When I ask sales managers to describe a typical day, they often say that they come into the office at 8:00am with a good plan for the day, then at 8:05am a rep calls up or walks into their office and says “We’ve got a problem.” The next thing the manager knows, it’s 6:00pm and they haven’t done a single thing on their own To Do list.
Sales managers’ time is a precious commodity. Solving other people’s problems is not the best use of your time. If you want to see better sales results, you’ve got to do more developmental coaching where you teach and help your reps improve their skills. One of the best ways to avoid becoming your team’s “problem-solver-in-chief” AND to help develop their skills is to get savvier about how you handle the problems that walk into your office daily. Here are three tips to get you started:
STOP responding so quickly to the “urgent” requests made by others in your company.
A former colleague of mine was once the director of sales training for a Fortune 100 company. Before leaving for an exotic vacation, she left a voicemail greeting that said, “I’ll be overseas for two weeks and unable to respond to either voice mail or email. If this is important, please speak to my assistant.” When she returned from vacation she discovered 93 voice mails! One series of messages was from Joe, one of her regional sales directors. It began two days after Penny left on vacation:
Day 1: “Penny, this is Joe. We’ve got an URGENT crisis here. I need to speak to you right NOW! Here’s my phone number, cell number, home phone number, wife’s cell number. Call me right NOW!”
Day 1 (later): Joe leaves Penny another “urgent” message.
Day 2: Joe calls a third time. “Penny, we’re making some progress here, but I’d still like to talk to you.”
Day 3: The fourth message from Joe: “Ahhh, Penny, I think we’ve got it under control. Call me when you get back. Have a nice vacation!”
So yes, as odd as it may sound, my advice is to not always be at the beck-and-call of co-workers.
STOP adopting the day-to-day problems encountered by your salespeople as your own problems.
What I find most interesting about the statement “We’ve got a problem” is the pronoun use — “we’ve” got, not “I’ve” got. The rep is hoping you’ll take on the burden of solving a problem for them. Do NOT allow yourself to become their clerical assistant! Continually ask yourself throughout the day, “What is the impact on revenue growth of doing what I’m doing (or about to do) now?”
Both you and I know that you will do great at whatever you do, so it’s critical that you choose to do important stuff!
The next time a sales rep approaches you with a problem, listen but don’t offer your own ideas or allow yourself to be dragged into the drama. The goal should be to help that person figure out a way to deal with the problem on their own. I do this by engaging the rep in a conversation based on what I call the two magic questions:
- What have you done about it so far?
- What do you think ought to be done next?
By discussing these questions, you can (a) gauge how effective the rep is already in dealing with problems, and (b) guide them towards steps you want them to learn to take on their own in the future.
STOP being overly task-oriented.
A sales manager who is overly task-oriented can spend too much time making sure mundane to-dos get done while ignoring the development of the team. Sales management is about people development. The key question you need to ask yourself is: “Is my sales team more skilled today than they were one month ago?” Simply put, if your team is not getting better, it is getting worse.
We often get so focused on what we need to do that we forget that leadership is also about what we choose to stop doing. Everybody has the same amount of time – great sales managers are great because they put more time into more important tasks and priorities.
Kevin F. Davis is the author of “The Sales Manager’s Guide to Greatness: Ten Essential Strategies for Leading Your Team to the Top.” The book will be published on March 28, 2017 and is now available for pre-order on Amazon here: Guide to Greatness book