As a sales manager, you want to be a friend to your team members. After all, you're all working towards the same goal. Effective sales leadership involves creating an atmosphere where your reps are comfortable coming to you with their questions and concerns.
On the other hand, you also have a job to do. Sometimes that job may involve having difficult discussions with your sales team, whether the topic is prospecting, closing sales, meeting quotas, or anything else. What can you do to maintain trust with your team when you have to address serious issues? Here are four tips that can help.
1. Put in the "Pre-Work"
Trust is developed over time. That's why you should work on developing a measure of trust with each team member before a difficult topic comes up. In most cases, it only takes an extra minute or two to show some personal interest in your reps.
If you schedule one-on-one time with your team members on a regular basis, they'll eventually grow comfortable with you. The result is a team that will gradually start sharing their thoughts and concerns with you as a friend, rather than an employee.
2. Distribute an Agenda Ahead of Time
In terms of the actual discussion you need to have with your team, it's always a good idea to set expectations early on. With that in mind, think about distributing a meeting agenda well in advance. This will accomplish at least two important things:
3. Use the "Hat Trick"
Sometimes feelings can get bruised if there's a perception that you've suddenly "gone cold" toward one of your team members. One way to navigate around this pitfall is to use the "hat trick." Here's how it works:
Whenever you need to "get down to business" and tackle a serious issue, always precede your words and actions with a statement like: "I'm wearing my VP of Sales hat right now."
That signals to your team that what you're about to say and do has nothing to do with your personal feelings toward them. You're simply doing your job, and addressing an important issue in a straightforward way.
We humans have an amazing ability to compartmentalize our life, and our feelings. Using the "hat trick" can help your team to do that smoothly and without pain, even when your discussion is especially difficult.
4. Always Thank and Commend
No matter how serious or difficult the subject of your meeting is, you can always find something to thank your team members for, and something to commend them on. Research shows that praise and commendation from managers is a top motivator for performance, even beating out financial incentives.
The wonderful thing about giving thanks and commendation to someone else is that it won't cost you a dime. That being said, always start and end your difficult discussions with sincere expressions of gratitude for the work your team does, and appropriate commendation for their efforts.
Giving your team a nice "commendation sandwich" (commendation on both ends and constructive feedback in the middle) is one of the best ways to maintain trust with them without pulling your punches.
Sales Leadership is About Balance
At the end of the day, some discussions are never going to be easy, no matter what. You must balance being a friend and a boss. However, if you put these four tips into action, you'll likely receive a positive response from your sales team. And, you'll help them to keep improving their sales performance, individually and as a group.
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