The TACTIC: Don't commiserate.
Art looked up to see who was coming into the office so early and was surprised to see that it was Ray. Not that Art disliked Ray, but since Art had been promoted to sales manager, what Ray did or didn’t do took on a completely different meaning.
Maybe that’s what I need to do, thought Art. Ray needs to start closing more business real soon or I’m going to wind up asking him to reconsider his future with the company. Why can’t I just say, “Start selling or you’re fired?” And I used to think sales managers had the easy job.
“Hey, Art,” called Ray from across the room, “bet you didn’t expect to find me walking through the door this early.”
Art smiled back. “Not true.”
“Bull,” laughed Ray, “now tell me the truth; it was the first thing that ran through your mind.”
“Well, suppose it was,” responded Art, “What brings you in?”
“Thought I’d stop by before you got real buried and just talk a bit . . . you know, like we used to do before. Hey, the last time we ducked across the street to the donut place. You want to go now?” Ray stood holding the door with one hand and beckoning with the other.
“I don’t know, Ray. I’ve got a ton of stuff to do before the sales meeting,” Art glanced at his watch for a second, “in two hours.”
“You don’t have 15 minutes to spend with a pal who is still in the trenches?” Ray frowned.
“I suppose 15 minutes won’t matter all that much . . . why don’t you tell me about where you are with those hot accounts you mentioned yesterday?”
“That’s the spirit. That’s the Art I knew from the old days. Let’s go. Right on over to the honey-glazed.”
Thirty minutes later, Art came back to the office wondering how he had been talked into letting Ray skip the sales meeting. Oh, that’s right, he said that one account wanted him to drop by this morning. I’ve just got to do something about him. Yeah, being a salesperson was a lot easier.
Ray got to feel good, believing that Art thinks he’s an OK salesperson. Art, thinking of the possibility of firing Ray, gave Ray the impression he has a future with the company. Lies and more lies.
It’s very easy for a sales manager to commiserate with salespeople. Everyone loves to swap war stories or retell that special story that happened back when. The one where the older woman wanted that white computer over there because it went with the rest of the furniture in the den.
One problem with commiserating is that it does not accomplish anything. So you swap stories. Other than maybe having a new story to tell someone else, what did you gain for the time spent?
Some sales managers may want to commiserate to get along with the salespeople. If I listen to his problems, stories, whatever, then he will listen to me when the time comes. Won’t happen. Here’s why.
Ray now figures that all he has to do to do a good job is commiserate with Art. After all, Art even let him skip the sales meeting on the flimsy excuse that some prospect wanted somebody to drop by that morning.
The message that Art got is that Ray doesn’t consider the sales meetings important. The message that Ray got is that Art doesn’t think his own time is valuable since Ray easily talked him into spending double the amount of time than planned on at the donut shop.
Why should Ray take anything Art says seriously? Did Art do himself any favors by commiserating with Ray? When the other salespeople find out from Ray how he got out of the sales meeting, what do you think their attitude will be?
Instead of Art responding with “Not true,” if he had responded with “You’re here early for a reason . . .” and then waited, the conversation would have taken a different path.
When Ray offered to talk at the donut place, Art should have responded, “Am I right thinking what you want to talk about is important, since you wanted to talk before I ‘got buried?’ Come on in,” then he should have turned and walked back into his office. Who’s in charge then?
Art would then be managing his own behavior. He would control his responses to Ray, and not allow himself to be swept along.
You are there to manage your own behavior and help your salespeople manage their behavior. Commiseration only leads to misery.