A couple of months ago I was having a conversation with a person who had been a sales manager for about 6 months. By his own estimation he felt that he was doing OK as a manager, for a newbie. One of his statements made me laugh. He said something like, “I feel like I’m part shrink, part drill instructor, part confidante, part mentor. Sometimes it makes me crazy!” I would say that this gentleman has the job description nailed tight!
Think about the job from this perspective. You’re juggling the sales manager role, your family, your bosses, anywhere from 5-10 different personalities/egos, reacting to issues both internally and externally and if those weren’t enough you are ultimately on the line for sales revenue. And then this question comes rumbling out of your subconscious. What does the non-existent sales management manual say about becoming buddies with your salespeople?
The question involves some pretty fine line-drawing for the sales management role. In my opinion, the answer is that you don’t have to be nor should you be a buddy to all the salespeople. Ultimately, the sales reps are accountable to themselves and to you for how they perform their role. If you develop the buddy role then how willing are you to get tough with a salesperson who consistently falls short of target or performs sub par in other areas? It makes your job tougher when true friendship enters the picture.
I hopped over and back on the “buddy line” several times but generally steered clear of being a blood brother. I played golf with reps (those that were above plan), had dinner with them or with the rep and his or her spouse, talked about families, business and a host of other topics. When you’re around people for extended periods of time it is impossible to remain completely neutral about them. You’re going to like some more than others and you’re going to establish ties with people. There are people I stay in contact with who I knew from over 20 years ago. Several are among my best friends-now.
There is a difference between being a buddy and connecting with people. Your job as a sales manager requires that you develop strong relationships with salespeople, relationships that are built on mutual respect, common goals, sensitivity, and open communication. It is impossible not to get close to people that you work with; in fact it is paramount that you do get close. Connecting and close are solid business approaches; being a buddy opens up a Pandora’s box of potential problems that will complicate your role as manager.
The Final Word: True friendship comes when the silence between two people is comfortable. David Tyson Gentry