Sales Management

The Front of the Jersey.

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Welcome to the world of the free agent.

While the talent pool from which we draw is rich and talented, it is also ephemeral.  Even though she’s genuinely serious and committed about your opportunity, the new seller or account manager you’re interviewing today already has a foot out the door.  It’s not that she’s shallow or underhanded; she’s just always thought differently about her career than you have about yours. She expects short term assignments with many, many teams over the arc of her career.

And who can blame her?  The speed at which companies and strategies are launched today is eclipsed only by the pace at which they are abandoned.  Your rep is not thinking about ten years with your company because she can’t imagine your company thinking of ten years of anything.  Which leaves you, her manager, with the coach’s dilemma.

The Drift is proudly underwritten this week by Digital Remedy, a digital marketing and technology solutions partner to publishers, advertisers, and influencers. Digital Remedy delivers performance-based and cross-channel solutions to increase monetization and operations potential of any organization while exceeding standard KPIs. Visit Digital Remedy to learn more.

A well-worn slogan in sports is “getting them to play for the name on the front of the jersey, not the one on the back.”  But can this even be done in a world where everybody keeps their resume polished and their LinkedIn profile up to date?  It can, but it takes dedication to a strategy.

Call Out the Elephant in the Room.  “We both know that you won’t necessarily always work here…” can be the phrase that really opens up your dialogue with your employees and shows that you’re treating them as adults, not assets.  It puts their time with you in the context of their careers and their lives.  And that’s a great place to be.

How Does Today’s Action Create Long Term Value?  Want your team members to get better at something?  Frame the discussion around their long term value in the marketplace.  Every rep has a stock price and that stock price is either going up or down.

Commit to Them.  Tell them that you want this to be the best place they’ll ever work, and that you’d like to be remembered as the boss who made them better at their craft.  Then do what you say.

Put the Relationships in Long Term Context.  Put their relationships with others on your team in the context of their “career network.”  Will there be a network of people out there who speak well of them in the future, or a network that’s felt slighted, overlooked or abused?  In the context of career growth, this matters.  And they’ll get it.

Foster a Culture of Presence.   Great managers are like parents. We don’t always like or do what they say, but we feel their absence.  Be present for your team, individually and collectively, and focus on what’s happening right now.  Be the boss who celebrates the outstanding proposal and the great example of customer service.  This makes the name on the front of the jersey mean something today, and makes those wearing it – even if for a little while – play all that much harder for it.

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The End of Cynicism.

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Along with experience in the digital marketing world comes a certain knowingness – a sense that one’s eyes are clearer, his sense of judgment more acute.  There’s an assuredness that we’ve seen all this before and that we can instantly recognize winners and losers and easily sort the wheat from the chaff.

You not only know this guy:  you’ve hired him.  Or maybe you are him.  You understandably value the digital experience he’s had at a half-dozen companies over the past 12 or 15 years.  This dude can make it rain.  Maybe he can.  But his experience and sense of self often come with a heavy tax.  The cancer that too often grows with experience is cynicism.  And it’s a killer.

The Drift is proudly underwritten this week by Digital Remedy, a digital marketing and technology solutions partner to publishers, advertisers, and influencers. Digital Remedy delivers performance-based and cross-channel solutions to increase monetization and operations potential of any organization while exceeding standard KPIs. Visit Digital Remedy to learn more.

The smart CEO and the enlightened manager are acutely aware of how this disease presents itself and how quickly it metastasizes.  Mr. Experience holds the informal meeting-after-the-meeting to let the younger sellers know that this plan looks an awful like what he saw when he was at XYZ.com.  He airs his reservations about company direction in an email reply to the whole team.  Sometimes his physical presence at a meeting – body language, expression – are enough to spread the pathogens of doubt and fear.  At a time like this — of industry consolidation and massive change – he is patient zero in an epidemic of cynicism in your company.

The tricky part is, he may not even know what effect he’s having.  And he likely believes that his approach coming from a place of generosity and helpfulness.  I really love this company!  If he works for you, you must act.

Call it Out.  Have a closed-door meeting with your cynic and make it clear that he’s entitled to his opinions and thoughts, but that the overt behavior he’s exhibiting must stop.

Inside Words/Outside Words.  Let Mr. E. know that you want to hear his ideas personally and create a secure channel to listen to him.  But make it clear that once the door opens, you need him to support or stay quiet about direction and initiatives.

Consider the Alternative.  Too many CEOs and CROs operate out of fear – fear that saying goodbye to experience means kissing off your potential revenue.  But look carefully:  does the revenue this guy is actually producing compensate your company for the sense of despair and doubt that’s immobilizing your other team members?

You’d never tolerate an employee who came in and crashed your network every day, keeping a huge number of your employees from getting anything done.  But we do it every day.  Your company and your sales team have life-forces that thrive on possibility, hope and good intention.  Know the difference between honesty and cynicism and do what you have to in order to give your team the environment they deserve.

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Summer is for Managers. (Part III)

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In this third of our summertime management posts, we take a second look at leadership and how it defines the organizations we all struggle to manage.

I’ve been thinking a lot about leadership within and across the dozens of companies I’ve worked with over the past several years.  A single disruptive idea keeps coming back to me:

Leadership isn’t a set of actions by the leader.  It’s a state of being for the organization.

In this age of strong-man leaders and celebrity CEOs, we tend to individualize leadership and celebrate the speeches and the big “leadership moves” of the individual leader.  But from all I can tell, those victories are pyrrhic and their effects ephemeral.  The truly great leaders know that leadership isn’t about what you do or fix; it’s about what you tend and sustain.  It’s not the next hill to be taken, but the ecosystem to be developed and supported.

