Imperfect Past

By Malcolm Fleschner

“If I only knew then what I know now.” As much as this quote befits holders of losing lottery tickets, it could just as easily come from the mouth of a sales manager. asked Mike Ritchie, a sales manager for three years now with CBS Cabinets in Olympia, WA, what advice he would like to go back and give himself when he was new to the managerial position.

“I would tell myself to be patient,” he says. “As a sales rep, it’s always go, go, go, and you feel like you can tackle the world. As a new manager, I felt the same way, like I was going to turn the company around, start knocking the competition out of the water and grow the company like gangbusters. But that’s unrealistic. Instead of being in control of your destiny, you’re depending on other people to go out and perform. So you have to balance that enthusiasm with a realistic assessment of what you can accomplish.”

Asked about the greatest challenge he faced coming into a new company, having no previous management experience, Ritchie says he had to work hard to gain the respect of the sales team. “Some of them knew whom I was because they had run up against me as a sales rep,” he says, “but it took some doing to reassure them that I knew what I was talking about and that I could manage running the organization.

“One thing that helped when I first came in was that I had a meeting with everyone, filled them in on my background, let them know what I’d done and how long I’d been in the business. I also let everyone know that if they had any questions or problems, they should feel free to come to me with it and I’d do my best to take care of it. Within a few months, people felt like, ‘Hey, this guy knows what he’s doing.’ So that worked well for me.”

To some extent Ritchie credits his successful transition to remaining empathetic about the challenges facing salespeople: “The last manager I had was firm and once he gave an answer, that was it whether you liked it or not,” Ritchie recalls. “Salespeople weren’t always happy with the results, nor were the customers. But I don’t consider decisions exclusively mine to make. If a salesperson comes to me with a problem, we both work it out. By working through these issues together, the salespeople are comfortable with the outcome and so am I. So I’ve taken something of what I felt as a rep and applied it to the management position to say, ‘OK, how is your customer going to feel if we do this?’ as opposed to dictating, ‘This is the way we’re going to handle it, period.'”

If you could go back and share with your younger self the benefits of years of experience, what would you tell yourself? Besides the winning lottery numbers, that is.