One of the industry’s legendary sales managers, whom I’ve known for years, called me a few months ago with an interesting story. He was telling me about his new 35 year-old boss who had just given him something called a KPI and asked for his initial thoughts and 10 matching stretch goals. In a quiet voice he asked me, “what is a KPI?”
I’d guess that this guy is in his early 60’s and has been in the industry his entire adult life. In January he decided to resign his management position and get back to what he really loves – selling. He felt it was a great way to keep a steady income, but without the stress of managing people. Like so many great salesmen, he is good with people, but not as good at managing people. He is a relater, but not a persuader. He thought this was the perfect wind-down position as he nears retirement. What he didn’t anticipate was a 35 year-old with an MBA telling him to create stretch goals. I know the owner of this company as well – and here’s the situation…
The owner knew this move would leave a void in sales management and accountability, so he hired a young business professional from a totally unrelated industry, gave him the authority to run the sales team anyway he saw fit and off he went. The first thing the new manager did was create key performance indicators (KPI’s). They include a number of direct sales calls, proposals, close ratios, sales funnel metrics, etc. With the KPI’s in place – so far so good.
The next step for the new sales manager was establishing, and then presenting the sales goals and developing a forecasting method. In an effort to be inclusive, he felt it best to let the experienced sales person have some input. His only request was for them to be stretch goals, meaning to work harder and smarter and be more productive than ever before. That was a well-planned approach as my friend had already prepared to sandbag (a slang term used for intentionally underestimating sales to keep quotas low). The new manager was smart enough to anticipate this when he asked for a stretch.
Here’s where the problem came in. My old friend just wants to slow down, take life easy, be home every night and enjoy this phase of his career. The younger guy had a different plan. The new manager wanted to implement the techniques and methods he learned in college and use these skills, his energy and enthusiasm to exceed his goals. See where this is headed? You guessed it, right to the owners’ office.
The first thing my friend told the owner is, “If I wanted to work this hard I would have kept my old job.” The new manager told the owner, “If I can’t manage to goals and establish reasonable revenue per sales person forecasts then I can’t be held accountable for our overall numbers.” As you would expect my friend said he wanted to be left alone to do what he knows best and bring in as many sales with the clients he kept. Again, another problem quickly surfaced…
The owner asked a great question; who would determine what accounts and markets will stay with the older salesperson? An even better question; can they afford to have their very best customers managed by someone who implies that they might retire any day now? Because of the dynamics and tension can you see this relationship working well? I pose this question; if you were the owner what would you do?
Here’s what he did. He finally decided that the new sales manager should oversee the other sales staff except for my old friend. He would be allowed to keep his special accounts and report directly to him as before. Here’s what the new sales manager did. He quit. My old friend is once again the sales manager and is completely stressed out again. If this scenario sounds like a familiar story or a path you might be heading down, feel free to give me a call to discuss preventative measures. I’m afraid this happens far more than you might think. – CW