If you employ sales reps, it’s likely they’re highly motivated, skittish, reluctant to change, apt to hide when you call them, and always watching their backs, just like cats. It’s the nature of the job, and much of it is well-earned. Sales has been described as both the easiest hard job and the hardest easy job in the world. The stakes and the pay are high, and not everyone can do it.
I was a Cat Herder, and there’s no job I loved more. I was in sales myself when the CEO asked me if I could teach and entertain, and if so, would I consider sales management. Teach? I had a teaching degree with no practical value. Entertain? I came from a family who crafted and produced skits at Thanksgiving. I was made for it.
But you need more than that, and over time I developed a four-part management process:
- Provide Tools. Some reps were so good and powerful that they never needed any help and created tools of their own, but our B2B industry allowed for a certain level of complacency that made tools helpful. I employed a “3 Times” rule. If I heard 3 different sales reps say they wished they had (fill in blank w/ sales tool), I would create it. If I heard 3 reps say we needed to add a certain line to our offering, I would make the case to my boss.
- Remove Roadblocks. Sales reps love to gripe when things don’t go their way. I know I did. “I can’t do what you want me to because of these internal roadblocks” is an oft-heard refrain. So I worked with management peers to fill the potholes and smooth the road surface. I also called this the “I’ve removed all the roadblocks you mentioned. Now it’s all on you, buddy” solution.
- Maximize Strengths. Self-explanatory. Not every sales rep was good at every part of the process, so I pushed them harder to their strengths and used them in pep talks.
- Minimize Weaknesses. Ditto above. Every sales rep has a weakness, even the most successful and driven. If that weakness caused company havoc, I would have to address it, but if not, I tried to live with it and not nag about something unlikely to change.
It’s simplified, of course, because all numbered solutions are. Every sales day presented a new shade of grey, where decisions that were made two weeks ago were no longer germane. That’s part of what made it so much fun for me. Everything was a moving target and subject to change.
If you herd cats or are one yourself, Meow!
January 26, 2022