One of the more frustrating situations for a sales manager is the age disparity that can exist between the rep and the manager. The frustration comes when the sales rep is 40 plus years old and the sales manager is twenty something. You can also add different genders into the mix and the relationship could get strained, not that it should but it can.
I never had to deal with anything like this. My first sales management position came when I was 37. Some of the people I managed over the next 10 years were older than me but the differences were minimal.
Here’s some advice for the under thirty sales manager who has several grizzled veterans working for him.
- Assuming that the veterans are good salespeople, learn from them. Other people in your group might be able to use the techniques the veterans use.
- Don’t go into the first meeting or work-with thinking that you are going to impose your will on the veteran. They won’t allow it to happen.
- Carry yourself with pride because I’m also assuming that you got the management job because you deserved it. If you carry yourself with pride and confidence that will go along way to creating a solid relationship with the veteran.
- Resist the temptation to show cockiness or arrogance. Neither of those will earn you any friends.
- Set expectations for how you are going to work with the veteran rep.
Here are some thoughts on number 5. If I were a young manager with some wizened veterans I would:
- Be up front and ask the rep if the age difference bothered them.
- Not make any recommendations about how to improve their selling process until I had worked with them three or four times.
- Ask them why they used a certain technique or process before I made suggestions. There are reasons for everything!
- Ask for their feedback on what they like or don’t like about sales managers.
- Ask them how they want to be managed. Of course you are inviting the response “I don’t want to be managed.” And then you respond by saying “Well then, you won’t be bothered if I don’t recommend you for the annual salary increase.”
- Ask them if they would mind having other reps in the region work with them, assuming that you have some younger reps that need coaching.
As a manager, if I had a sales rep older than I was I would treat them a bit differently. In the Army, there was a saying that went-rank hath its privileges. The same thing is true for veteran salespeople. I tended to confide in them more, ask their opinion on decisions the company made, ask them for ways to counteract competitive moves etc. I also did this with integrity because I did not want this person thinking that I was doing this to gain control of them. Smart salespeople can see through that.
The Final Thought: After awhile you learn that what you really are is all the experiences and all the thoughts you’ve ever had and all the people who have touched your life no matter how briefly.