In many ways, selling is a bit of a black art. We can't control the customer. They don't buy when we're absolutely certain this one's in the bag, and other times they surprise us with an order in the second meeting. Salespeople pump themselves up every day to go off into the unknown and find revenue. They work hard under a cloud of uncertainty, and at the end of the year, they've put up a number. Then management sticks them with a new quota that 5 to 10 percent higher than last year "just because." And sales managers are trying to manage this process.Tough talk is a popular stance for sales managers. It looks good to the rest of the management team. We expect it. "Charge that hill!" "Make it happen!" The buried assumption is that you can't be soft on salespeople or they'll slack off. But is tough talk producing the best results?
The hard-nosed sales management approach: "Find a way!"
"Find a way!" is a favorite phrase of the hard-nosed, tough-talking sales manager. Sounds great. He's making it happen. But look under the hood of that comment and I think you'll find something interesting: a collapse of coping and problem solving--and fear. When a sales manager says "Find a way!" to a salesperson, what he's really saying is, "You're on your own."
I realized this awhile ago as I observed a fairly green VP of Sales. Volume was coming in below plan, and although he had been a pretty good salesperson, he was new as a manager. The more he said "Find a way!" (and variations on that theme), the clearer it became that he was really asking his people to save his neck. He was out of bullets. Despite the bravado with which he delivered "Find a way!", what he was really saying was, "Help me!" At some level, we all understood the real message.
"You're on your own, buddy." was also the hidden message when a diligent, hardworking salesperson went to his manager for help during the Great Recession. He was tagged with a quota based on the previous year's market conditions, and he truly wanted to meet his objective. But he couldn't make his customers buy, and after taking things as far as he could on his own, he sought help. What came back from his manager? "Find a way!" In effect, sink or swim. But when anxiety goes up, selling effectiveness goes down.
Consider the difference: "Let's find a way."
Now, let's just try a slight modification to the approach. Consider the difference: "Let's find a way." instead of "Find a way!" Even reading this on your screen, you can feel the difference in the delivery and the manager's body language. And the world of difference in how it feels to the salesperson. Wow, if I get some help on this, I bet we might be able to crack this nut. Renewed hope instead of despair. Two heads instead of one.
And also notice one other very important thing from the sales manager's standpoint: He doesn't have to have the answer. He just sets the tone. He creates the sense that we're going to work as a team to solve a problem that hasn't been solved yet. He guides the team as they solve the problem. That's actually how problems get solved: bring in more viewpoints, more expertise, more resources.
But the real secret that explains why "Let's find a way." is more effective is because it changes the interaction with the customer. Pushing harder and harder to get them to do what we want lowers the odds of success. But listening, flexibility, and problem solving invite the customer to partner with us.
Change your approach, change your results
If you're not getting the results you want by banging your fist on the table, consider a gentler approach that encourages collaboration and creativity, confidence and hope. Let's find a way.
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About the Author: Don Drews is president and founder of Courageous Marketing.