Sales managers often struggle with the methodology of their communication, particularly with the sales teams they manage. When and how often to communicate? When to be critical and when to praise? How much praise or criticism is the right amount? Sometimes the easiest route may seem to do or say nothing, but this is probably not the best course of action. Communicating is difficult—but it is the most serious part of successful sales management.
Thinking about communication, I’m reminded of my childhood, an era when parents sent their children away to play when the parents had company. One of my father’s close friends was particularly strict, and I have distinct memories of him sending my brother and me away with his son to play in the den, while the adults played cards and talked in the living room. When it came time for dinner, the children sat at a separate table from the adults, usually in a separate room. This was considered the “kids’ table.” During the entire visit, the children wouldn’t interact with the adults—quite a contrast to the way things are today. At some point, perhaps around junior high, we were permitted to sit with the adults and participate in the conversation, but it was on adult terms. This is an important lesson for sales managers.
First, it is quite common for sales managers to feel that they have superior knowledge and skills to the salespeople they manage. After all, this is why they are in a position of leadership. However, this isn’t always the case, and it is poor judgment to shut down ideas because a manager feels that a salesperson is too young or inexperienced to know best. Unlike the parents of a generation ago, always have your mind open as a sales manager to the best and brightest ideas that your salespeople bring. You win when they win.
Some of the best advice I was ever given came from a mentor many years ago. He told me that a major key to success as a manager comes from bringing both good news and bad news with the same vigor and speed. This goes for both your boss and your employees. You might be tempted to forgo negative feedback to your staff, or be too busy to coach and help improve a struggling salesperson’s performance. This is one of the hardest conversations to have and it takes knowledge, skill and patience. Yet, I believe that you’ll find that when handled correctly, critiquing a salesperson can always be used as a teachable moment. And when what follows is a noticeable improvement, it is one of the most satisfying experiences that you will have as a manager. Praise is always welcome and appreciated. However, for a salesperson that is not performing well—silence can be deadly. In the end, you’ll be remembered as a sales manager far more for caring and teaching than you will for the casual pat on the back for a good job.
Rob Wardlaw is the associate publisher of Gulfshore Business magazine, firstname.lastname@example.org.