By Steve Martin, Author of Heavy Hitter Selling—How Successful Salespeople Use Language and Intuition to Persuade Customers to Buy
My father-in-law has worked for the same company for over twenty-five years. This is not uncommon for a person in the aerospace industry. Conversely, in the high-tech industry where I have spent my career, it’s almost the exact opposite. Companies, products, and technologies change so often that an old-timer is someone who has been with a company for a few years. Since the average tenures of vice presidents are now less than eighteen months, they vanish so quickly you would think they are endangered species. As a result, salespeople must learn to manage their relationships with their frequently changing sales managers.
Over the past twenty years, I have been exposed to hundreds of different high-tech sales managers while serving as a salesperson, vice president, consultant, and sales trainer. Frankly, I have found many to be very good and a few that were just plain horrible. But I can honestly say I learned as much from the bad ones as from the good ones. More importantly, I began to recognize patterns of behavior and catalog management styles tendencies. I explain them in detail within my new book titled, Heavy Hitter Selling—How Successful Salespeople Use Language and Intuition to Persuade Customers to Buy.
Before we begin this discussion about management styles, it is important to put the conversation in perspective. It is human nature to judge others’ actions and behaviors using broad generalizations. We typically take a negative position when passing judgments on others as we are comparing them to ourselves and own our idea of perfection. Frequently, people are classified as bad sales managers without any understanding of why they act the way they do (even though they achieve results).
Many learned books have been written about sales management philosophies, processes, and how to develop the individual attributes required to achieve success. The intent here is much simpler. We are trying to provide a framework to talk about the different types of sales management styles from the perspective of the salesperson so that we can create a synergistic relationship.
Sales Management Styles
Just as people have different levels of gregariousness, assertiveness, and action-oriented tendencies, they have different sales management styles. I have found that seven management styles are most prevalent. Most likely, a manager has one dominant style. However, he or she will probably share a few characteristics from other styles and may even move from style to style depending on the situation. The seven most common sales management styles are the mentor, expressive manager, sergeant, Teflon manager, amateur manager, micromanager, and overconfident manager.
Each of these management styles builds a different sales environment by hiring their “type” of salespeople and establishing a culture based upon their belief systems and personality. The following chart below introduces the seven different sales management styles and the characteristics of the sales force environment they create.
|Sales Force Composition
Me First, Bravado
Optimistic, Nice Guys & Gals
Repetitive Task Orientation
Win at Any Costs
Obviously, there is quite a difference between the culture a mentor and a micromanager create. If you worked for a mentor and suddenly found yourself working for micromanager you would have to adapt to a completely different style. Conversely, a mentor doesn’t have the same priorities or thought process as a micromanager. You would lose credibility with a mentor if you treated him like a micromanager. Heavy Hitters (truly great salespeople) implement a strategy to build a long-term relationship based upon their sales manager’s style. Let’s examine each of the sales management styles further and the strategies Heavy Hitters use to manage the relationship.
Mentors are charismatic leaders and sales experts who measure their success using three criteria: exceeding revenue goals, creating an environment where the entire team can succeed, and helping all team members realize their individual potential. Mentors are confident in their own abilities and possess the business insight to know what needs to be done and how to do it.
Even though they believe in accountability and a strict code of ethical conduct, they relate well with their team and motivate by positive encouragement rather than fear. They are comfortable with themselves and are able to keep perspective and a sense of resolution during tenuous times.
The mentors’ philosophy is an extension of their personality. While their demeanor may range from gruff and cantankerous to friendly and personable, they are well liked and act as a unifying force to their sales team members. Although mentors tend to have a very hands-on management style, they don’t meddle in their teams’ daily duties. They lead by example instead.
Mentors’ sales intuition has been honed by many years of customer calls; therefore, their judgment is respected and advice highly sought-after. Mentors are highly effective in presentations or one-on-one customer meetings because customers genuinely like them and appreciate their presence. Just like long-term friendships, customers want to do business with people they like, respect, and believe will genuinely care for them forever. Mentors naturally create this environment.
