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Topline Performance Solutions, Inc | Woburn, MA

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Michael Norton, EVP of Enterprise, Sandler

This was Brenda’s first performance review in her new role as a sales manager. And it was not going as she'd hoped.

She’d had to read her written evaluation twice, in preparation for her meeting later today with Juanita, the Vice President she reported to. The first time through, she hadn't quite believed her eyes. Had her performance really been mediocre? Juanita had given her strong marks for managing her direct team. She had also congratulated Brenda for managing the flow of information needed by the company’s executives, and for supporting those executives. But the phrase, “We should discuss silos and personal development,” under the heading COACHING TOPICS, seemed ominous.

And the overall rating, which showed up at the bottom of the sheet, was just a 6 out of 10. Not where Brenda wanted to be!

Yesterday, Juanita had printed this document out and handed it, in a manila envelope, to Brenda with barely a word. A handwritten note from Juanita in the upper-right-hand corner of the envelope read: “Let's talk this through.”

What, Brenda wondered, was she about to walk into?

The one-on-one Zoom meeting Performance Review was scheduled on Brenda’s calendar for 11:00 am. She made a point of logging in a few minutes early. After the opening pleasantries, Brenda took the initiative, confirming that she had read the written review closely, and thanking Juanita for the chance to hear some constructive feedback.

Juanita said, “Did you have any questions?”

“Actually,” Brenda said, “I do.”

“Shoot,” said Juanita.

“Well, I saw your note on the envelope about talking things through together, and I was curious about what you wanted me to know about silos and personal development? I guess I'm looking for some specific suggestions on areas where you feel I could improve.”

Juanita smiled. “I think you're doing a great job of managing up and managing down, Brenda. But the reason I gave you the overall score I did is that I think there is room for you to make a real breakthrough when it comes to managing sideways.”

After a little pause, Brenda asked: “What does that mean exactly, managing sideways?”

The “Managing Sideways” Challenge

“You manage your direct team really well,” Juanita said. “That's managing down. You get me all the information I need when I need it. You also help me get out the messaging I need to get out, and you support all the initiatives we are working on together. That's managing up. You're great at all that, too. But that's not really the whole job, is it? Where else could things go wrong? Where else are there relationships you could make better?”

Brenda thought for a moment. It was obvious that Juanita wanted her to answer her own question. So: What could managing sideways be?

After a few seconds, the answer came to her. “I think what you’re getting at,” Brenda said, “is that I need to make sure I’m managing my relationships with other departments here -- such as marketing, operations, customer service, and sales enablement.”

“Exactly,” replied Juanita, nodding. “I want you to connect some silos. The fewer silos we have, the better off we’re all going to be. What else? What are some other side-to-side relationships you could invest in?”

Brenda considered this question from multiple angles, and finally answered: “Other sales leaders in our company?”

“You've got it,” Juanita said, smiling broadly. “They're a really good source of best practices for you – and of course, you've got best practices you could be sharing with them. Brenda, the thing is, you're great with your team, and you’re great with me. I don't want to minimize any of that for a moment. That's two-thirds of your job. But that still leaves a third of the job where you've got a whole lot of potential that hasn't been fulfilled yet: connecting with other departments and other team leaders who are responsible for the performance of sales teams. Let's look at some ways you could ramp that up, and connect a few silos, over the next 180 days.”

Managing Side to Side: The Blind Spot for Too Many Sales Leaders

We all know that many of today’s sales managers have been promoted from salesperson to sales manager based on the results they generated as a seller. The hope in these situations is that they can teach others what they did to become successful and find ways to replicate that success. But one of the big problems that companies often run into when this kind of promotion happens is that they do not equip the salesperson with the right training, coaching, mentoring skills, and management behaviors required to be successful in the role. And managing side to side – that is, creating and supporting strong relationships with colleagues across department and team "borders" -- is one of the management behaviors that often gets overlooked or ignored.

Although the expectation is that great salespeople will quickly become great managers, and easily replicate their quota-exceeding success in others, this rarely happens. In fact, these promotions typically turn out to be a triple loss for the organization. The first loss is the company losing the productivity of the salesperson they just promoted. The second loss is a leadership loss; senior leadership didn’t provide proper training, so they gain an inept manager. The third loss is the hard, inescapable reality that placing someone in a position they aren’t equipped to succeed in will usually create unnecessary turnover within that team. And high turnover on the sales team is not great for the organization.

Setting clear expectations for new sales management hires in terms of managing side-to-side makes all three organizational losses less likely.

One classic expectation for new sales leaders is that they will manage their team effectively, managing down as they lead their people. Another is that they will manage up, meaning report, forecast, and communicate effectively to their boss regarding what’s happening with the team and any support that is needed. All too often, though, these new hires see no clear path, and hear no expectations set, when it comes to managing side-to-side. As a result, the following things typically don't happen:

  • Regular conversations with their peer group of sales leaders.
  • Consistent and open lines of communication with other departments to make sure that the sales team has every tool they need to achieve their sales goals.
  • Consistent and open lines of communication with other departments to make sure those departments are getting the support and collaboration they need from the sales team.

We learn from what we see around us. Over time, many emerging sales leaders “pick up on” the best ways to manage their business as they see others (such as the boss) managing up and down. But all too often, they miss the opportunity to take advantage of the knowledge base and support systems around them. They become so accustomed to doing things on their own that they forget that they also have teams of people surrounding them who play critical roles in the success of the sales team.

Today’s most effective Chief Revenue Officers aren’t just managing up and down. They are also managing side-to-side.

Aware of the need to accelerate success for their teams by equipping them with the right training, coaching, mentoring, technology, and tools, they model and discuss the right behaviors when it comes to reaching across organizational “borders” appropriately and constructively. They understand the positive results that can be delivered when front-line sales leaders learn to harness the collective "tribal wisdom” waiting to be shared within the organization.

We help our clients to transfer that knowledge to each emerging sales leader through shared best practices and peer-to-peer learning. We also help CROs to map, drive, and live a winning culture that builds on personalized professional growth plans (like Brenda's) that leverage interdepartmental support.

The Gamechanger

Six months after that Zoom meeting with Juanita, Brenda had her semi-annual review. This time around, she got a nine out of ten mark overall. Not only did she receive high marks for managing her business up and down, but she was also recognized for learning to look past silos... and leading her team to exceed their quota for the first six months of the year. Identifying clear expectations for managing side-to-side, not just up and down, was a gamechanger for Brenda.

She learned things from her peers that helped her to help her team to close a few large deals. She also worked with other departments to gain the necessary support when her team members presented solutions to prospects. And she improved the customer experience by finding ways for her team to work more harmoniously with other departments in the company.

Don’t Make New Hires “Go It Alone”

There is typically a great deal of under-utilized knowledge, experience, and collaboration potential in larger organizations.

Instead of making emerging sales leaders “go it alone,” or "hit the ground running”… instead of leaving them struggling to figure things out… we help them tap into the vast reservoir of information and support that is already in place at their organization and waiting for them.  

Click here to learn about Sandler’s Leadership Training.


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