Consider this question:
Is it bad to have close relationships with your sales reps?
Recently, I shared a conversation with Curt Coffman, co-author of “First, Break All The Rules What The World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently” and most recently, “Culture Eats Strategy for Lunch.” Throughout the past 30 years, no one has done more research and consulting in the areas of development of productive, customer-oriented workplaces and what separates top performing individuals and organizations from their counterparts than Curt. At one point during our call I asked Curt, “What do exceptional sales reps want most from their managers?” His response was that more than anything else they wanted a relationship. His response did not surprise me, but based onresults from our Through the Eyes of the Sales Rep Assessment it certainly might surprise the broader sales management community.
Thus, the answer to the question above is no; it is absolutely imperative to have close relationships with your sales reps if you want to maximize their performance, but let’s dig deeper.
If you are caught up on the word "close", simply change it to “strong” and see how that feels for you.
Generally speaking, when you start to talk about close relationships between sales managers and sales reps, most managers' brains start to go down the road of the soft and squishy stuff. Don’t let your mind go down that road.
When referencing close relationships, it important not to focus so much on the soft stuff, but rather the imperative traits that can allow an average relationship to manifest in to one that is strong or “close”.
These traits most notably include words such as trust, honesty, value, and integrity. And while these words get thrown around a lot in a number of different arenas they carry a lot of weight when it comes to the sales manager/ sales rep relationship. By definition, a sales manager’s job is to get their sales reps to perform at levels he or she could not perform at without their help. To accomplish this most effectively, sales managers must be able to attain sustained discretionary effort from their reps and in order to do this, a close relationship must exist. More simply put, great sales managers must build strong relationships with their reps. Research proves that there is no better way achieve this relationship than by holding regularly scheduled one-on-one meetings with reps, which focus on both professional and personal topics and certainly go much deeper than a review of the pipeline or activity numbers. Just holding the one-on-one is a good starting point, but it is how effective managers are at being a sales coach during those one-on-ones that really matters.
Consider the following question that we know is critically important to top performing sales reps:
Does your manager care about you as a person?
Now, let’s look at how sales manager A and sales manager B can get to different points based on the same information.
Let’s assume that sales manager A and Sales manager B both hold regularly scheduled one-on-one meetings with their highest performing rep, but let’s also assume that sales manager B is much more relationship based than manager A. At a recent one-on-one meeting, these two managers found out that their sales rep is really excited because she has tickets to a Lady Gaga concert this weekend. Where might manager A go wrong and what will manager B do differently?
Manager A: How Manager A will likely absorb this information: Great, you have tickets to a concert hope you have fun. Now, let’s move on to another generic personal question so that we can get down to the activity, analytics, and projections and move on with the day. How does that meeting feel for the rep?
Manager B: How Manager B will likely absorb this information and leverage it to foster a strong relationship: Wow, you got tickets to Lady Gaga – that’s exciting. Why do you like her music? What other types of music do you like? That’s great! What are your plans for the rest of the weekend? Simply by being authentic and showing a genuine interest in the rep will help build a stronger relationship, but more importantly there are few more impactful questions than asking why. In this scenario, imagine that this particular rep starts to open up about how she likes this music artist because she is very individualistic and she does not conform to the status-quo. Also, that she can relate to that because those are traits she values. Does this become insightful information for the sales manager to know? Absolutely! Because the next time this manager sees an opportunity to do something unconventional, they will know who to put on the project and be able to explain why they are putting them in that position. Or, perhaps they come across an article while reading the Wall Street Journal that this rep would enjoy and they pass it along to them with the subject line – Thought you would enjoy this article. After this conversation the manager then focuses their attention to activity and opportunities moving forward. Now, how does this meeting feel for the rep?
The reason the relationship component is so important for high performing reps is that once you get past the blocking and tackling of sales, what value are you now going to bring to me as my sales manager? Also, because we know the number one reason a top performer stays with or leaves an organization is due to their relationship with their sales manager. Peak performance for top performing reps is much more mental than it is about understanding how to sell. However, the most important part of building close relationships with your reps, especially relationships built on trust, honesty, value, and integrity is that it allows you to earn the right to challenge and push them on a consistent basis. It allows you to coach effectively. If you happen to be the type of manager who thinks that your title alone affords you the right to challenge and push, let me be the first to tell you that it does not.
Our research has proven that above all else when it comes to motivating your sales reps to sell more the top two items sales reps need are...
2) Helping your reps achieve their career objectives
In order to do both of these things effectively, it all begins with a relationship. There is no doubt that connecting with your reps is the first step to coaching and in turn, close and strong relationships.
What are you doing today to build strong relationships with those on your team?
Director of Business Development
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