Professional Sales Manager

I was in the depths of a major depression. As a third year salesperson with a good company, I was doing well, and was on my way to becoming the top salesperson in the nation for that company. But business had slowed down a little, and I didn’t have my usual number of proposals out for consideration. So, I wasn’t as busy as usual. As my activity slowed, I began to worry. My doubts increased to the point where I had thought myself into a real depression, stuck on the question of “What’s the use of trying?” The more negative my thoughts became, the less energy I had. My lack of energy led to fewer and fewer sales calls, which of course, led to less activity. And that led to more depressing thoughts. I was caught in a powerful downward spiral.

It was then that I caught a glimpse of what a professional sales manager is like.

Ned was my boss — a sales manager of the highest caliber. He could see the symptoms of my sour state spilling over into everything I was doing. So Ned intervened. He arranged to have lunch with me, and listened patiently as I rambled on and on about my problems, my doubts, and my lack of activity. Finally, after I had dumped all my depression and negative thoughts on him, he looked me straight in the eye and said, with all the authority and resolve of someone who is absolutely sure of what they are saying, “Kahle, that’s enough.”

I was stunned. I was expecting empathy, an understanding shoulder to cry on. Instead, I got a simple, straightforward mandate. Ned knew me well enough to cut through all the fluff and come right to the heart of the matter. He said, “That’s enough. That’s enough feeling sorry for yourself. That’s enough thinking all these negative thoughts. That’s enough sitting back and not working as hard as you’re used to. Stop it. You’re better than all this. Stop it right now, today, and get your ….. back to work.”

He saw my situation clearly. And he provided me the direction I needed. That conversation turned me around. I left my depression and negativity at that lunch table, and started back into my job with a renewed sense of the possible. A year later I was the number one salesperson in the nation for that company.

What made the difference in my performance was the skillful intervention of an astute and professional sales manager. He made the difference in my job performance, and that made a difference in my standing with that company. And that made a difference in my career. And that lead me to my current practice. It’s entirely possible that I would not be doing what I do now, speaking and consulting with sales forces around the world, if it weren’t for his timely intervention.

All of us have become what we are, at least in part, due to the impact other people have had on us. A professional sales manager is gifted with a rare and precious opportunity — the opportunity to play a pivotal role in the lives of his/her charges. I so value the role that Ned played in my career, that the last paragraph on the “Acknowledgment” page of my first book reads, “Finally, I must make special, post-humus acknowledgement of the contribution made by Ned Shaheen, the best manager I ever worked for. It was Ned who, years ago, urged me to ‘write the book…'”

So what does this have to do with being a “Professional Sales Manager?” During my 30 + years of sales experience and 16 years of experience as a sales consultant and sales trainer, I’ve encountered many sales managers. Some of have been good, many mediocre. But Ned was the best sales manager I ever met. He serves as a model for me. We can learn a number of lessons from him.

First, Ned knew the difference between the job of a salesperson and that of a sales manager. He had been a great salesperson — like many sales managers around the world — and had been promoted to sales manager. Yet he knew the jobs of sales manager and salesperson are completely different. A salesperson is responsible for building accounts and making sales. A sales manager, while ultimately responsible for the same results, understands that his/her job is to achieve those means through other people. A sales manager builds people, who in turn build the business. Salespeople focus on selling; sales managers focus on building salespeople.