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In my opinion, great organizational leaders (whether they are leading an entire company or a sales organization) should be focused on the questions behind three overlapping and interdependent ecosystems:  Talent, Incubation and Culture.

How might we attract, filter and secure the talent we need and deserve?

How might we better incubate and assimilate that talent into our organization during the critical first two years after hiring?

How might we foster and maintain an attractive, supportive culture based on employee engagement?

Great leaders keep asking their managers these questions and weigh each big decision or program against the scrutiny these questions create.  And they force their managers and teams to examine the overlap and co-dependence of these concerns.  Without an attractive culture, how can a company attract great talent?  Without a focus on incubating new talent, what is the point of securing those hires in the first place?  Unless we engage our employees, new and experienced, in caring for and teaching each other, how would we ever hope to create an attractive culture?

Great leadership isn’t about you.  It’s about your organizational focus and values. But you need to start that conversation.

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Your Double Life.

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Individual contributors become managers every day, and when they do the event is usually quite clear and visible to everyone in the organization. But the transition from manager to leader can be another story entirely.

I just read a terrific post by Butterfly co-founder Simon Rakosi called “Why Transforming Managers into Leaders Shouldn’t be Left to Chance.” He points out some great distinctions between management and leadership, including Managers educate around skills and tasks; leaders inspire around a vision and Managers view their employees in silos; leaders focus on team dynamics.

The challenge in our dynamic, hyper-kinetic industry is that there’s rarely a clean breaking point between one job and the next: it’s rare that someone ever says “I’m done being a manager now: time to start leading!” Most senior digital sales executives will pivot between these two roles a thousand times – often within the same day.

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by Krux, the Salesforce DMP.  Krux drives more valuable content, commerce, and advertising experiences for the world’s leading marketers and media companies. Clients include Anheuser-Busch In-Bev, JetBlue, Kellogg, L’Oréal, Meredith Corporation, NewsCorp, the BBC, and Peugeot Citroen. Learn more at www.krux.com.

On paper, the chief revenue officer is a leadership job, while the regional director is pretty clearly a manager. But the CRO must instantly snap back into manager mode when working with her direct reports, while the regional director must step up and lead when in the presence of his full team. A couple of thoughts and ideas to make your head stop spinning:

  • Leaders play checkers, managers play chess. So says Marcus Buckingham in “The One Thing You Need to Know.” When you’re in leader mode, all the pieces move the same, so the message or policy is for everyone.  When managing, each piece moves differently:  focus on what’s right for the individual in front of you right now.
  • Lead in public, manage in private. Managing is an individual sport. Shut the door.
  • Every group deserves a culture. If you’re manager of a team of individual contributors and others – even if that group is just two or three people – start answering the question “What does it mean to be part of our team?” Better yet, answer it together.
  • You can never understand enough about how people work together. Process, process, process. Leaders rightly obsess about it, and their teams get more out of it than you might imagine. Beware of any discussion that ends with “We’ll figure that out…”

To all of you out there who are living double lives, make sure you live in the moment and be the best manager and leader you can be. Just be sure you know which is appropriate and called for at the time.

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Is it Your Employee? Or is it You?

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is-it-the-employee-or-is-it-youI spent yesterday with a team of great young managers.  During our workshop I was reminded of the three-part test I’d encouraged managers to use last April…a test to determine what to do with employee performance problems.  It’s worth a second look.

Thousands of books have been written on managing employee performance, each volume offering theories and tactics more complicated than the one that preceded it.  But like most things in life, simpler is better.

Recently I was discussing a thorny employee issue with a client, and as we mapped things out a simple ‘test’ presented itself.   The three factors to be explored – in order – are clarity, capacity and will.

If you’re a qualified digital sales leader or manager and would like to be supported in your own growth or that of your team, come to the Seller Forum on Thursday February 9th in New York. Seller Forum is the industry’s only peer-to-peer gathering of people just like you.  You’ll hear from clients and market experts, get insights on the shape of Q1 spending and share best practices and tips.  Request a spot for yourself and another key manager on your team. Seating will be strictly limited.

When you’re questioning a performance problem, you shouldn’t simply call the employee in for a free form conversation or give him a list of complaints.  Both approaches will lead to a bunch of random reactions and you’ll get lost in the details very quickly.  Instead, take things in order.

Clarity. Is the employee really – really – clear about what is expected? This is on you.  Have you communicated effectively about the full expectations of the job or task?  Have you put it in writing?  You may have a clear picture of what needs to be done in your head, and right now it’s probably fighting for space with all those frustrations you’ve developed. But you must take the time to carefully externalize the picture with your employee.  Once that’s done, you can move on to question number two…

Capacity. Is the employee capable of doing what is expected?  You must ask hard questions about whether the employee’s experience, skills and training fully enable to do what is needed.  Many of us never ask this because it calls into question our own hiring practices.  If you suspect a lack of training or adequate supervision is the issue, you may choose to apply time and resources.  But don’t forget to ask the hard question:  can this employee do this job?  When you’ve checked the boxes on clarity and capacity, you move on to the third and final issue…

Will. Is the employee willing to do what is required?  This is the hardest but most important part of the test…and often we don’t even consider it.  Sometimes people don’t do things simply because they don’t want to.  They will likely call out a lot of other issues and rationalizations. But if you look closely, a lack of will is not that hard to spot.  And it’s the issue that probably matters more than any other.  This one is fully on the employee and you must act decisively when you see it.  Say goodbye.

Don’t just keep this test to yourself.  Share it with other managers.  Better yet, share it with the employee.  Walk through the three questions and make the test the framework for your next performance discussion.  It just might be the simple means of solving your toughest issues.

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