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Being too tough demoralises workers
Being too tough demoralises workers

The marshmallow or the meanie pants?

Sales managers often fall into one of two roles: marshmallow or meanie pants. GRETCHEN GORDON reveals how to avoid this trap by never losing sight of the main goal – getting the absolute best out of employees.

There is one over-arching thought any leader of a sales team should keep in mind: it is your responsibility to push your staff to greater heights than they would achieve on their own. If you can’t do this, you are excess cost.

When it comes to driving employees to a higher level of performance, too many times sales leaders are extreme; they either want to be their salespeople’s friend – the ‘marshmallow’ – or they feel like they have to be drill sergeants – the ‘meanie pants’.

I recently conducted a webinar for a group of both new and experienced sales leaders on this topic. The focus was on accountability and, as is true with most everything, it taught that balance is the key; however, I recognise that it can be difficult to achieve that balance when it comes to managing people.

There are two ways sales leaders can maintain balance and avoid being marshmallows or meanie pants. Firstly, they can set expectations and secondly, they can become accountability partners.

How to set expectations

If everyone knows explicitly what is expected of them then there won’t be any frustration or misunderstanding when those expectations aren’t met. It’s crucial that sales leaders set expectations about behaviours and activities early and communicate these effectively, instead of just focusing on outcomes.

Too often there is a laser focus on outcomes – that is, the sales numbers generated by employees – instead of setting in place a plan of activity that will produce those outcomes. Set expectations for everything and it will make your job a lot easier.

"If everyone knows explicitly what is expected of them then there won’t be any frustration or misunderstanding when those expectations aren’t met"

This doesn’t mean you have to bark at your sales reps and dictate every little thing – this would turn you into a meanie pants. Sales leaders will have a far greater impact if they provide guidance about the actions that employees themselves indicate they are going to do.

If you have a completely predictable process and you know what the exact metrics are, then you can certainly indicate the required activity to produce the expected result.

If you don’t know for sure what those metrics are, or should be, then it can be a collaborative thing.

However, don’t fall into the marshmallow mentality. If the level of activity isn’t measurable and precise, or seems too low or too high, then it is your obligation to veto it and ask the employee to go back to the drawing board.

Creating accountability

Rather than being the all-knowing dictator, position yourself as a loving but fair uncle or aunt. This way, you will hold your employees to their plans and goals and you will inspire them to be better than they would be without you.

If you refer back to the first key above – setting expectations – tell employees that this is your role. Even if they are seasoned professionals, it is still your job to push them.

If you have done a good job of setting expectations with regard to outcomes, behaviours and activities then you will have your roadmap for being an accountability partner. Simply hold their feet to the fire to ensure they deliver on what they said they would do.

Remember the old adage: what gets inspected gets respected. Keep it simple and focus on the items that will impact outcomes.

The key traits of a leader, as it pertains to accountability, are simple: your beliefs must support accountability; you mustn’t seek or need approval from your employees; you must be willing to ask questions; and you shouldn’t accept mediocrity.

Taking responsibility and managing both the pipeline and behaviour are important but less significant than the above traits.

Oversight is not a dirty word

Seasoned staff both want and need oversight. While you may have total confidence in them and may default to just letting them do whatever they choose, recall the mantra that it is your responsibility to push your sales staff to greater heights than they would achieve on their own.

Think about how weird it would be if you weren’t having regular accountability meetings with a high-performing salesperson and then they stumbled. Suddenly they aren’t producing per usual and you have no idea why. Wouldn’t it be awkward to start providing oversight when you hadn’t before?

In reality, not providing oversight and assuming they’ll “snap out of it” is being a marshmallow. Consistency and balance on this point, as well as the others, is key.

You’ll avoid falling into the marshmallow-meanie pants trap and not only boost your business but get the most out of your employees, pushing them beyond their own expectations.

Gretchen Gordon

Contributor • Braveheart Sales Performance

Gretchen Gordon owns Braveheart Sales Performance, a company helping clients to improve sales. Learn more:

Pink Kimberley Australia

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