Sales Excellence

Summer is for Managers (Part II)

Enjoy the second in our series of manager focused posts. Because nothing says summer like management theory!

Everybody wants to talk about great leaders these days. But this management stuff is pretty hard work!  Many business-people don’t seriously distinguish between leadership and management, but they should. As Marcus Buckingham says in The One Thing You Need to Know, “Leaders play checkers; managers play chess.” In checkers, every piece moves exactly the same; there’s one leadership message that applies to everyone in the company. In chess, every piece has its own quirky individual moves; management is about how you move and plan for the individual.

Over the past weeks I’ve conducted sales workshops for a dozen digital sales organizations, working closely with leaders and managers to “make it all stick” for their teams. It always comes down to what the managers do; what they commit to and how they hold their sellers accountable. So  let’s look at what managers do.

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Managers Break It All Down: When leaders and companies inspire with soaring missions and motivational gems it can actually have an adverse effect on some sellers. “I see where the company is going, but I just don’t see how I can get there.” The good manager sees the delta between grand vision and troubled reality and helps the seller navigate it, piece by piece. Which accounts have the best odds? Where will you spend your time? Who are the right people? The good manager understands that talented sellers often need help building a plan.

Managers Keep Track of Actions: In The Heart of the Game, Thomas Boswell points out that great baseball managers never obsess about the final score, which is after all just an outcome. Instead, they obsess about the interim actions and decisions that would have subtly changed the course of the game:  the base-running error in the second inning; the missed cutoff man in the sixth; swinging at the first pitch against a tiring starter. They focus on how the game was played, which is ultimately controllable. It’s the same with sales managers. Watch, discuss, correct and reward the behaviors that will lead to sales. If you don’t, you might be cluelessly celebrating hollow victories, lucky breaks.

Managers Remember:  It’s not sexy, but truly great managers are the institutional memories of their organizations. They remember what they’ve asked their team members to do and when; they remember the narrative of key deals; they remember the behavioral promises of those they manage. It’s one of the reasons great managers commit to CRM systems and consistent reporting; and it’s the reason why so many instinctive, “lone wolf” sales superstars end up making lousy managers. If you’re a great manager, your organization and process management are what frees your sellers to play a much bigger game for their customers, and for your company.

Once you’ve looked this over, share it with the people on your team. It might be the key to unlocking a productive new relationship with those you manage.

Just Three Things.

just-three-thingsOne of the real pleasures of my job – and what makes my job possible – is that I get to speak candidly and personally to a few hundred salespeople every year.  It’s in those conversations that I have come to understand the qualities that all the great ones seem to share.

As you might imagine there are dozens of behaviors, approaches and beliefs that one could point to.  But in the end it seems to come down to a very short list of just three things.  And if I were building a sales team today and could hire only three qualities, I’d pay for these:

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.

Curiosity.  To truly sell means to persuade another person – or group – to do something significant.  In this quest, curiosity is a superpower.  The curious are always looking to understand more about the work and life and issues of the customer.  Their curiosity helps them learn how the customer’s business works, and why it sometimes doesn’t.  And it makes the customer feel deeply interesting and attended to.  In this environment, change and commitment become truly possible.

Generosity.  The old stereotype of the slick seller busily counting his commission would be laughable if it weren’t so pathetically misguided.  Great sellers rarely wait for the cash register to ring and always leave something on the table.  They are also generous with their time and attention…and with credit when something goes well.  Because they give, others want to give to them….support, loyalty, commitment.

Paranoia.  Yes, this one sounds odd by comparison.  But the touch of paranoia afflicting the great seller makes her always do one more thing…check one more detail…meet one more person…make one more phone call.  When a deal is 95% certain, the great seller dwells in the 5% that’s not…turning every bolt, checking every circuit.  His curiosity and generosity are what bring business to the table; his paranoia is what finishes the sale and drives the success of his company.

The Great Ones.

The Great Ones.On Sunday night I had the honor of speaking on opening night of the IAB Annual Leadership Meeting in Scottsdale about the future of digital media sales. After addressing ‘the big lie’ that hangs over our business – that the growth of programmatic buying would somehow drastically reduce or eliminate the need for sales executives – I talked about how the nature of selling would indeed change, and what kind of sellers would be called for in the complex and rewarding days ahead.

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Transactional buying and selling – trading standard ad units for dollars – is the rust belt of the media landscape, and those jobs ain’t coming back. In fact, those jobs really aren’t about selling at all. The real sellers – the great ones – are already working on a much different level, we have the working template for the Greatest Generation of Digital Sellers:

  1. They are marketing-oriented, not advertising driven. They look at the picture through a much wider aperture.
  2. They organize their work around multi-product, integrated solutions – not around response to late stage, single product RFPs.
  3. They operate “left of budget” and create urgency by working backward from the unsolved marketing problem.
  4. They are patient and thorough in navigating complexity.
  5. They are enterprise sellers, not point solution vendors.

Spend ten minutes watching the embedded video of my talk and share your own thoughts. If you’re an individual contributor, how do you measure up the five qualities above? If you lead a team, how many of your current sellers fit this rubric? More importantly, what are you doing to support and retain them?

The Greatest Generation of Digital Sellers is not a foregone conclusion. It’s something we have to imagine and commit to.   To paraphrase William Gibson, bits of that future are already here; they’re just unevenly distributed.

We’ve just added Mitch Weinstein from IPG Mediabrands as part of an important discussion of viewability at Seller Forum on March 12th. We’ll be discussing video, talent, policies, financial outlook and more. If you lead a team that sells media, you need to be there.  Request your invitation today.