In my career, I’ve been fortunate enough to hold a variety of roles. I’ve had good bosses, great bosses, and (fortunately) only one or two really bad ones. And as I started managing others, I realised how extraordinarily difficult it is to be a great manager.
It can be very lonely at the top – even if the top really isn’t all that high up to begin with. Most corporations cultivate an attitude of « don’t rock the boat », meaning it can be very difficult to get honest, straightforward feedback on your performance as a sales manager and coach.
Still, if you pay careful attention, there are a number of telltale « early warning signs » that can let you know you’re failing your sales team.
1. They Don’t Take Your Advice Seriously
I recently had a conversation with a sales leader who told me “Ago. Whenever I sit down with one of my team members and try to give them a piece of advice, they always listen and nod attentively. The problem is, they don’t really seem to change anything afterwards”.
Managing a sales team can be tricky – especially if you’ve got one or two prima ballerina high-performers on the team. But if your advice is consistently ignored, and no one seems to take what you’re saying to heart, pay close attention.
The right to dispense advice has to be earned first – if your people aren’t listening to what you’re saying, or if they are discarding your suggestions without further thought, this may mean you simply have a ways to go before you can start giving out advice, no matter how well-intended.
2. You’re Left Alone At The Water Cooler
One of my favorite TV shows is “The Office” – I just love how they are able to accurately portray the sometimes downright surreal landscape of office politics and behavior.
And one thing that struck me is how “the boss” is consistently ignored. Whenever he shows up at the watercooler, the conversation simply stops, and people start disappearing, or claiming they have “urgent work to do”.
If you find that the tone of the conversation suddenly changes, and people suddenly leave when you show up, beware: you may be less popular than you think.
3. They Never Just Seem To “Drop In”
I’ve been fortunate to have some truly excellent bosses and mentors in my life – and one of the things that made them excellent was that I could always “drop in” with a question, challenge or simply to get something off my chest.
But over time, I realized something: I would only “drop in” on those bosses whom I not only respected, but trusted.
I’m not going to say that everyone should always visit your office unannounced (you probably don’t want them to), but I will say this: if no one ever drops in just to shoot the breeze, you’ve likely got a problem on your hands.
4. You’re “Weighing The Pig”
I was walking one of our clients through some of our recent research on “The Top-Performing Sales Organisation”, when he suddenly exclaimed “weighing the pig doesn’t make it fatter!”.
I was puzzled, so I asked him what he meant by that. He explained that “in England, there’s an expression that says, weighing the pig doesn’t make it fatter. In other words, if you want to fatten up the pig, that takes work, dedication and some gentle nurturing. Same with management.”
I understood what he meant – in many corporations, sales management is so involved in the day-to-day of meetings, corporate politics and “management by dashboards”, they forget to focus on what is truly essential – coaching and mentoring their people.
If you don’t spend at least 20-40% (and hopefully higher) of your time actively coaching and mentoring your sellers, you’re failing your sales team.
5. You Don’t Roll Up Your Sleeves
There’s a school of thought that believes that managers should focus on managing, and should not get involved in day-to-day sales activities. And there’s another school that thinks quite the opposite. They believe that management has the responsibility and duty to help bring deals across the finish line – to roll up their sleeves and get to work.
Both our research as well as my personal experience have shown the truth lies somewhere in the middle: where management should focus the majority of their time on management-specific activities, there is a time and a place to jump in and take part.
In addition to closing the odd, all-important deal, rolling up your sleeves when needed provides a rare opportunity to bond with your team, lead by example and reconnect with the day-to-day of selling.
6. You Spend More Time Meeting Than Managing
Depending on which source you believe, middle management spends anywhere from 35-50% in meetings – and they consider around 67% of those meetings to be failures. If you’re spending 35% of your time in meetings, on an average 40-hour work week (I’m being modest here), that’s 14 hours per week.
Are you spending 14 hours per week coaching and mentoring your team ? If you’re not, it’s probably time to reconsider that balance.
7. You (Have To) Tell Them What To Do (Twice)
Early on in my career, I had a manager who was only slightly older than myself. At some point, we had an emotional back and forth around a topic we both felt very strongly about.
He had his arguments, and I had mine. We went back and forth for a while, until he got visibly fed up and exclaimed « Just do this. » When I asked why, he said « Because I’m telling you to ».
After that, it completely changed our dynamic – and not in a good way. Whatever your reasons for doing so, rest assured that if you ever have to tell your team what to do, nothing good will come of it.
I’ve had all sorts of managers, and after I started managing others myself, I developed a great and ever-deepening respect for those who are authentic, purposeful, driven leaders.
If you recognise yourself in any of these seven, it’s not too late – just take it as an early warning, and a sign you may need to course-correct to get yourself (and your team) back on track.