This would not rank up there in my top ten of real horror stories. It’s probably closer to a 1 than a catastrophic 10 but it’s worth telling. I was a new manager in 1983. I was 38 years old, dewy-eyed, naive and way too idealistic. I had patiently waited for a sales management role so, of course, I wanted to do everything perfectly.
First, a little history. In previous sales roles I was conscious of the importance of keeping accurate records on my accounts. I was faithful about recording who the main decision makers were in each hospital (I was a medical rep), who influenced decisions, what products each doctor used, the number of procedures they did, who the main competitors were etc. And for all of you “byte worshipers” these records were all written. There were no CRM’s except the ones in my three binder.
So, back to 1983. At the first sales meeting I presided over I handed out to the 5 sales reps a one page document with all the necessary information the reps needed to fill in relative to their accounts. You should have seen the looks on the faces of these people! You would think that I had asked for their first-born! I explained that the “forms” were necessary because it would help the reps maintain more accurate records plus it would help the company when new salespeople were hired. The new reps would have all this wonderful information at their finger tips, which would save them time when they made their first calls on these accounts.
Was there logic in this approach? Yes. Was it timely? Yes. Was it wise? No. In this situation sales managers should do the same thing that a salesperson does when they walk into a new account. Listen more and talk less. I’ve been in conference rooms for meetings with new sales managers. The salespeople are practically holding their breath wondering what new paperwork, new project, different sales approach or general mayhem this new manager will ask the sales staff to do.
Had I been more mature at the time of my first meeting I would have created an agenda for the day and covered what we had to cover without going into the “account tracking form.” All it did was make people a bit suspicious of my motives. Do you want us selling or doing paperwork? No one said that but their body language did. When sales managers take over a group of salespeople it is better to steer clear of introducing any dynamic changes, unless of course the changes came down from corporate and they involve the salespeople. If the meeting is a normal sales meeting I would wait to introduce new formats, tracking systems or whatever ideas that you think are worth implementing.
Prior to introducing admin changes I would get to know the salespeople and determine how they run their territories. Do they enter information on the CRM? Do some reps have strengths that other reps don’t have and the same for weaknesses. Figure some of these things out first before you introduce new projects. You might find that the project you thought was important isn’t, in light of some of the things you’ve seen after familiarizing yourself with all the reps.
The Final Thought: Sometimes salespeople need tweaking not fixing.