Slow Down, You Move Too Fast
No, I’m not channeling Simon And Garfunkel’s Feeling Groovy
I’m talking about your first 30 days as a new sales manager.
It’s human nature, particularly if you are in sales and very action oriented, to start doing things.
We feel compelled to take action, to start solving problems, to get things going—-after all, it’s that proclivity to take action that probably contributed to you getting the job in the first place.
Sometimes, we feel we have to make a mark, to set a tone of some sort.
Often, when we are hired as a new manager in a new/different company, we tend to think “something’s broken, I have to fix it.” Even when we are replacing a manager that has done a great job and been promoted; too often, we have the same thoughts.
That’s the single biggest mistake we can make as a sales manager—despite anything the hiring manager may have said about needing to take action.
Here’s the issue, “How do we know what action to take? How do we know the most important things we should do?”
The most important thing for a new manager to do—regardless of the situation—is to do nothing!
No, I don’t mean do nothing, I mean don’t rush into changing things.
I’ve been involved as a CEO, a top executive, or advisor in a number of turnarounds. In many cases, the situations have been quite dire, company’s on the brink of failure. But even in those times, the worst thing to do is to start making changes. (I’ll come back to triaging things later.)
The most critical things you need to do in your first 30 days as a new manager is to figure out what’s going on, how things get done, what people think, why the organization is where it is.
Until you do this, you don’t know what actions—if any you need to take or which may have the highest priority.
Even if the hiring manager has told you, “You need to fix these problems!”
So how do you figure things out?
- First, your frame of reference is very important. It’s important to look at things through fresh eyes, as if you are the new kid on the block. If you are new to the company, this is easy, you actually are the new kid on the block! The biggest challenge is if you have been with the company for some time and have been promoted into a role. Too often, you become a prisoner of your own experience. Because you’ve been involved in the company, perhaps years of service, you make assumptions based on your experience—and these may be entirely wrong.
- Also, part of your frame of mind or reference: You don’t have to prove anything. You already have the job! So resist the temptation to try to prove yourself by taking quick actions, or by any kind of posturing you might do. It doesn’t help you—in fact it probably hurts you.
- Now, focus on learning everything you can from anyone that’s willing to talk to you—yes, I mean the receptionist in the front and the janitor too! I’ll provide you a checklist for your first 30 days, but here’s a starting point:
- Visit 30 customers, prospects, past customers. You aren’t there to sell them, you are there to ask them their views: What do they think about your company? What do they think about your competitors? What do they think about the sales people that support them? What about the other people from your company? What would they like to see different, why? What company has the sales people they like the best and why? There are a lot of other questions. Do most of these without the sales people so the customer can be open.
- Spend good quality time with each of your people. Ride along with them, go on calls, get to know them as human beings. Get to know their aspirations and dreams. Ask about their frustrations. Learn how they do their jobs, ask about their frustrations. Get into the weeds with them, look at details—how do they use the CRM system, how do they prepare for a call, how do they put together a proposal, how do they research, how do they prioritize and manage their time. Don’t critique or try to correct anything you see going on, just ask lots of questions, listen, ask more questions, observe, ask more questions.
- Do similar things with the people and organizations in your company that support your team. There may be a pre-sales group, there may be customer service, sales operations, sales enablement, marketing, lead gen, others.
- Get to know your peers in the organization, ask the lots of questions, get to know them, get their perspective on how things work. Just listen.
- Do the same with your manager, and if possible with your manager’s manager. You may have to be a little more structured in your questioning and your use of their time, but spend time with them.
- Find people who may know your people and organization but may not be directly involved with them. Ask their opinions of the team and how things are done. Remember the lowest level people in the organization often have the most astute and pragmatic assessments of what’s going on.
- Spend time analyzing data—look at what’s available to you, understand it, analyze it, drill down to make sure you really get what’s going on. Learn how good the data is, learn where you can get the data you need, understand the systems available to provide the data and analysis.
- Realize, in 3, you are killing a number of birds with one stone:
- You are figuring out what’s going on, how things get done, what people’s attitudes and opinions are.
- You are starting to build relationships and trust across the organization. When you figure out what you need to do, you have to have strong trusted relationships.
- You are starting to let people to get to know you—as a person.
- As you do 3, take lots of notes. While I’ve said it before, it bears repeating.Yourobjective is not to solve problems and make changes,yourobjective is to collect as much information as you can. Resist the tendency to critique or challenge—even if someone is doing something wrong. It’s all part of the information you need to collect to figure out what you need to do.
- Every evening, sit down, review your notes. Start developing some ideas or premises about issues or problems. These may form great questions you may ask in subsequent meetings. They may give you ideas about new things to look for.
- You may want to go back to some people and “playback” what you have observed or heard. Do it in neutral—don’t express an opinion positive or negative, just use the playback to validate what you heard or observed.
In most cases this will take you 30 days. Sometimes, you may be forced to do it faster—but, even with the most dire of turnarounds that I’ve done, this first 30 days of wandering around, learning, understanding, and building your network/support system is the most important thing to do to set up your future success.
Sometimes it may take more than 30 days—but that’s probably rare, unless you have hundreds or thousands of people reporting to you—but if you do, you probably don’t need to be reading this article, you probably have extensive management/leadership experience.
Earlier I mentioned “triage.” Triaging is fixing some immediate problems. Usually the fix is for something simple or to deal with a single critical issue. For example, in emergency rooms, doctors want to stop the bleeding, get someone’s heart beating, get them breathing. They don’t want to diagnose and fix the underlying problems, they just want to get the person to survive long enough to start the diagnostic process.
So in your first days as manager, you may have to triage a few things. Keep them to a minimum—otherwise you get consumed with band-aid fixes and never get around to doing what you were hired to do.
But sometimes, one of your people may be having difficulty getting something approved, or getting some support. You might help by making a phone call. Or they might need someone to help open doors at a customer, you might do that, but let them run the show and support them on what they need.
The biggest thing to remember about triage is it is very seductive. You are doing things, you are solving problems, it’s what you have fun doing. So be very careful. Sometimes a paper cut won’t cause the patient to bleed to death, so don’t worry about it.
Hopefully, you now have some ideas for your first 30 days.
Since I’ve been using medical analogies, remember the first oath Doctors take is to “do no harm.” It’s good advice for sales managers as well.
How much and how well you learn in your first 30 days is key to your success. If you don’t take the time to do this, you are putting your future—and that of your team at great risk.
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