Manage Your Manager

By Malcolm Fleschner

The standard relationship between sales reps and managers often is emphatically one-sided. Managers explain what they want and reps try to do as they’re told – or at least come up with good excuses why they didn’t. There are alternatives to the top-down approach to the manager-rep interaction, however, says professional management coach and 19-year pharmaceutical industry veteran Allan Mackintosh, He suggests a five-step plan to reduce conflict and get more of what you want from the relationship.

1. Get into style. Use the wealth of available information for assessing behavioral styles to determine your style and your manager’s style. Analyze the differences with an eye toward eliminating conflict. Mirror your manager’s body language, vocal tones and overall attitude. As amazing as it may seem, soon you’ll see results as rapport and trust improve.

2. Hammer out a contract. Take the initiative and consult with your manager about such critical issues as:

  • specific expectations for you as a sales rep
  • your objectives and how you’ll be measured
  • the behaviors that annoy your manager
  • what motivates and demotivates your manager
  • specific reports and their contents that your manager wants and when you should deliver them
  • how frequently you can expect a manager ride-along in the field

Based on this conversation, develop a sort of contract of expectations on which you and your manager are both clear.

3. Solicit activities. Be proactive about getting coaching from your manager. Request regular feedback on your progress. Don’t be overbearing or a nuisance, however. Take advantage of ride-alongs to request protected time when you can discuss specific topics or challenges you’re facing.

4. Provide support. Though few reps think much about it, management can be lonely and terribly stressful. Make a point to ask your manager about his or her boss, and how team performance is measuring up. Depending on the situation, you might offer to take on greater responsibility to ease your manager’s workload. Besides demonstrating your eagerness to be a team player, you’ll also gain experience that might help you down the line.

5. Get it out in the open. When problems do crop up in the relationship, confront them. To help smooth this process, make sure to include in your contract that you will assert yourself whenever you feel things starting to head south. Don’t be tempted to discuss your concerns with other team members because this may only exacerbate the issue.