Giving Props: A Memo to the Young Sales Manager

sales management, salesBill Binch, the EVP Worldwide Field Operations at Marketo, was telling me a story about how he had just promoted a young sales person into a management role. The young manager had helped one of his reps close a deal and was publicly talking about how HE closed the deal. In other words, he was over-emphasizing his role in the close and “peacocking” around the office. Bill pulled him into his office and told him: “Now that you are a manager, it’s about them now not you.” In other words, don’t do that.

Have you heard a sports coach’s press conference? The good ones always make a point to emphasize that the players are doing their job and the coaches need to coach better. Even if behind closed doors they are ripping a player, when they speak to everyone else (aka the media) they are routinely defending their players. When the “me” syndrome takes over, people take notice negatively — especially the team they are expected to lead. You never hear them say: “Once I made that change in the huddle, we won the game”.

I think I have mentioned this a hundred times, but my blog inspirations come from observations I make as I run around Silicon Valley internet but in this case my inspiration came from the television show, The Voice. (I will get beaten to a pulp for watching this show). But one of the judges Adam Levine made me cringe the other night when he was “allegedly” giving one of his performers positive feedback when he said: “I am really proud of you guys. You listened to everything I said.” Come on man. That’s not a compliment to them…that’s a compliment to YOU. I had a boss who did that to me once. I just gave a well-received hour-long presentation in front of a skeptical audience. My boss’s feedback to the rest of our company afterward: “Craig did great, he listened to everything I said.” Really? That’s what was so great about my presentation?

Sales people are like boxers. Half naked in the ring with everyone watching them and forced to make adjustments on the fly and figure out how to get the victory. There is no one to pass the ball to or block for. They have a “corner”, a group of people there to support them leading up to the fight and during rounds, but when they are in the ring – it’s on them. Even if the corner makes an amazing recommendation, the fighter executes. It’s also one of the reasons boxers behave the way they do. You actually need to develop a healthy self confidence, errr, ego to be successful.  That’s why when they walk into the ring there are hypemen telling them “you are the man!”.

It doesn’t mean you don’t enable and help them win deals. It also doesn’t mean you can’t be critical. It doesn’t mean you didn’t close the deal. But what it does mean, is that when you manage them — they are the “man”/”woman” not you. You are the corner. The fighter respects you and the people in the know realize your value, but the boxer is the focus of attention. They get the credit. And give it to them loud.

On a final note: If the rep sucks, then you have a different problem.

Craig Rosenberg is the Funnelholic and a co-founder of Topo. He loves sales, marketing, and things that drive revenue. Follow him on Google+ or Twitter

  • A great lesson for new managers to learn. You look good when they look good, so help them perform their best. But you aren’t the one in the trenches; you have to give them the tools and the skills to succeed and then trust them to take it and run.

  • Lots of good research out there on millennials too that says constant feedback is far more important to them than to their “older” counterparts. Sales manager as supportive coach is more important than ever before. Regular positive reinforcement is more important than ever before.

    All that said, your last point still stands. If they suck, they suck.

    • I actually haven’t done a ton of research on millennials. Interesting perspective. Thanks

  • Love the boxing analogy. Very apt way to describe what it’s like to be a sales professional and/or entrepreneur.

  • Victor Kippes

    Love your boxer analogy. I’m often reminding our operations team of this. These deals don’t just fall from the trees. Show some respect. Great post Craig.