Relationships are hard. Relationships require
two people to learn to communicate effectively. Honesty is required in any
relationship. Disagreements happen, but must be managed with respect. And, whether
the relationship is personal such as a marriage, or the relationship is
business such as a sales rep to sales manager, your dialogue needs to be open
and in a willingness to open up to one another. This can be the toughest part
of a relationship.
Let me focus on a personal situation
first. It’s said there is no such thing as a perfect marriage. Divorce rates
hover in the 50% range. Marriage counselors can be found with the click of a
mouse. Relationship blogs are everywhere. Advice abounds on how to effectively
communicate with your spouse on topics ranging from kids to finances to
intimacy. No matter the topic or the source of information, you will almost
always find one common theme, open communication. In many of these examples,
asking your spouse tough questions is tough enough, but being able to maturely
handle their answer can be even tougher. Imagine asking your significant other
if they really want to remain in the relationship. Can you handle them being
honest if the answer is anything but a resounding and firm “yes, of course I do”?
What happens if they say, “I don’t know” or “I’m not sure” or a flat-out “no”?
How do you move forward from this answer?
Now, shift over to the business relationship
between a sales manager and the sales rep. There is a relationship in place.
Sales managers need to place trust in the reps. Reps need to be honest with
their managers when they are not feeling things are going 100% in the right direction.
A sales manager and a sales rep need to have an open dialogue about what’s
working, what’s not working, and what can be done to make the situation and
their relationship better. Oftentimes the sales manager is the embodiment of
the entire company for whom the sales rep has the most intimate relationship.
Intimacy in this case is not the same as a spousal relationship, but is important
nonetheless. A sales rep must open up to the sales manager, exposing their weaknesses,
so the sales manager can help develop their skills, making them stronger sales
reps, thus creating a stronger relationship. What happens when communication breaks
down or wasn’t that great to begin with? What happens when a sales manager
begins to lose faith in their rep? What becomes of the relationship between the
sales manager, the sales rep, and the company when the time ultimately comes to
ask the question – do you really want to be here?
I’ve had to ask that question a time or
two in my career. I’ve not only asked that question of employees from a
management perspective, but I’ve had to ask myself that questions as I looked
in the mirror. I’ve asked that question in personal relationships throughout my
adult life. And, I’ve asked that question looking directly into the eyes of the
best sales rep I’ve ever had in my employ. It seems like such an easy question
to ask, yet it may be the hardest one.
Over the past few weeks I’ve been counseling
a sales manager who has been struggling with her relationships with two sales
reps. Susan is a solid sales manager. She’s been through her share of ups and
downs in sales for many years now, so it did take me a bit by surprise when she
asked me for help. Her struggles are in managing her own emotions because she
takes her relationships very seriously with her team members. She has mounting
evidence, if you will, that Jonathan is just not performing as well as he should
after being with the company for 18 months, yet she “likes the young man”, and
wants to be supportive. She knows Grace (the newest sales person) is watching
Jonathan struggle and must wonder if his struggles are acceptable.
Susan needs to come to grips with her
responsibilities in both her relationship with Jonathan and with Grace. With
Jonathan she needs to take a little more tough-love approach. He needs to be
made aware that he’s become a bit complacent (see last week’s post), he needs
to increase his overall sales performance, he needs to open up to her more, and
he needs to be accountable for his communication in their relationship. Grace
needs to be shown, by Susan’s actions, that Jonathan is struggling but cannot
take advantage of his relationship with Susan.
Ultimately, Jonathan needs to be asked
one poignant questions, “do you want to be here?” Susan has a relationship with
Jonathan as a sales manager to sales rep. She needs to be as open and honest
with him as to with herself. The relationship between them, between Jonathan
and the company may simply need to end, and that is tough. He may not like the
question and she may not like the answer, but the question must be asked. And,
Jonathan needs to ask himself the question. Should he move on, for his and the
company’s best interest, and seek a professional divorce?
It is a hard question to ask yourself or
someone else, personally or professionally, but it needs to be done. Handled
carefully and the question can save a relationship.