I became my parents

I just read Daniel Goleman’s piece on storytelling & leadership. I thought about all my own lessons learned as a sales manager; and how easy it was for me to stop doing the things that served me well as a salesperson, when I became a manager.

You know those times in life where you catch yourself becoming the very thing you said you would never become?  Kind of like some of those uncomfortable parenting moments when you catch yourself acting like your parents, even though you told yourself you’d never be that crazy! Well, that’s what it was like for me learning how to lead salespeople.

See, my #1 stress when I was a salesperson was my sales manager.

Evil sales managers?

I hated everything I had to do for my manager.  I especially hated our weekly sales meetings. We’d start the week off by getting interrogated about our pipelines, our forecasts, our appointments, and our “commits.”  It was such a waste of time, and so de-motivating — all just a left-brain exercise.  But we had to do it. I think even my manager hated those meetings.  And, I swore if I were ever promoted to sales management, I would never do this.

But as soon as I was promoted to management, I didn’t know what else to do, so I did the same thing.  I’d call in my reps and interrogate them the same way I’d been interrogated. What do you have this week? What’s on your forecast? What’s going to close?  Not surprisingly, I didn’t get straight answers. Then, I would launch into my patronizing lectures. Sales meetings were like bad sales calls. Sales reps were just like I was: their number-one goal was to get me off their backs.

As a manager, I hated those meetings even more than before, but I didn’t know a better way. The meetings were all about what we needed to do to “get the deal.”  It was never sharing lessons learned or mistakes; it wasn’t about making each other better. Being open & authentic wasn’t an option. It’s little wonder I never really connected with my reps the way I was able to connect with my customers.

I learned after burning many relationships, that in order to influence & inspire change within my own team, I would have to enlist the stills that served me as a salesperson. My team meetings would have to become more like good sales calls: The reciprocal sharing of ideas, beliefs & stories.

Dinner at the firehouse

As Howard Gardner, professor of cognition and education at Harvard University, puts it, “Stories are the single most powerful tool in a leader’s toolkit.”  But leaders aren’t the only people with important stories to tell. Sales reps can learn a lot from each other’s stories as well. Firefighters have long understood the value of such peer-to-peer story sharing. Every night, in firehouses across the country, firefighters take part in a tradition where they share stories about their day. It’s more than just a social ritual; it’s a means by which firefighters learn from one another’s successes and failures and build institutional memory within their departments. The goal: to make sure every single member of the firehouse has the same level of situational knowledge.

So for sales meetings, what if they felt more like the tradition of dinner at the firehouse?  Or, conversations at the campfire?

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Tags: , ,

Categories: Selling, Story

Author:Ben Zoldan

Demystifying what the most inspiring people do to influence change, Co-founder, Story Leaders and Co-author, What Great Salespeople Do: The Science of Selling Through Emotional Connection and the Power of Story

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