You’ve been a sales manager for about six months. You’re 35 years old. This is your first sales management job. Three months after you were promoted to sales management your boss, the VP of Sales, hired a new sales rep for a territory where another rep had just left. At the time you were just as happy to see your boss make the hire since you were up to your neck in other projects.
The rep your boss hired is named Victor. He’s been around the block a few times and has proven himself to be a successful rep. He is also 53 years old. You just called him to say that you wanted to work a few days in the field with him. He told you that he wasn’t interested and that he worked for the VP of sales, not you. He then proceeded to hang up on you. You are steaming mad and about to walk into the VP’s office and unload.
What do you do in this situation?
I can’t blame you for being upset but you deserve being upset at yourself. Never let anyone else hire a salesperson for you. OK, so you’re sitting in your office and there’s steam coming out of your ears. Here are some things to do:
1. Don’t walk into your boss’s office until you’ve calmed down or else the situation will really get out of control. Stay rational!
2. Think about what you need to say to or ask the boss. You might start with who actually supervises the sales rep, you or the boss. If you have responsibility for making a sales goal and this salesperson’s numbers are included in that revenue goal then you should manage the rep not the VP. You might mention that this arrangement sends a poor message to the rest of the company as well as the other salespeople in your region. This crusty old veteran also might add some real value to the younger reps in the region.
3. Decide on who’s going to call Victor to break the news that you are his manager and not the VP. In my opinion it should be you that makes the call, not the VP. Chances are that the rep will call the VP after he gets off the phone with you. Obviously, the VP needs to support your role as Victor’s manager.
4. Immediately program a vist with Victor in the field.
Working with salespeople who are older or even a lot older than the sales manager can be tricky. Nothing works better than being honest with a guy like Victor. Tell him that the company has several wet-behind-the-ears salespeople and that they could learn some things from what you observe when you work with him. And why not just lay it on the line and tell Victor that he’s been on the street longer than you have so that your visit has nothing to do with teaching him how to sell. And, while you’re at it tell him that you’d like to take him (or he and his spouse) out to dinner.
My theory always was that my senior reps were the ones that would have most responsibility in helping the region make their numbers. Did I treat them a little differently than other reps? Yes I did. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t let them get out of control but my relationship with them was different than the relationship I had with younger reps.
The Final Thought: Sometimes those who need it the most are inclined the least.