When asked about his early management challenges, Roger Ferguson – CEO at TIAA-CREF – shared: “You have to get the balance right between leaving them alone and micromanaging.” Although Roger was discussing management in general, we thought his advice was particularly relevant for sale managers. So we borrowed some of Roger’s ideas and added a few of our own related specifically to sales management.
We all know from experience that when we’ve been micromanaged, the results are usually less then positive. The negative reactions can vary from disappointment, to lose of confidence, to lack of motivation and in some cases to push back. Regardless of the management area these reactions lead to reduction in performance and in sales the results can be truly telling.
But swinging to the other side of the pendulum isn’t the right answer either. Just leaving sales reps to their own devices to “figure it out” regardless of the situation surely doesn’t lead to optimal performance. If sales managers follow this path, sales reps are left only with a “reinvent the wheel” option. The consequences are time spent inappropriately; increased frustration levels and the feelings of a lack of institutional commitment to professional development.
So where is the balance? What are some steps that sales managers can take to get the balance right for the various people on their sales team? Let’s take a look at a short list:
- Respect individual differences. One overarching notion for getting the right balance is recognizing that one size does not fill all. There is a substantial body of research on the psychology of individual differences and it is a body of knowledge worth investigating. One pitfall to avoid is unconsciously adopting “soft stereotypes.” For example – superstar performers do not want coaching and don’t need recognition – neither of these statements is universally true.
- Establish a strategic coaching protocol. It is difficult to get the balance right if you don’t spend time with each member of your team. So the question is how best to spend the time and achieve multiple goals. One answer with a great track record is to set up a protocol for periodic strategic account reviews with sales reps about the strategy for one or two of their key accounts – that is accounts with a high revenue potential. Providing the right type and amount of help for driving key account potential is great place to get the balance right.
- Recalibrate for pivotal events. There are special times when it best to err in the direction of providing too much, as opposed to, too little management. From time to time pivotal, trigger events occur which represent new challenges – just doing more of the same won’t work – such as: launching a new product, shifting from selling individual products to selling an integrated solution or just after a merger or acquisition.
- Leverage available analytics. Today sales managers have more data, and in most cases better data, available than ever before. The challenge is how to translate that data into useful information for getting the management equation right – which as any manager will share is not so easy. Here the company needs to help. A collection of support folks need to help provide managers the metrics that are easy and useful to use. The sales managers’ role is to apply the numbers to improve their management effort.
Time management is an important challenge for sales managers – because very few have enough time in the first place. The worse situation is to use too much time, a resource of which you have too little, to micromanage an effort. You end up with the time being misspent, possible negative consequences and no time left where it is needed. This balance thing matters.
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