Lost Sales and the Bottleneck Boss

Become a better sales coach and sales manger today.

In the time it takes you to read this article, your sales manager may have caused the death of a sale. Here’s how to avoid it.

When your direct reports approach you with a question or problem, the easiest, most visceral reaction and path of least resistance is to leverage your experience and provide what you perceive as value in the form of an answer or solution. This way, you can get back to the prior reactionary task or responsibility you were dealing with that got dumped on you at the last minute which needs to be handled immediately and as such, becomes your ever-shifting priority.

But wait! Before you regurgitate a solution or directive, think this through; all the way through. Not just to the myopic result that was achieved with your help around one particular issue. Look two or three steps or consequences beyond that and consider how your daily reactions and the choices you make compounded over time affect the overarching culture you create amongst your team.

Your Defining Moment Is Now

What if the next conversation you have with a direct report is your defining moment and will determine how you will be remembered as a leader?

If you’ve followed my work over the years, then you have heard me talk about the need for managers to resign from their role as Chief Problem Solver and how the majority of the time consuming challenges managers face are actually self-induced!

If this isn’t enough to inspire managers to change how they communicate and learn how to coach effectively, then maybe you need something that’s a little less esoteric. Something more costly and measurable.

Something like, a sale, perhaps?

Salespeople Aren’t the Only Ones Who Lose Sales

As a manager, the next choice you make can very well brand you as a bottleneck boss.

Here’s a perfect example. Let’s say you work in the IT world. One of your customers has a license agreement that is up for renewal. However, it seems that your competitors have pushed their way into the door and got the ear of the decision maker – your decision maker! You know the person I’m talking about, right? The customer who you have a “great relationship” with?

The competitive landscape has changed in an instant. Discounts are being asked for. Features, functionality and benefits are being evaluated. “Consumption? Selling down the line of business? Adoption? Business capabilities? Review the enterprise agreement? Value analysis? Business agility? Insight into customer data? Who is asking these questions?”

RFP Wars

“Nooooooo!” You scream in agony, as you come to find out that a renewal you thought you were going to close for this quarter is going out to bid. Whether you could have avoided this unwanted situation or not, the fact remains:

The RFP war begins.

“Dammit!” The adrenaline kicks in. You look at your watch before pulling up your calendar for the week. You review what you’ve already committed to this week. All those appointments. It doesn’t matter. Your calendar just blew up. You know the road ahead of you. You’ve traveled down this path many times before.

The manager decides to use their 20-20 hindsight. “If only we kept our finger on the pulse of this client. We need to stop being so reactive when it comes to chasing new business and more proactive and consistent with our touch points and customer support. We’ve got to focus on customer intimacy. Maybe, just maybe, if we focused just a little more on customer retention, this time-consuming nightmare could have been avoided.”

Great hindsight but that doesn’t help your quota. Your salesperson was counting on this deal. You were counting on this deal!

The scrambling begins. Your sales team puts together a competitive RFP. Other than a few financial components and data points which they need you to provide, your team anxiously awaits your review and approval before sending the proposal to the customer.

Of course, there’s one little caveat. The RFP needs to be sent out today if there’s even a chance of being considered for this critical engagement.

You look at your desk, inbox and phone, along with a slur of other deadlines and decisions that have to be made. Something has got to give, and your salespeople are still waiting on you.

And here it is. The defining, yet costly moment. A compilation of complications.

Because of all the other priorities pulling at you, compounded with a few unforeseen commitments, meetings and additional blazing infernos you had to fight, you are unable to respond to your salespeople and get this time sensitive proposal back to them.

You convince yourself, “My team will understand. We’ll make this work somehow. The customer has to be reasonable, right?”

No, they don’t!

Business doesn’t have a pause button. The fact is, you were unresponsive to your sales team and consequently, your salesperson was unresponsive to the customer’s timely needs and request.

Becoming Something You Hate

Congratulations! You have now officially become the very bottleneck you try to avoid!

A week goes by. Your salesperson texts you.

“Just letting you know that we’re no longer being considered for this engagement. We lost it.”

The opportunity is gone. A once profitable customer of many years vanishes from your pipeline and wreaks havoc on your forecast accuracy.

But what stings the most is the fact that this sale wasn’t lost due to poor service, mistakes or inferior quality; nor can you point the finger of blame at the salesperson.

A large, profitable sale –  but more important, a long-term client relationship was lost because of one person.

The manager.

Ouch. This example painfully illustrates the hard cost of being the bottleneck boss.

Now, according to this manager, a situation like this could have been avoided. But it wasn’t.

So, what’s worse? The fact that the manager recognized the problem during his postmortem rant or that, even after going through this situation time and time again, nothing is still going to change?

The Choice of a True Leader

Ultimately, it comes down to choice. Managers can choose to take control of every problem or solution, hoping this will drive results. You can still hold on to the mistaken belief that providing answers actually saves time as opposed to coaching someone to self-assess, take ownership of and generate their own solutions.