Salespeople want to learn everything they can from mentors, so they adopt a strategy based on being a “scholarly student.” They invite their mentors on calls, quiz them about tactics over lunch, or chat with them after hours about their sales experiences. They also extend this strategy to their customers. They want to understand what makes the customer “tick,” the problems they are trying to solve, and befriend them. This becomes the culture of the organization.
Expressive managers are people-oriented with a flair for sharing their emotions and amplifying the emotions of those around them. They have a natural ability to put people at ease. They are very charming and gregarious individuals who are always ready, willing, and able to discuss personal matters in addition to events at work. They will frequently be seen chatting with coworkers in other departments at the “water cooler.”
Expressive managers create an environment where a considerable amount of energy is focused on how they are thought of and perceived within the company. They crave attention and tend to be overdramatic, by either exaggerating their accomplishments or overstating the prevailing circumstances their team is facing. These “sympathy complaints” are subconscious attempts to secure love and affection. Expressive managers are saying, “Pay attention to me!” Because of their need for constant emotional approval, they may become jealous when others receive recognition.
Expressive managers are master motivators of their team, and since people are so comfortable with them, they are very effective on sales calls. Customers perceive them as genuinely nice people who will personally take care of their account. However, their mood swings can be intense, and they have a natural tendency to become bored with mundane tasks because they would rather be working spontaneously based on their emotions. It is their emotions that drive their daily tasks and agenda.
The long-term strategy Heavy Hitters employ to shape their relationships with expressive managers is called “empathetic ego.” Empathizing with expressive managers requires sharing their experiences through unselfish listening and continual confirmation that the Heavy Hitter understands the situation or dilemma. Expressive managers experience tremendous highs and lows; participating in the celebration of the good times is just as important as commiserating during the bad.
A key aspect of the strategy involves protecting the expressive managers’ ego by supporting their position and validating their worth to others within and outside the sales group. This means only presenting information that supports their beliefs. Obviously this requires knowing where they stand on issues beforehand. One of the biggest insults to any manager, and expressive ones in particular, is being contradicted in public. Conversely, announcing their successes and broadcasting compliments will definitely yield relationship rewards.
The sergeant is named after the field sergeant in a military organization. Sergeants develop an intense loyalty to their team, perhaps even greater than their personal loyalty to their company. They are hard workers who are constantly worrying about their “troops.” They will even sacrifice their own best interests and tolerate personal hardships if they feel it will benefit their team.
Sergeants are strong performers on customer sales calls. Since they have participated in so many sales calls, they possess highly developed sales intuitions. As a result, they are excellent mentors to their team. And it is through their direct interaction with their team members that they draw satisfaction from their job.
Sergeants are likable, reliable people who have an intense pride in their work. They have a humble demeanor and will unselfishly pass any praise they receive directly to the team. They wear their emotions on their sleeves, and their team members always know where they stand. While they understand their place in the organization and are confident of their own ability, they still feel somewhat expendable and may suffer from self-doubt. They do not accept criticism easily and will take faultfinding to heart. However, sergeants are typically some of the last people to leave a failing company and may have a history of staying with companies long after the good times have passed.
Since sergeants are “tell it like it is” people, communication with them is open, honest, and candid. For example, sergeants will tell the bad news as soon as possible and don’t appreciate it being sugarcoated.
Sergeants create a sales culture based upon loyalty and obedience. Since sergeants will go to great lengths to defend their team’s honor, it is difficult for outsiders to understand the internal machinations of the sales organization. It is a club that members from other parts of the company are not welcomed to join.
The strategy for building a successful relationship with a sergeant is based upon “straightforward sincerity.” Since sergeants are “tell it like it is” people, Heavy Hitters’ communication with them is open, honest, and candid. For example, sergeants want to know the bad news as soon as possible and don’t appreciate it being sugarcoated.
Sergeants expect a sincere relationship in terms of words and actions. When they confide in their trusted team, it is imperative the team members maintain confidentiality. Since sergeants defend their team’s honor, it is expected they will do the same. As opposed to editing oneself to suit the expressive manager’s ego, building rapport with a sergeant involves supporting the person by honoring the friendship. Not surprisingly, Heavy Hitters’ maxim for working with sergeants is the same motto used by the U.S. Marines: semper fidelis, “always faithful.”
