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September 8, 2017

Advice for My Younger, Sales Manager Self

I always enjoy interviews that include this question: “If you knew then what you know now, what would you do differently?” Or, “What advice would you give your younger self?” Both questions require  introspection, humility and thought. 

One reason I’m in the teaching and development profession is to help people avoid making the many mistakes I did in learning how to be an effective sales leader. Here are a few pieces of advice (from a much longer list) that I would give my younger, sales manager self. 

No. 1: Avoid drive-by coaching conversations. More than once, I have given feedback or advice with the right intention of helping a salesperson make a positive change that would result in better personal and/or professional outcomes. The problem was my well-intended advice wasn’t given at the right time.  I didn’t allow enough time for a dialogue.  Instead, it was a one-way monologue driven by a full calendar and poor timing. 

There’s no shortcut to people development. It takes time. A coaching call with a member of your sales team requires the same preparation as a sales call. Unplanned sales calls produce poor sales results.  Unplanned coaching conversations produce little change and continued frustration.    

No. 2: Learn and study conflict management. I am a high-driver, bottom-line person. But that behavior style doesn’t necessarily equate to a person’s ability to conduct hard discussions sometimes needed with members of your team.  More than once, I have danced around an issue, never addressing the real one. This ‘sales tango’ resulted in frustration for both me and my salesperson.  Instead of being assertive, I was hoping the salesperson would read my mind and course correct.  The salesperson was just hoping I would speak my mind and eliminate the need for a crystal ball.   

Conflict and difficult conversations are a part of life.  The better equipped you are to hold these conversations, the better your sales team will perform. Instead of dancing around issues, you will address the real ones and hold real conversations.  These types of conversations create clarity, trust and solutions that work for both individuals.    

No. 3: Learn how to identify and hire top talent.  I’ve hired well and not so well, and I can tell you that life becomes a lot easier and more enjoyable when you are leading, not micromanaging. Read every book you can about hiring top salespeople. Attend a professional training course on behavior-based interviewing. You know how to sell; that’s probably why you got promoted. Now, learn how to hire and build a great sales team that performs every day.

Most sales managers get set up to fail because they haven’t learned the basic skills in hiring great salespeople. We receive more training on how to drive a car than we do on hiring a salesperson that drives revenue. When you have great salespeople on your team, you go from managing to leading. You hold coaching and training conversations, rather than accountability and performance conversations. 

My older self is wiser and still learning. I like to follow advice from the renowned artist Michelangelo. When asked what inspired his lifetime of creativity, he replied, “Ancora imparo,” which means, “I am still learning.”  How about you?  What advice would you offer your younger, sales manager self? 

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