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Viewpoints
from Systema

Part III: Rep Demoralization

Profiles in Sales Management
By Jack R. Snader and Marsha Wells

When sales representatives from one particular sales district start complaining about their sales manager--and yet you, as a leader in the organization, think that manager is doing an excellent job--what do you do? Many organizational executives tend to trust their own instincts and stick up for the sales manager. After all, trusting their own instincts and perceptions has been the key to their career success all along. They rationalize away the problem by minimizing the representatives' complaints or attributing them to problems of the reps themselves, and they continue to enjoy good rapport with that sales manager.

But the price of ignoring the representatives' calls for help may eventually be a serious loss of sales representative morale in that district...which, of course, can lead to sales losses in that district. The ugly truth is that, as much as we like to think we are good judges of character, there are some people so smooth and so calculating that they can fool all of the people at least some of the time.

Peter the Politician

When Peter began his sales career in a mid-sized pharmaceutical company several years ago, he learned well and grew quickly. Reports from his physician customers concurred that Peter's selling skills were above average across the board. On first entering the organization, Peter was quite humble about his abilities. By contrast to his customer's positive remarks about him and the exemplary behavior they saw in him, this humility created a very positive image of him in the eyes of his managers.

Peter was popular within the company and knew how to handle people, but he did not sell the most in his district. Interestingly, while his physician customers felt Peter was a fairly good salesperson, and while his actual sales dollars per quarter were moderately high in his district, his sales managers (two different sales managers in six years) consistently touted him as being spectacular.

Of note: throughout his years of selling, Peter judged his own ability to inspire trust among his customers as his lowest selling ability. Why did he think he wasn't trusted? Many of his customers and his managers repeatedly reported on surveys that he was more trustworthy than the average representative. Was Peter paranoid? Or did he know something about himself that others hadn't discovered yet?

Promoted to a Sales Manager

When Peter was promoted to a sales manager position, many of his peers were suspicious. Because Peter's sales were not outstanding, they suspected that some type of favoritism was operant. However, Peter's sales manager felt confident that Peter would do an outstanding job as a sales manager, and Peter himself felt that he had always been the "heir apparent" for this promotion, so savvy, sophisticated, and superior. Finally, he had some power in the organization ...at least a first stepping stone.

Assuming the role of a sales manager, Peter felt he had an image to build and reinforce in the interest of his next promotion. Consequently, he wanted everything in his district to go well--top selling, no mistakes, no excuses. Peter knew that the salespeople under his leadership were not as charismatic as he was, and were far from perfect in their selling skills and their sales results. His remedy? To become, in his mind, a "superstar" sales manager by checking up on his people constantly.

He thought he could bring his people up to speed by "coaching" them with daily voicemail reminders and questions, e-mail advice and critiques. He initiated a detailed report system so that he could be sure each of his representatives did every single thing they were supposed to do each day. He also chummed around with his representatives to show supportiveness and he let them know little tidbits about each other to make them feel special, and to keep them all on their toes and feeling competitive.

Sure enough, Peter's superiors were impressed. To them, Peter appeared to be active, proactive, enthusiastic, competent, and confident, handling even the toughest issues quickly and effectively. On his first review as a sales manager, Peter's boss reassured him that he felt Peter treated all his people equally, was a tough competitor, and had a solid, "hands-on" management style that helped his people stay focused on performance. Peter got a raise and a pat on the back, and walked out of his boss's office with a self-satisfied smirk while actively visualizing his next promotion.

The Rest of the Story

But what were his representatives saying about Peter? To quote a few choice comments:

  • Peter is a micro-management control freak.
  • More honesty is needed.
  • He uses scare tactics; even positive messages end with a negative tone.
  • More recognition of individual and team achievement is needed.
  • Too much pressure; talks about others inappropriately; he is sneaky.
  • Unapproachable, pushy, unyielding, in a word, "dictator."
  • Peter should stop using racist/sexist remarks.
  • Peter is very difficult to work for. We are unhappy.
  • He's horrible! Stop excessive use of voice mail. Stop being sexist, racist, controlling, gossiping, disrespectful.
  • He is terribly unprofessional; instills too much competition amongst the team representatives.
  • Peter treats us as puppets. He instills fear, treats us without respect, implies that we are expendable!
  • He micro-manages; treats us like children, makes the district call in every day.
  • I love my job but I hate my manager.

What was Peter's reaction to learning of his representatives' comments? He felt they didn't understand him, and anyway, they did not have power over him so their opinions didn't matter. Only the opinions of his managers who had the power to promote him mattered.

Managing the Manager

If you were managing Peter, how would you handle the situation? Would you believe Peter, the man with a smooth answer for everything, or his representatives who sound disgruntled? Would you, as a corporate leader, stand up to your peers and take a stand against a corporate rising star that they all liked?

Sales managers who demoralize their representatives must change or be stopped in order for sales to remain healthy and competitive. The sales manager's position is critical to the success of sales representatives, and the company's cash flow is dependent on them. That's why Systema offers a number of sales management development and decision-making solutions. We help corporate executives handle a wide variety of complex problems in sales management, including the Peters of the world.

Want more information on how Systema has helped improve sales management performance? Contact us at systema@systema.com

Energizing Sales Performance World Wide Since 1969



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