Teflon managers are pleasant, agreeable and polite people. However, unlike sergeants, you may never really get to know Teflon managers, even after working with them for years. They avoid disclosing personal information or give just enough to be thought of as friendly. From this standpoint, some people will consider them superficial. Another characteristic of Teflon managers is their ability to stay above the daily fray of politics. Yet while they seem cooperative, they are usually very stubborn when it comes to their personal agenda.
Regardless of the situation, Teflon managers are even keeled and rarely frazzled. They always seem to be in control of their emotions and relate to others mainly in an edited, business demeanor. You will not find these people yelling in the office, and they rarely socialize or develop personal friendships with coworkers. They will share their honest feelings only when there is little personal risk and if sharing this information benefits their business position.
Nothing sticks to Teflon managers. Bad news that would devastate sergeants or expressive managers bounces off them. Teflon managers just keep moving forward and never seem to be depressed or give up. They enjoy prestige and title and act the role accordingly.
Working for Teflon managers creates an interesting dichotomy because of their personal nonattachment, comfort with solitude, idealized self-image, and desire to remain safe from criticism. Heavy Hitters employ a “patient Pollyanna” strategy to dovetail with these Teflon manager characteristics. First and foremost, Heavy Hitters will go to great lengths to ensure they do not make their manager look foolish but, instead, wise and proficient at all times. Therefore, Hitters always exude a cheerful, pleasant disposition to communicate everything is okay, even under the most dire circumstances.
To help keep themselves immune to criticism, Heavy Hitters adopt a “politically correct” demeanor, rarely making cynical statements and repressing any open display of anger or disrespect to others. Patience and temperance are virtues Teflon managers appreciate. Perhaps during their upbringing Teflon managers were taught “If you have nothing nice to say, then say nothing at all.” Regardless, this becomes the salesperson’s new mantra. A salesperson would definitely not tell long-winded stories about personal problems or detailed accounts of the history of a deal as they would with an expressive manager. Rather, they keep the interactions brief and talk only about the big picture.
Amateur managers are the toughest of all the types to work with. While they may make a great first impression, analogous to a great first date, each subsequent date becomes more painful and frustrating.
Amateur managers most likely do not have an extensive day-to-day background in sales, are very new to sales management, or lack the ability to manage a sales force. Since they lack practical experience, their management style suffers from an identity crisis. As a result, plans continually change and the sales organization suffers from a lack of focus. Their shortage of practical sales experience also renders their advice on deals unreliable and their participation in sales calls ineffective.
Amateur managers fear being judged negatively by their superiors and peers, as well as their subordinates. Therefore, they may perceive the company as unfriendly or hostile. Their fears may also play an interesting part in their decision process. Under stress they become worried and indecisive or they propose so many different solutions that nothing ever happens. Or they may create outlandish plans and elaborate schemes that can’t possibly be implemented in the real world. The mood of the sales department is schizophrenic and changes from moment to moment. Sometimes there is a cheerful permissiveness while other times it is run with iron-fisted authority.
Amateur managers may have a misconception of their own strengths and an incorrect perception of how the organization views them. They also have a demonstrated history of broken relationships and a tendency to try to fix business problems by anointing a new “hero of the day.” This person is expected to fix the organization’s problem and receives great initial support. Soon thereafter, the support wanes and amateur managers start to blame the hero for the department’s problems.
The long-term strategy for working with amateur managers is directly opposite from strategies for all of the other management styles. Instead of investing in and building the relationship, you actually search for a way to be released or escape from it. The strategy for liberation from the amateur manager is called “release relationship.”
Several different methods can be used to be released from the relationship. Heavy Hitters could ask for a transfer or reassignment, seek a promotion, quit, or be fired. Each of these is perfectly acceptable. “Being fired is acceptable?” you may be asking yourself. Absolutely. Heavy Hitters know time is short and they do not want to waste their lives making incompetent people money. They want to surround themselves with successful people they respect. They have the confidence to stand up for themselves and what they believe in.
