Sales managers – leverage the 3-idea rule to convert complaints to solutions

Sales coaching and the 3-idea rule

Sales coaching and the 3-idea rule

Salespeople often raise problems with their sales managers that require fixing.  There is more than one way to “fix”problems and one way is more effective than the other.

Here are two approaches for this problem-fix type discussion:

Approach 1 – Some salespeople raise problems with their sales managers with the conversation culminating in the salesperson simply “tossing the ball” to the sales manager.  The “so what do you want me to do” approach.

This approach can be viewed in a couple of ways.  Some may see the salesperson as seeking help.  On the other hand, some may view this as the salesperson simply raising a complaint or as the old poker expression goes “passing the buck.”  Regardless of the point of view, the salesperson is looking to the sales manager to solve the problem but providing no insight into possible solutions.

Approach 2Jennifer Dulski, COO of Change.org recently summarized an alternative approach in a NY Times interview.  Although Dulski was talking about management in general, we thought her insights were particularly appropriate for Sales.

With this approach, when a salesperson raises a problem with a sales manager, it is accompanied by three ideas for solving it – the 3-idea rule.  By using the 3-idea rule, the salesperson is not ceding responsibility for solving the problem and the sales manager is not accepting the total responsibility for solving it.

What are the benefits of following 3-idea rule? Offhand, there are three:

  • The salesperson maintains “ownership” of the problem and therefore is ultimately responsible for solving it.  The sales manager provides assistance in thinking through the problem, generating options, and providing parameters for deciding what works best.  This appears to us to be putting the responsibility where it belongs and it helps the salesperson to learn how to handle future problems.
  • As Dulski points out it avoids simply complaining – “if all you bring me is a problem, then it’s just you complaining to me.”  Sales managers usually have 10 or so sales reps reporting to them.  It is particularly easy to develop this “complaint” perspective if the behavior is repeated time and time again.  Imagine the difference in the sales manager’s day if all 10 sales reps used Approach 2 vs. Approach 1 – talk about having a better day.
  • By bringing 3 ideas to the table, the likelihood increases that the solution the salesperson and sales manager identify is better than if the salesperson simply relied on a sales manager for the soluton.  Plus, by advocating the 3-idea rule, the sales manager helps the salesperson to “think through options.”

Building a productive relationship between sales managers and their teams is a big deal.  One step in that journey is creating a set of expectations that can provide a roadmap for the trip.  This 3-idea rule is just one small step in the right direction.

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©2013 Sales Momentum®

About Janet Spirer

For more than 30 years Dr. Richard Ruff and Dr. Janet Spirer - the founders of Sales Horizons - have worked with the Fortune 1000 - such as UPS, Canon USA, Smith & Nephew, Boston Scientific, Owens & Minor, Textron - to design and develop sales training programs. Janet has followed two different, yet complimentary paths. First, as a B-School Professor she taught marketing, sales, and business strategy courses. She also managed a consulting practice focusing on sales productivity and marketing – working with a variety of clients ranging from Xerox to IBM. She translated those experiences into a book – “Parlez-Vous Business” – that helps sales people develop the business savvy to sell successfully. Since co-founding Sales Momentum® in 2000 with Richard Dr. Spirer received her Ph.D. from The Ohio State University, an M.P.A. from The University of Texas at Austin, and a B.A. in Economics from Brooklyn College. She holds the appointment of Professor Emeritus at Marymount University.
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One Response to Sales managers – leverage the 3-idea rule to convert complaints to solutions

  1. Looks like ideas 2 and 3 in 3-idea rule are just the consequences of idea 1 which is having responsible people on the team : )

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