Imagine a young eleven year old playing baseball and his coach standing in the third base batter’s box. An eleven year old boy will eat dirt if the coach suggests it. He’s very impressionable with an open heart waiting to learn. He rides to the games and practices with his Dad many times each week. When he plays he really want to do good for those that watch him - especially his Dad.
He steps in the batters box and looks back to get his signal. Each time he swings at the ball or takes a pitch he hears instruction over his left shoulder from third base. He also hears Dad spray comments with his mouth and nose pressed into the fence behind the umpire. In years when his Dad was the coach, this scene intensified before, during, and after the games and practices.
In some games, the tones around him rise to shrill displays of frustration and impatience. His Dad and his coach pound on him for results each doing so in a different way - one from behind the plate the other from third base. The boy wants to do good but gradually fear mounts up upon his chest and rides there throughout the season.
Have you every watched someone freeze at the plate? Have you ever seen a whole team freeze? I have and it’s not pretty to watch, especially when you’re the coach or the manager.
I’ve watched sales managers build similar environments with little encouragement, praise, mentoring, or coaching. They give lots of directives and constantly pound on their reps for results. Even managers with a rah-rah spirit often seem over-bearing and crude because they forget to coach skills, mentor attitudes, and address the sales reps' issues and barriers to performance.
As a result, salespeople quit, treat customers poorly, talk about leadership, or shrink to mediocre levels of performance. They stop operating as a team. Co-worker and customer issues and complaints rise, sales drop, and budgets are missed. A sales manager’s day and evening get crowded with putting out fires, dealing with high levels of turnover; and sometimes, in extreme cases, with high customer returns and low sales.
These negative effects occur until finally the sales managers develop as leaders and coaches. They develop and teach the sales reps a sales process and the skills within it leading to results. As reps learn and get better, their coaches provide encouragement and praise for their incremental progress. Their sales leaders also explain why to do things in a certain way and to do them with a service attitude and teamwork. Standards are explained and enforced for the benefit of all stakeholders. Their managers work to remove performance barriers and support their resource needs. They listen to them.
From the time their managers begin to take a leader’s initiative toward serving their interests, sales reps begin to respond to direction. This response begins in gradual steps as they test the strength of the new culture’s values and beliefs the leaders' commitment. Turnover then slows, sales increase, and as time passes the new culture begins to attract candidates wanting sales positions within the company.
I’ve seen this occur for a Little League baseball team and for a corporate sales team. When it happens, the concrete results are sweet. Teams win, fans enjoy watching, and the players love the game. You can learn to do this. Do it. Lance.