Man, thought Carl as the minutes ticked down to his meeting with Jim, his sales manager, these “Jim talks” are all the same. First he reads me the numbers, like I don’t already know them. Then he’ll look up and ask me how I think it’s going. Gee, Jim, it’s going lousy, so I’ve decided to take a month off and go to Hawaii. Maybe when I get back some of the pain-in-the-butt clients and prospects will have found another poor dumb salesperson to harass. Oh, yeah, do you have any more of those really great leads? That’s right, the ones you found on the supermarket bulletin boards.
As Carl walked into Jim’s office, he decided at that moment to take what he called the “positive future” approach. That’s worked in the past with Jim; I’m sure it will work again today. Besides I don’t really have to think hard to sound convincing.
“Carl, right on time,” said Jim, who was sitting in front of his desk. “Here, sit in this chair,” he continued pointing to the one next to his, “I thought it would be easier for us to go over the numbers side by side.”
“No problem, Jim.” Carl wondered for a moment why the sudden change from behind the desk to in front of the desk. Then he remembered that Jim had recently attended a managers’ workshop. Probably, thought Carl, meeting side by side was step number one in the new and improved “Eighteen Steps to Improved Sales Management.”
“Carl,” began Jim, “I’ve been going over your monthly numbers . . .
looks like they are all right on average . . . how do you think you’re doing?”
Bingo, thought Carl. Looks like his workshop only covered sitting in front of the desk. “Well, Jim, you know what they say; the numbers don’t lie.”
Jim looked up for a moment, as if to say something, and then looked back down at the report and shook his head. “If I remember correctly, you said that you were working on some big ones . . . what’s happened?”
For a second Carl thought he heard doubt in Jim’s voice, but that thought faded rapidly as he switched on his “keep the sales manager happy” monologue.
“Like I told you, Worth is just about closed, Simonington just needs some technical specs, and there are three others I never mentioned. Now to get
them . . .”
Both Jim and Carl “spill” words at each other without communicating anything.
Jim knows his role as sales manager. There are specific tasks that are performed at certain times. He probably has a monthly task check-off list. If all of his tasks for the month have been checked, then he has done a good job as sales manager.
Carl appears to know that all he has to do is make the appropriate noises at the right moments, and there will be no difficulties with Jim. He’s correct.
There is absolutely no communication occurring between Carl and Jim. Instead, each is acting out a tacitly agreed-upon role, much like actors on a stage. You do your part; I’ll do mine. The fact that Jim has changed where he normally sits, perhaps in the belief that this will help him communicate more effectively, gives Carl a second or so of uncertainty. But Jim immediately goes back to acting out his pre-determined role. His unstated message is clear, “Hey, I learned to do something new, but don’t worry, I’ll make sure that it won’t change how we interact.” He succeeds.
The job of a sales manager is to enable his salespeople to better manage their own behavior. Of all the ways to do that, setting an example is the best. Jim’s behavioral example is appalling. In essence, his message to Carl is don’t rock the boat by changing the way you behave because I’m not changing, so why should you?
Carl has learned his lesson perfectly.
To understand the message you are daily delivering to your salespeople, you need to step outside yourself and look back. What you find staring at you might not be pleasant. It is, however, an important step to take should you wish to become more effective at communicating.
Instead of sleep-walking through a role in a play, you might start reversing what the salespeople say. For example, when Carl says, “Worth is just about closed,” an interesting reversal would be, “By saying ‘just about closed,’ you mean . . .” and then waiting for a response.
You might hear, “Well, you know what I mean.” A second reversal might be, “I’m not really sure, ‘by just about closed,’ you mean . . .”
Don’t accept empty phrases which pass for communication. “He’s a live one.” Unless you have a product that dead people buy, he better be a live one.
A sales manager gets exactly the type of salespeople he earns.
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