Which is better, a sales manager who is benevolent, friendly, approachable or a sales manager who is strict, authoritative and a disciplinarian?
Throughout a sales person’s career, he is likely to encounter many managers who fall into either category. A sales manager who is friendly and easy going acknowledges parity with members of the sales team, by emotionally interacting with employees on an equal level. The potential benefits of this, is greater trust, loyalty and effort. The friendly sales manager is more likely to have greater knowledge of all key information with regards to his department. The only problem with this way of managing a sales team is not in knowing information, but in affecting it. If targets aren’t reached or sales efforts aren’t maintained, a friendly sales manager has a problem in that he needs to motivate a change in attitude or process. By basing a management style on creating trust, the friendly approach is left open to abuse. This is not a problem if all sales personnel are 100% dedicated to the same effort, but in all reality, the members of a sales team will not all be singing from the same song sheet. Some will have their own ideas on how to proceed, some will only be interested in making minimum sales quota’s and some will have their own agenda. The greatest threat to a friendly manager is being taken for granted and in extreme cases ignored completely.
This is precisely the reason that a proportion of managers choose to adopt a stricter and more distant attitude towards sales management. The idea of remaining aloof from people who are directly in your responsibility stems from the military train of thought where officers purposely remain distant from soldiers in their command. Maintaining discipline and making sure optimum effort is pursued is much easier if there is no emotional attachment to those under you. For the authoritarian sales manager, motivating change and attitudes in the sales force is not a problem. Rarely, is a sales manager with this attitude going to be regarded with much affection, and here is where the barrier to this method of management begins. The distance created in maintaining discipline creates the potential for loss of communication between sales manager and sales team. For members of a sales team under an authoritarian manager, there is always the likelihood that an “us and them” attitude will be prevalent. In such a case, there will be a protective and defensive attitude and the information the sales manager has at hand will contain information generated with this in mind.
As with most things in life, things aren’t black and white, and this is no different with management. It is quite possible to amalgamate the two approaches of management and gain the trust and loyalty of the work force while maintaining discipline. By adopting a ‘mentor’ approach to management, a sales manager can be on a separate level to that of the sales team but also on a friendly basis. The key to sales management is knowing information and acting on that information at the right times. A sales mentor’s key goal is to gain information from the workforce and gain the trust in order for that information to be free and forthcoming. A sales mentors discipline stems from a driven need to improve the members of a sales team in the same way a teacher improves students, but is distant enough to be able to exert authority when it is needed.
When someone becomes a manager, they don’t usually consciously decide what style of management they are going to pursue with all the permutations of what that style encompasses. To get this balance in management styles a manager has to understand that he is managing people that need different approaches dependant on their personality and experience. Managing by authority alone is managing the sales process irrespective of the personalities. This is the reason why so many managers choose such ‘black and white’ methods of management. Knowing that there are shades of grey in between means that a sales manager can interact with sales personnel and enjoy greater benefits to different management approaches. After all how many times have you heard that the greatest assets of the business is its staff. Then treat them as individuals and with respect and they will respect you whatever shade of management style you use at any time.
George Petri is Managing Director of Nomis Limited which created SalesVision, one of the UK's leading IT systems providers in effective Sales Performance Management.
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