How to Manage Salespeople Pt 4

Welcome back to Whiteboard Wednesday, and part four in my series on how to manage salespeople. Hope you guys have been getting a lot out of these presentations. They have certainly been fun to write. Today’s topic is actually pretty tactical, and it’s how to have a management conversation. Specifically, management is about managing people. I think a lot of managers forget that these are not your friends, your buddies. They are not collaborators or peers. They are your direct reports, and management is about helping them be successful, managing them up, or in some cases managing them out of the business, sometimes for their own benefit.

But at the end of the day management doesn’t happen in a spreadsheet or in an email. Management happens when two people have to have a conversation, have to interact. And this is oftentimes the most challenging aspect of management for managers, having those hard conversations or those structured conversations. So, I hope this will help, and really the framing here is how to have a conversation when we are trying to effect a course correction.

In a past post we talked about having a clear set of expectations for what you want people to accomplish, making sure they understand, etc. In the last presentation we talked about how you go through the process of progressively holding people accountable. Well each level of that progressive accountability requires a conversation, and this is the how do you do that conversation. So the assumption here is you’ve got to sit down with somebody and have a harder conversation. So, hope this is helpful.

The first part of a management conversation is we’re going to talk about what’s going on, and you’re going to see a pattern here. We always talk about what we perceive to be happening, and then we invite the other person to share their perception of what is happening. So right here, what is happening? This could be something as simple as, “I see you are making 50 dials a day, and the expectation is 80.” It could be that the individual is not updating their records in Salesforce or your CRM or what have you, and they are coming to the pipeline review of your work, and you’re having to coach them on, your close date is past due, etc. So, we need to be able to make a very declarative statement about what is going on, what is happening first from our perspective, and then we will ask them what do they see.

So it may sound very simple, something like this: “I noticed looking in Salesforce that your call count is down and you’re making about 50 dials a day, and the expectation we set is 80. I wanted to sit down and talk about that, but first, let’s just make sure that I am not missing something here. Are you seeing something different? Am I reading the reports wrong? Is some of the information I am getting not correct?” So I want them to participate in that.

We’ll talk about what you’re likely to get here in a second, but we’ll hold on that. Keep in mind we want the facts. This is not your time to share with them your concerns and how this might impact their career and all sorts of other things. We’re simply dealing, making sure they’re both looking at the same set of information and the same set of facts. There needs to be data. We need to talk about where is this data we’re pulling from, what is the source of our information? That’s going to give credibility and clarity to the situation. Notice I said, “I was looking at Salesforce and here’s what I saw.”

Now, very likely when you go down this road, the other person, your direct report, is going to want to jump into explanations and some might call them excuses, but fundamentally they are going to want to say, “Well, here’s why that is.” They are going to want to get into the “why?” of the situation. We’ll talk about “why?” in just a second, but you need to remember that it is very important in this section right here. We’re going to deflect the “why?” Some might call those excuses, but we’re going to talk about that later, and in a minute I’ll share with you how specifically you can deflect that, but understand we have to lock in on the why this is, or what we see is happening before we can get any further.

Once we’ve gotten on the same piece of paper, or at least out in the open, a clear and common understanding of the facts and what situation we’re possibly trying to resolve, now we can talk about why is this happening? What’s going on? And really it’s them talking about it, isn’t it? Now, one of the things I want to kind of give the punch line ahead of time is, the purpose of this conversation that we’re having is to deal with a management issue, a set of behaviors. It’s not primarily to understand the causality. Now, if the “why?” associated with something not happening happens to be something that is out of the person’s control, a barrier in the way, we want to keep our ears open for that, but I want you to remember that the goal of this conversation is not really to spend a lot of time addressing the “why?” It’s easy to get into a conversation where somebody is giving you a reason, “Well, I ran out of time,” and we’re pushing back and saying, “Well, but if you were better at time management…” That’s not a functional way to hold this conversation.

We’re going to do a couple of things here. (I will use blue, go back to blue.) We’re going to listen, we’re going to take notes, and we are going to ask several times, “Is there anything else?” I want all the “why’s?” on the table. Similar to objection handling, I want to capture all the objections. I don’t want to start responding to one-offs and get into this back and forth kind of thing. I want to let this person know that I am hearing them, that I am taking notes, and that I keep coming back to say, “Is there anything else on there?”

Then I want to basically recap or restate what I have heard, “So if I hear right, you’re having issues with time management. You’re having issues with potentially clients are calling you or they’re not getting back to you. So there’s things, gotcha. I got this whole list of things. Fantastic! Moving on, what do you think we should do about this? How should we proceed?” Notice what I did just there. I didn’t get stuck on it. I didn’t go down the rat hole. I didn’t try to deal with all of their reasons, excuses, whatever you want to call it. I didn’t get emotional about this stuff. I captured it.

