Sales Management Digest

The Boss or the Customer: Who Comes First?
Heather Baldwin
Some sales managers serve all the wrong people. They are quick to postpone a meeting with a rep to handle a request from the boss, and their actions and words simply further their own agendas (i.e., landing a promotion, looking smart in front of higher-ups). Often, their sense of value comes from past accomplishments as a superstar seller.

"The way people are educated and trained is to become performers in their own right, but that mind-set has to go," explains James Strock, president of James Strock & Co and author of Serve to Lead. "As a manager, your value comes from what you are learning today and what you empower others to do in the future, and that's a totally different mind-set."

Just as the explosion in information availability has transformed the way customers buy, it has also transformed the role of the manager and the manager/rep relationship. Where power and authority were once centralized and those in leadership roles had all the information, today that's no longer true. "There's much greater knowledge at the bottom of the org chart than at the top, and you have to learn how to make use of that," says Strock.

Indeed, one of the warning signs that you're not serving your salespeople is an idea drought. If you're not getting a steady flow of ideas from your sales reps about how to improve things – if all the ideas are coming from managers – that's a red flag. Other red flags that you are putting service to yourself or your boss ahead of your salespeople and customers include retention problems and a stagnation in your own learning.

"It's common for managers to stop learning," Strock warns. "They've been great salespeople, and they view the management position as recognition of their accomplishment, as opposed to being an opportunity to serve others."

To fix those issues and become a great 21st century sales manager, Strock challenges you to devote one week to asking reps and customers the question posed at the beginning of this article: How can I best serve you? Note the phrasing; it's not, "How can I help you?" or "What can I do for you?" which are so overused they sound almost trite. Instead, the focus is on service. If you're not sure how to work the question into a conversation, start with an internal question; when anyone speaks to you in the next week, before you say a thing, ask yourself, "How can I best serve this person?"

By approaching conversations from the outside in versus the inside out, you'll often discover that what you would have said was self-serving – and that your new approach builds bridges, relationships, and sales.

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