One thing that’s certain about this business of ours: everyone is so damn smart. No matter your personal opinion or experience with just about anyone in digital marketing, the first thing you’ll say is “Well….he’s really smart….but….” Smart is to the digital ad world what blond is to Scandinavia. It’s certainly a high class problem, but there is one big downside. We tend to over-think, over-analyze and over-talk just about everything.
In recent months I’ve been coaching managers at many leading companies in our space and they describe very common – and frustrating – interactions with their team members. When they take the time (as good managers do) to really connect with and listen to their sellers and other staff it can get messy really fast. Employees (they’re really smart, remember?) want to discuss and debate all the history and fine points behind decision and policies. They want to feel heard on the minute details on the difficulty and danger of their accounts lists. They want to open up long closed issues and directions. And the well-meaning, evolved, new-age manager ends up spending a lot of time and energy trying to manage how her reps feel and what they believe.
There’s a better way.
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Yes, people in sales organizations want to feel heard. And they may think they want their hands on the levers of policy and management – right up till the day they actually own them and ask “…and why did I want this?” But what they really thrive on is clarity. They want to know their management and leadership is taking in good information (including theirs) and then they want a decisive manager to say “this is where we’re going and here are the guidelines on getting there.” And then she says no more.
Hear the voices of your team members but don’t let them turn you into a weathervane that changes direction with the wind. Empathize and identify with the lives and aspirations of your employees, but don’t become their career grief counselor. Above all, shift your focus from what your people think and believe to what they do. With every interaction, have a list of specific measurable actions for the employee(s) to take. And be ready to say: “I understand your position…what is it specifically that you’d like to see me do right now?
We can hold salespeople and ourselves accountable for discrete actions. Actions breed a culture of clarity and consistency. Take enough steps and you have direction. You can’t manage or control what’s in someone’s head…only what they do. So shut down the endless cycle of reflection and debate and start getting stuff done. You’ll be amazed at how much better everyone ends up feeling.