The job of a sales manager is not limited to meeting company goals and reporting to the C-suite – it’s a challenging role that includes juggling multiple competing priorities. Today’s sales managers not only manage their teams, they provide coaching and support, and they make themselves available to staff when it comes to presentations and negotiations around key accounts. Effective sales leaders also strike a balance between the desire to meet organizational objectives and the ability to provide the necessary support their team expects and needs.
There’s another important quality all sales managers should possess: being a good listener. In order to lead their teams, sales managers need to pay close attention to what their reps are saying. It’s the same active-listening skill you’d use with customers, and it requires you to be alert to things like body language, facial expressions, mood, tone and vocal inflection. Below are a few tips for perfecting the listening skills you need in order to lead effectively.
You’re There; You Care
Any veteran of the sales trade, or just of corporate America in general, knows the importance of keeping one’s personal life at home and not bringing it into the office. As a manager, you should expect the same “leave it at the door” policy to be carried out by your staff. But don’t go overboard and decide that your employees are inhuman robots built for plying the trade.
Regardless of whether or not they’ve gulped down the company Kool-Aid, your reps are human beings. By our very nature, we humans have issues to deal with, some that don’t just disappear when we clock in at the office. Of course you should never have to be an employee’s at-work shrink, but showing empathy is a very powerful, productivity-increasing tool. It signals to your employees that you’re open and approachable—and that you’ll listen to them. Most reps prefer to be led by a manager with a genuine understanding of who their staff members are and how those individuals bring value to and fit with the organization.
Get involved in concerns that your staff finds important. When they share ideas and/or express genuine interest in improvements to things like workflows, territory allotment, or scripts, offer them encouragement and ask questions. Employee engagement is not just a buzz term these days; best-in-class companies out there know how to maximize it, and it shows in their bottom line. Think, for example, about the Japanese, who pioneered worker input as a way to continuously improve quality and efficiencies in their auto plants. Commonly referred to as “Kaizen,” every worker is looked at as a unique contributor with valid ideas worthy of being listened to and evaluated by upper management.
Hold That Thought
When employees, say in a one-on-one, have ideas or are simply working things out for themselves verbally, don’t interrupt them in order to correct their line of thinking because you may know more about a particular topic. Don’t say, “Good idea, but that won’t work, and here’s why.” There’s a lot of thought leadership around the idea of disengaged employees, and one sure fire way to knock the enthusiasm right out of someone is to interrupt/correct their thoughts with your own. As we said earlier, listen to your employees the way you listen to customers: Be patient, be quiet, don’t make assumptions, and definitely do not preemptively shut out their knowledge, ideas, and expertise.
Fools Rush In
When you’re quick to judge, odds are you’re not going to get good results. For example, if you’re voicing your dissatisfaction about poor performance without the benefit of knowing the whole story, you may come off as immature to your employees. In other words, if you’re criticizing a rep’s performance but do not have a full understanding of why that person is failing at a particular point in the sales process, maybe that’s an indication your leadership skills have failed you. Did you provide the proper coaching, support, and nurturing that that rep needs? It’s not too late to be a more thoughtful, engaged, and team-forward sales manager. The first step is to close your mouth and open your ears. Learn to listen. You’ll be amazed to find that that simple act has an enormous positive effect on what you do. Nuff said. We’ll shut up now.