Another more daring way to release the relationship is by “firing” the amateur manager. When a disgruntled sales team bands together, unemotionally documents their grievances over time, and presents them logically to the amateur’s boss, the wheels of justice will start turning.
Micromanagers are the most organized and methodical of all the management types. They have a strong sense of responsibility to their company and they pride themselves on achieving their revenue goals. They tend to be black-and-white, all-or-nothing thinkers who want things done their way. They may have laboriously created methodical processes for every aspect of their job, most likely having used these same processes at previous companies. Their endless stream of formal and informal regulations sometimes distracts salespeople from achieving results.
They may be well known for their temper and are not considered people-oriented. In fact, they dislike human resource issues and are not regarded as great recruiters. They tend to hire people who they know will carry out their instructions to the letter, and even though one of the team members may achieve success, they will criticize that person if it wasn’t done their way. Micromanagers will have a long list of tasks on their white boards and keep records of all top accounts there in plain view.
Heavy Hitters adopt a long-term strategy based upon their concept of the “perfect performance” of an efficient, industrious, and competent salesperson. Working efficiently equals being organized in the mind of a micromanager. Industriousness is akin to a single-minded, business-only attitude toward the job as evidenced by working long hours. Finally, the competent salesperson will complete tasks using the established processes.
To micromanagers, work and play are two entirely different matters. Therefore a sober disposition and attention to daily routines are necessary to function in a micromanager’s world. In addition, the constant flow of information is critical to ensure a smoothly functioning world, and Heavy Hitters will overcommunicate by staying in constant touch.
Overconfident managers are on the opposite end of the humility spectrum from sergeants. They tend to be self-centered and self-absorbed. While charming and gregarious in public, they rarely have deep relationships in private. When they do take an active interest in developing a relationship, it is because they believe it will benefit their cause—having orchestrated strong relationships with their superiors.
Overconfident managers just love to talk about themselves and don’t exhibit a great depth of feeling for others. They may boast of past successes and frequently recount stories about these achievements, regardless of whether someone may have heard them before. Not surprisingly, arrogance makes them susceptible to making judgmental mistakes. They also enjoy being the life of the party and know how to make any party an unforgettable event. They are typically flashier dressers and very concerned with their appearance.
They will receive strong reactions when they participate in sales situations. Some customers will absolutely love them while others will have an equally strong, opposite reaction. Similarly, they will not relate equally with all members of the team. Rather, they will have a few favorites that resemble them.
They are not open to feedback and are known to get quite defensive when criticized. They will get the job done their way and succeed at any cost. Although they are not exemplary planners, their sheer drive and tenacity make them well suited for roles where they have to launch a new product line or a new company.
Overconfident managers build a sales team of fighting gladiators who possess extraordinary will power, mental toughness, animated spirit, and intelligence. To be included in this team, Heavy Hitters adopt the “clever conqueror” long-term strategy.
Since Heavy Hitters regularly sell to people who are better educated and more technically proficient than they are, they know there’s a difference between a smart person and a clever person. A smart person knows how something works, while a clever person knows how to get something done. The clever salesperson is skillfully talented and tactically shrewd in finding a way to win.
To be a conqueror, you must attack your enemies, be comfortable fighting for the cause, and not be afraid of rankling people in the process because the end justifies the means. It also means not exposing any weakness, such as fear, self-doubt, sadness, or embarrassment. As Julius Caesar said, “Veni, vidi, vici” (I came, I saw, I conquered”). Only the attacker can be victorious; at best, the defender will merely survive.
The structure of the sales department will mirror the sales management style of its leaders. Since the sales leadership will naturally imprint themselves on their organization, it is critical to understand what style of sales leader you work for. Do you work for an expressive manager? Is your manager is equal parts mentor and overconfident manager? These are important points to consider when determining why your relationship with your manager isn’t working. Most importantly, Heavy Hitters treat their sales managers exactly like customers—because they are! They create a strategy and carry out a plan to win them over.