Do the math. Picture your team and how many people you are responsible for. Now, try totaling up the number of questions, problems, challenges and customer issues that land in your inbox and on your shoulders. While companies strive to improve efficiency and productivity, growth and innovation become stagnant when you create a team of people who are dependent on the manager for everything.

Managers Are Scared to Coach

All because you couldn’t resign from your role as Chief Problem Solver. All because deep down, you have a fear of coaching and letting go of control. That’s right! Managers have a fear of changing their communication style and learning how to be a great coach. It can be intimidating because it’s new for them, and they want to get it perfect, which is so not going to happen the first or second time around! As such, this challenges their inner game of what it means to be a great leader, going  against management’s visceral reaction to want to give the answer and drive their agenda. Consequently, you will succeed in leaving your legacy as the bottleneck boss.

The healthier choice is the one that the world’s best-in-class leaders make; to become a great coach. Consider what would be possible if you search for the strength and talents in others rather than living in a constant state of reaction, believing that you need to jump in to fix or control the outcome? What type of team and culture could you create if you become more curious, ask really good questions and seek to tap into other people’s energy and understand someone else’s point of view, opinions and ideas before you share yours?

And listen closely, because I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Your salespeople; your direct reports, your peers, and yes, even your boss; they all want you to be a really great leader and coach. Just ask any of your direct reports to describe the ideal type of leader who they want to be managed by. Because when you become that type of leader or declare that is who you are as leader and honor that declaration you made, then they will, in turn, want to be coached and managed by you!

Erosion Is Not an Isolated Incident

Consider your two choices here; to fall amongst the common ranks of the directive manager and bottleneck boss or to rise above and become the coach and the leader you can be. A leader who stays true to their vision, and purpose. A leader who unconditionally honors their priorities, values and coaching, especially during uncertain and challenging times. A leader who doesn’t compromise their guiding principle: to make their people more valuable.

If you’re looking for a quick solution, I’d be doing you a disservice if I said there is one. Let’s be clear. This costly situation that was created by the manager took some time!

Think of the organic widening of a river and the compounded effect of erosion, day after day. There is not one isolated incident the manager can point to which caused this one bottleneck, which is why ending your reign as the bottleneck boss cannot be resolved by asking your salespeople a few well-crafted coaching questions.

The good news is, managers have the power to protect and insulate valuable client relationships that your competitors are taking from you by consistently and effectively coaching your sales team; a skill that the very best managers know they need to learn – not by reading a book or an article but by being coached themselves by an experienced, master certified executive sales coach.

I know you’re committed to attracting and retaining more customers. And the managers I know authentically want their people to succeed. Unfortunately, you’re not going to find the long-term solution you seek in an app or in your CRM. Achieving greater success this year and beyond will require you to look within yourself for the answer, along with a full reset around how you choose to manage, coach and communicate in every conversation for one simple, yet powerful reason.

That is, when you change the conversation, you change your outcome.

Just think about all the different conversations you have on a weekly basis. Every deal or customer review, forecast review, performance review, team meeting, strategy session, even the daily challenges your people share with you. If you still approach every conversation using the communication style you have in the past, you don’t need to be clairvoyant or have a crystal ball to know that nothing is going to change.

This is the damaging and costly consequence that ensues when managers don’t refine the coaching conversations and the questions they ask in every conversation. So, consider this undesirable scenario a result of the compilation of choices that a manager made every day when they chose not to coach. Compound this over time and you’ll see exactly why the manager is in the situation they are in today, and it’s all a result of the choices they made yesterday.

Questions Change Your Choices – and Results

Twenty-twenty hindsight is worthless without changing your insight. This is where it all starts. The choices you make every day fuel your behavior and activities. Regardless of how you are being managed, or what you have learned, every day you make a choice to lead your team and communicate with them in a certain way. Then the compounded effect kicks in.

That’s why it’s imperative to change the questions you ask yourself. After all, what precedes any decision you make are the questions you ask, starting with the questions you ask yourself every morning.

For example, the most common question managers ask themselves each day is, “What am I going to do today to hit my goals and business objectives?”

Where’s the focus of this question? On generating results. And the manager is making it about them! Subsequently, this manager will then make choices based on this question which, in turn, will drive their behavior.  While the results are critical, it’s these types of questions that spawn the bottleneck boss.

The really great leaders are the ones who ask themselves, “What can I do today to make my people more valuable than they were yesterday?”

Think about how this question will shift your focus, efforts and attention towards what matters most; your people because it’s not about you! Only then can you truly change your behavior and your conversations for the better. The byproduct is, you create the breakthrough results you want.

When you make this shift in your thinking and in the questions you ask yourself, your behavior and activity will evolve so that you can effectively coach to tap into and leverage the greatest power you have – your people. Rather than being the bottleneck, you now become the conduit and the coach. This way, everyone, especially your customer, wins.

Photo Credit: James Steidl (via Shutterstock)