What does that have to do with this conversation? Nothing. If there’s anything in here that I need to deal with that is systemic or cultural or an environmental issue, I am going to make note of that, and I am probably going to let them know that that’s going to happen, but for the purpose of this conversation, “I’ve heard you, I am going to take that into consideration. However, the purpose of our meeting today is really to determine, what should we do next?” That’s the conversation that I want to have. What are we going to do next about this? And as before, we’re going to start with their perspective. What ideas do they have? And then ultimately we’re going to get back to my course of action.

Now this is possibly going to be a little confusing and/or frustrating for folks. I find that in sales organizations in particular, some people, managers and direct reports, somehow forget that the manager and direct report relationship is actually one of a subordinate. You work for me. At the end of the day it’s my job to manage you. That is the position I am in and sometimes that requires me telling you what to do, and that doesn’t always sit well with people. This context is designed to make sure we’re operating from the same set of information, that we hear from them why they think there are challenges going on, but at the end of the day we should be operating in this meeting.

We should already have in our little agenda or in our notes—we should already know what we want to have happen next. This really shouldn’t be a collaborative decision making, “how are we going to proceed?” I should already know what I want this person to do. I can use the information that I am gathering to alter that or adjust it or even change it completely, but I am not walking into a meeting with a subordinate trying to figure out how I should manage them next. I have to know that answer coming in. This has to be done beforehand. Hopefully that makes sense, and you guys might have some questions on that.

Now, there’s two other elements here that I just want to touch on briefly, and that is what happens when the conversation devolves into lots and lots of excuses? And we keep coming back to that even after I’ve parlayed this in the course of action, which, by the way (this shouldn’t be a shock to you), we’re going to have a follow up note of some sort and a next calendar event. (So that you should remember from the other whiteboard presentations.)

Once the course of action has been assigned and done, we’re going to follow that up with a formal recap and make sure we have time to revisit it, but what happens when we keep getting stuck with excuses? “Well, I don’t think that’s fair,” and there’s lots of words here. Well, at some point you’re going to have to put your foot down, and the good news it won’t happen all that often, and the good news is if you do your job right, if you set this stuff up and you come in with clear notes and an agenda, you shouldn’t have too many issues, but fundamentally you will run into situations where you’re going to have to say to somebody, “I hear you. I understand where you’re coming from. Frankly if I were in your shoes, I probably would feel the same way. However, based on what we’ve discussed, what I have observed, I have made the decision that this is how we’re going to proceed.”

You have to own that. Your job in this conversation or relationship is not to convince the other person that you’re right. It’s not to convince them that everything you’re getting them to do is in their best interest and is going to make them happy. Part of a manager’s responsibility sometimes is to get people to do things that they are not all that excited about doing. If that wasn’t the case, then they might not need to be managed. So fundamentally excuses need to be managed in the conversation or just excessive dialogue now that I think about it.

The other aspect I want to just touch on briefly, how do we get things back on track? (And that is two asterisks here because you’re going to run into this here.) And in terms of back on track you’re going to run into this right here. I am trying to articulate what is happening and asking them what they see, and I keep getting the excuses, and they want to go down the, “Well, he did this,” or “This happened.” Understand it is productive often to listen to folks and let them vent and let them speak, and that’s really what this section has to do with.

To accomplish this goal I need to redirect you. I need to cut you off. One of the things that’s a personal pet peeve of mine is I can’t stand when anybody, particularly managers, say something like, “Well, I don’t mean to cut you off but,” or, “Sorry to cut you off,” or somehow apologizing. Let’s be direct. I am going to cut you off here. If we’re going down a, “Here’s what I am seeing the way you see it,” and getting a lot of excuses. I am going to be quite direct and say, “I need to cut you off here. I need to stop you where you are. We will talk about that in a moment, but for now I need you to focus on working through and making sure we understand we’re operating from the same set of data here.”

So don’t be shy and don’t be afraid. Certainly don’t be uncomfortable to exercise your right to override what they are saying and bring the conversation back to the topic at hand. This is after all your conversation. It’s your meeting. You scheduled it. It is for you to manage them, so you need to use that time wisely.

Hope this has been helpful. A very simple framework. None of these things are particularly surprising or should be particularly surprising, but to do them in a very structured, ordered, have a way to prepare for the meeting and at least notes in a framework for you throughout the meeting really should help make an uncomfortable conversation at least more manageable, even though it may not be completely comfortable. Hope this helps. If you have any questions as always, I would love your comments and thoughts, and thanks so much for watching!

By Townsend Wardlaw