Friday, August 22, 2014

Is It Time To Replace Your Sales Manager?

In sales, we rely heavily on our sales managers.  They are our cheerleaders, teachers, coordinators, and team mates.  That is, they are if they're good at their jobs.  If they're bad at their jobs, they are our critics, our nightmares, our worst enemies.  Is it time to replace your manager?

Often in a sales structure, the best salespeople are "promoted" to sales manager. Sometimes it's about seniority.  Occasionally it's a question of the boss's favorite. None of these are the best way to hire a great sales manager.

The best sales managers have five primary skills:  1) They can consistently teach others to sell the product or service in a changing marketplace. 2) They are fantastic motivators of individuals and groups.  3) They always play fairly, setting a terrific example and creating a professional tone for the department.  4) They work as hard for their team as they do for upper management.  5) They would always rather help than scold everyone on their team.

If your manager doesn't meet these five criteria, all the rest of their skills really don't matter.  Daniel Pink (author of Drive, To Sell is Human, and others) explains it well.   The best performers in any sales organization take ownership of their work, feel it is important, and have the autonomy to self-manage and develop personal approaches to their tasks and environment.  If your manager can't stimulate and support these three attributes, it doesn't matter how well they know the product, how quickly they can file reports, or how well the sales force is doing today.  

Long-term success (we all want it!) comes from ownership, pride, and autonomy.  Ownership, pride, and autonomy come from being good at your job. Being good at your job comes from clear expectations, and constant fine-tuning of skill.  And fine-tuning skills comes from a supportive, objective voice confirming your strengths, and helping to develop your weaker skills.

As a sales professional, this is the boss you want, and the environment you need to do your best.  We all know it. And when we have it, we're substantially less likely to look for opportunities outside the company.  If you, the sales pro, don't have it now, it's probably time to look for an opportunity to get it. This is your career!  You want to develop as well and as quickly as time will allow.

To upper management:  I'm not saying there's no room for discipline!  (See "clear expectations" above.)  I'm reminding that carrots and sticks have gone the way of the two martini lunch.  It's okay sometimes, but it doesn't work as a primary activity. Simple compliance is out, and motivation to comply and improve is in.  If your sales team doesn't work this way, you have a problem, because the competition's team probably does.   You don't want to lose your best people to the competition!  Give your sales team the most vital benefit they can get: a terrific, qualified sales manager.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

You Say You Work From Home?

Lots of folks claim to telecommute, or to work from home.  When you're in outside sales, or self employed, telecommuting can be a gift from the heavens.  Not needing to circle back to the office to file paperwork or talk to your boss saves a lot of time! How do you make it work?  A fast internet hookup, Skype, a smart phone, and a big dose of self-discipline will do the trick.

When telecommuters save all that driving and parking time, the boss expects even more from you! And yet, some people look at telecommuting as a "Get Out of Jail Free" card.  How do I know this? My office is in my house.  And many people wink and smile at me, with a knowing look in their eyes. "So, can you meet for coffee Tuesday at 10:30?"  Um, no.  Would they say that if I worked in an office?

There are perks to telecommuting, and I'm not going to say you should never give in to them.  If you need to file some paperwork and you see a Starbucks nearby, grab your laptop or tablet, run in, grab a coffee, and do your work.  (You'd never think twice about pouring a cup of coffee at the office, would you?)  But if you're likely to be distracted by the fireplace and a friendly neighbor, skip going in, and work from the parking lot.  (The wi-fi works great from there!)  You need to be getting more done with all that time you're saving by not commuting.

People ask me all the time, "How do you avoid wasting time when you work from home?"  There is a temptation to walk the dog on a sunny day, or or 'take a break' and catch up on my Breaking Bad addiction.  But I constantly remind myself that I only have this privilege because I don't abuse it. If my first meeting isn't until 9:15, I'm still at my desk by 8:30.  The email still needs clearing, and the phone calls still need returning.  I've just saved the travel time.  Here in Buffalo, NY, it's nice to avoid driving more than necessary in the snowy months, and as long as I'm effective from home, that works. I like being able to have my dog at my feet while I type a proposal. And I love that I only have to visit my regular office once or twice per week.  But if my performance slipped, I would be back at the office in a blink of an eye.

The reality is, some of us can't handle the temptation.  If you find yourself running errands between appointments, or putting together a pie recipe in your kitchen while you're on the phone with a client at 3pm, you're probably not cut out for this.  If you're typing reports in front of Jerry Springer, you're probably not cut out for this.  If you don't get dressed unless you have an appointment, you've let your professionalism slide a little too far.  The same rules apply to us telecommuters as apply to everyone else. Who we are when no one is watching is likely who we really are. So be terrific!

Monday, August 11, 2014

Under-Promise, Over-Deliver

It's a great catch phrase, but how do you do it?  This isn't a trick of vocabulary!

When we go out and say, "We'd like to offer you - " it means we don't offer it now. Or, "Let's aim for tomorrow." These qualified terms have nothing to do with what your client hears.  What your client hears are the phrases closest to what they want.  If your client wants the product tomorrow, "Let's aim for tomorrow" means tomorrow to them.  It doesn't mean you're going to "try for tomorrow." To the client, it isn't maybe.  It means you will deliver. If you miss tomorrow, the client's faith in you is shaken. This is the entire problem.

Good sales reps occasionally slip up and say things like, "We can sometimes get this out in 24 hrs." All the client hears is tomorrow.  She doesn't hear the qualifying language at all!  If you want the client to have something tomorrow, unless you're planning to handle all the fulfillment yourself, you need to excuse yourself and make a phone call.  Never commit to anything on a tighter deadline than your company usually can deliver.  Even if your company advertises a 2 day turnaround, if usually it takes them 3 days, say 3.  If you deliver in 2, your client is delighted her order is early.  If you deliver in 3, you keep your promises.

If your client insists on a commitment that is tighter than your usual, you need to tread lightly!  There is little worse in a sales relationship than failing to deliver to your clients.  When the client presses for the impossible you need to avoid committing without your team's support.  "I need to see if we have that in stock," "Let me check in with our scheduler," and "I need to confirm with production" are all graceful ways to excuse yourself for the phone call you need to make.  If it really is impossible, don't waste their time.  "I wish I could, but instead let's aim for  -."

When you come back to your client after the phone call to the office, tell them the truth.  If you can meet the tighter deadline or accommodate the larger order, you don't want to leave the impression that this is normal order scheduling.  If you did it overnight, or a huge order on a dime today, that's what the client will remember. Make sure they understand that you moved heaven and earth to make this work, and you're shocked it turned out so well!  "In the future, we consistently want to meet your schedule without the miracles!  Let's work out a contact system where we can anticipate your needs." It gives you a great foundation for building a solid relationship with open communication.

Only make commitments you can meet.  Make sure you build ample time into your promises to cover reality.  Every time you over-deliver on time, or quality, you build trust in your relationship with your client.  Make it a habit!