“Sales management is like being a social worker.” So said my boss when I got my first Sales Manager job. Sounded daunting indeed. Then he added, “and like a teacher, a parent, a doctor, a coach…”
“And a friend, I suppose.” I was speculating aloud. I instantly regretted that.
“But NEVER a friend. Your job is to push, to lead, to criticise, to praise, all for one reason.”
“To make them believe they can achieve for more than their lazy-assed self wants to believe. So, when they cop out, saying something is too difficult for them, its YOU who has to pick them up and throw them towards their sales target. Now, we love are friends. And they can encourage us, of course. But they do not have the AUTHORITY to LEAD us. Nor do we respect them in the same way we respect, as I’ve just said, a teacher, a parent, a doctor, a coach. There’s an authority gab between you and them. Or, at least, there should be. At all times. So, no, you’re NOT mates.”
I felt a little discouraged. I’d imagined that, having replaced genial George Burns, the previous Scotland Sales Manager, that I too now could laugh and joke with the lads and at the end of a session in the pub, plead nicely for them to do a good days work tomorrow, for him. It seemed a great life. Get paid more, work a little less, no one being downright rude to you, and generally bumbling along.
My boss was very experienced and obviously read my mind.
“Aye, George was a lovely guy. But no concept of leadership. See, the Georges of the world do well when we don’t have to scrap for every piece of business. But, when the going gets tough? They fall down crying like babies. And they get all upset that ‘their friends’ below them in the sales team ‘cost them their job.’”
“Wouldn’t he have a point?”
“Why on earth would you say that? Don’t make me regret your promotion. Look. He wasn’t employed to be their friend. He was employed to make sure the company produced sales on good days, bad days and most of all on impossible days. These people have friends. But you’re not one of them.”
I sat looking at my boss, who was sitting across the desk from me in his office. He certainly didn’t feel like a friend. But I respected him enough to endure this lecture. He had, in my mind, the authority.
“Look'', he continued, “your job is to burn the soles of their feet if you think it will get them off their asses. Is that friendly?”
“I’m speaking figuratively, of course.”
I was wondering…
“Now, you’ve been their friend, their comrade. But you too have authority. You had the best figures. So, when they slap you on the back and say well done mate, my advice is that your new life will be much easier if you reply, 'I’m nor your mate’. And before you think that’s cruel, ask yourself, do you care about them.''
“Good, because unless you do, you will not succeed. Caring in in this context means caring they achieve target, earn money, develop as human beings and salespeople. Because, if they don’t, under your authority, then they will fail and you will be responsible. And we will replace you, ‘mate.’”
By Bob Smith who has worked in sales for more than 30 years, works as an experienced recruiter, trainer & motivator and is also a published author of both children’s and adult titles.