I live it, too, you know!”
He’s a little nervous but answers anyway, “I’ll meet with everyone by Friday at 5:00.”
“Okay, so BY WHEN will you call me to let me know how it goes?” she replies
“Damn!” he says in that tone she is sure he’s used at home a few times
“WHEN?” she says, and he can tell she means it.
“How about by Monday at noon – and yes, I’ll call you this time.”
She sounds happy that he is serious and moving pretty quick for such a short catch up call. “Sounds terrific ~ I’m looking forward to hearing about what happened.”
He has to ask, feeling a combination of excitement and freak out, “So, hot shot, will you help me through this?”
She laughs, “Of course I will, you just have to do the hard work yourself. I’ll follow up and ask about your results. Talk to you Monday.”
Attribution: Brandie Hinen is President of Powerhouse Learning and is a part of The Agency Transformation Team with Agency Consulting Group, Inc. She provides Implementation Training for a variety of agency systems and efficiency transformations and can be reached through Agency Consulting Group, Inc. 800-779-2430 or directly at 208-316-7656.