Many managers assume that they need to demonstrate their power in order to be successful. While this might work in some limited situations, it certainly does not work as advertised when working with highly intelligent and committed individuals who have been successfully doing their jobs for years.
The hardest thing for a new manager to learn is that listening is often the most productive thing that they can do. The worst thing that a recently promoted manager can do is break what has been successful in the past. As much as most managers are excited about the opportunity to leave their mark on an organization, trying to leave a mark before understanding what works and what does not work is a recipe for disaster.
I have been in sales for over thirty years. There is no one way to be successful in sales. Often forcing very good sales people to do things the manager's way ends up in destroying the authenticity that the sales people have with their customers. Make no mistake about it, in today's world with strong global competition, the customers belong to the good sales people not the company. That does not mean that the company will not do everything in their power to collect all the information that they need to make the customer theirs in case the sales person leaves.
Unfortunately while customers may remain loyal to products, they are even more loyal to relationships. An organization that goes through revolving sales people, sales managers, or even corporate executives loses a little bit of credibility each time there is a change especially if the change is the disappearance of a highly credible sales resource who has built strong trust with the customer.
Phone numbers and contact names do not create trust. Listening to the customer and helping him or her achieve critical goals while working with them in a win-win situation is what builds trust and true long term customers.
Time and time again, I have seen great sales people hold together an account when a product or installation has not worked out as planned or when executives have not delivered as promised.
I have also seen accounts moved over to the competition because corporations think they can replace great sales people with less expensive new people who will just be able to pick up where the old pros left off.
The pattern is always the same. The momentum created by the old relationship always lasts a while, but then things gradually no longer have the spark that drove the relationship before under the great sales person. Usually the new person is under pressure to deliver and probably has little experience in building a long term relationship so the opportunities to slip up are much greater than the opportunities for success.
The reality is that great sales people make great sales managers not the other way around.
A manager given lots of time can help sales people become better. With enough experience managers even occasionally identify new sales people who have the potential to end up being great. Still being a successful manager usually boils down to helping very experienced people get their jobs done with the least amount of hassle and with the most efficiency.
Usually that means putting in place systems to help the people really doing the work. Many managers focus on systems to help them get their work done and to provide information to their bosses. That usually creates a system which has nothing to do with getting the real job done which is servicing the customer.
Sales people know what customers need, they devote their most productive hours to providing just that to their key customers. The least productive hours are those dedicated to proving to their manager that they are doing their job the way their manager perceives that it needs to be done. This often involves digging up information that has little relevance to anyone other than the manager. Almost always this turns out to be a manager who does not trust his sales force to get their job done and who has little experience with a customer set.
Often by the time the manager figures out on his own what is really happening, he or she has already squandered the best opportunity for trust with the customers and motivation with their employees. Once again humbly walking in your sales person's shoes is the best way to really be successful. Creating something to match executives expectations is usually a road to failure unless you have unusually customer centric executives.
The most ineffective managers are often the ones who have a preconceived notion of how things have to be done. Now there are always people who will not make it on a sales force or a team and having consistent requirements as to how things are done can be effective in removing them, but those same consistent requirements can sap the life out of a very flexible and successful sales organization which has over time built unique ways to address the needs of their customers.
The institutional knowledge of how to get things done and keep customers happy that great sales people have is almost always undervalued. Bean counting managers and ninety day driven executives put little value on something that cannot be measured each week. In fact continuing business with a customer is often devalued by classing it as "run rate" business which somehow is less valuable than "new business." Keeping the business is often more difficult than winning new business especially in any sophisticated sale with multiple opportunities for mistakes or customer disappointments.
So how do you motivate instead of just manage. First of all lose the idea that your power comes from your job title. Job titles matter little in this century. What really matters is how effective you are in getting your job done. So how do you get your job done? Motivate your people by listening to them, respecting their experience, and understanding what they need to get their job done more efficiently.
Then do something about their needs instead of just politely nodding your head and taking notes. The odds are that if you are a new-to-the-job manager, your people know more about what needs to be done than you do. Remember we are assuming a successful organization, not one that has failure as a heritage. The rules completely change in such a situation.
Motivating people is all about giving people the power to do their jobs well and being willing to stick you neck out for them even sometimes when you know that you are going to get slapped for it. Handing your people over to the wolves just to protect yourself certainly takes away any motivation that you might have hoped to create and kills any hope that you might become a leader instead of a manager.
Given my choice I would always rather have strong independent people working for me instead of ones who because of the system have given up what they know works for what they know will please management.
Motivating great people takes so little time, it just requires an open door, the willingness to listen, the resolve to act on their suggestions as appropriate, and the knowledge that a few corporate wounds in order to achieve outstanding success is a small price to pay.
Last but not least acknowledge their successes, even when you do not quite understand how they have done it. Sales especially is a very complicated business, more often than not it resembles throwing a pebble in a pond and hoping the ripple you have caused creates an opportunity that you can take advantage of in the future.
Having a meeting and talking about your great products is only the most visible and likely the least important part of sales.
Managing people to do everything one way or chase one type of business when customers are looking for something more is one of the most frustrating jobs that there is in the world.
Having been part of one or two of these futile exercises, I know that single minded efforts to "easily corral customers" usually are nothing more than a Powerpoint experiment that some staff person with little field experience has managed to sell the executives.
Motivation is a lot more profitable and fun than simple management. The long term thrill of success and empowerment for everyone will far outweigh any loss of power that comes from building an organization on the needs of the customer as opposed to the needs of the executives.