When I was a Sales Person I always said “When I’m a Sales Manager I’m going to care about my people. I’m going to actually help my people instead of sitting in the tower like I’m some sort of God shouting down commands. I will be the best Sales Manager Ever!”
I remember when I got promoted. Now it was my turn to make a difference, to make good on what I knew all of the good Sales People in our dealership needed (In my mind, this played out like a big political campaign in ancient Rome and was much more exciting than what happened in the real world). The day I started, each of the Sales Managers spent time with me, sharing the wisdom of the years they had accumulated and one thing they kept saying to me was: Manage by walking around.
Each of them had a different reason for their advice. One manager said: “The reason you do this is so you can stay on top of what’s working. If you’re walking around, constantly checking in with your people you’ll always know what they have going on so you can get some deals closed for them, and you don’t make money unless they make money.”
His counterpart said: “You have to manage by walking around because if you don’t, these guys will just sit on their ass all day staring out the window, or they’ll be online looking at boats and houses they can’t afford because they sit here wasting time all day. If they know at any minute you’re going to be in their office saying ‘what have you got working’ they will be less likely to waste time, and if they’re wasting time, they aren’t making you any money.
Both of these theories seemed logical to me and it came from two guys who were both making about $200k a year in a small midwest town, so obviously they knew what they were doing, or so I thought.
For the first 45 days, I would go ask advice from the other Managers when I didn’t know how to handle a specific situation; I would go in “strong” to help close deals with my new Manager badge. I was on top of the world, until my GM told me I had to go to Leadership Training for a week. We were doing fine, I was managing by walking around, so why should I have to be off the floor for a week?
I did what any good Manager would do; I went and complained to the other Managers. They told me they had to go through it too, and I should just take a bunch of notes because the GM would want to see that I paid attention, but I shouldn’t stress because “when you get back you can go back to doing what works.”
So I went to Leadership training and the first thing I learned was the difference between Leaders and Managers. Leaders serve their people and Managers think their people serve them. That was a foreign concept based on my experience back then.
Then we got into this whole ‘manage by walking around’ philosophy and I was blown away to learn that this strategy might not be the best way to lead. As a matter of fact, it might be one of the worst things you could do as a Leader!
Before you quit reading and say “who is this guy saying what I’ve done for 30 years is wrong? Is this arrogant prick calling me a crummy sales manager?”…take a deep breath, take another sip of Redbull, and hang in here with me for another 300 words or so. I promise, the last part of this can really make a difference for you.
First I had to ask myself if I truly believe the role of a leader is to serve my people. I believe it is, and you probably do too which is why you’re still reading this. If we do believe this, we have to ask ourselves one question every time we do something: “How is this decision benefiting my people?”
Let’s look at the manage by walking around method.
- Throughout the day we expect them to stop what they’re doing and give us an update for 5-10 minutes, which disrupts whatever they are working on. Beneficial? NO
- They function all day knowing we may pop in and break up their flow or hold their feet to the fire, which is demotivating. Beneficial? NO
- By constantly checking in on them like children, we are showing them that we don’t trust them, as adults, to do the job we hired them for. Beneficial? NO
- If we spend all day walking around with these surprise attacks, we may not be available when another Sales Person actually needs us. Beneficial? NO
Based on all of that, is manage by walking around really a good idea? NO! What’s the alternative? It’s simple, and it will not only benefit your Sales Team, it will also benefit you by helping you have more usable time in your day!
The first thing to do is make the decision to have a daily one on one meeting with each one of your Sales People for 10-15 minutes. You start by meeting with your team, together, to let them know that you’re making a change. If you want them to buy in, it should sound something like this: “Team, I realized that all day long I’m jumping in and out of your offices asking ‘what have you got working’ ‘what do you need’ and basically, not giving you the respect you deserve as adults and Sales Professionals and it doesn’t seem to be that helpful to you. You’re part of the team because I believe you’re one of the best, so I want to show you that by making a change that will empower you to have more control over your day and have less of me pestering you all day long, sound good?” Everyone will say yes because of the last sentence.
Then you might say: “Starting tomorrow let’s to do something different. We’ll schedule a quick 10-15 minutes daily for each of you to meet with me one on one. It will be the same exact time every day, that way I don’t schedule appointments that will interfere, and that way you can schedule your appointments around our time too. In this daily meeting, I won’t berate you about the lot, or keys, or anything like that. We’ll touch base on four quick things.
- What were your results from yesterday?
- What’s your plan for today?
- What can I do as your manager help you sell more cars?
- And we can touch on anything else you want to talk about.
When I switched to this method with my team, the first week was a disaster. I had to call people when it was their time and remind them, and sometimes they forgot and had something else going on, but that was ok. After about two weeks we got in the groove and something magical happened. When it was time for their one on ones my team would come in, sit down and just start talking: “Yesterday I worked with so and so and we have to check on this or that, and today I’ve got a call scheduled for xx time and a delivery set for xx, and by the way did we get that xx trade yet because I think I have someone for it? Oh, and, I really need xx and xx from you this deal and that deal so I can get it done, and would you call Mr. and Mrs. X to see if you can get them in because I keep getting their voicemail, here is their number.”
Once we switched to these daily one on ones and I stopped managing by walking around, the morale of the entire team went up. I realized that I was treating the adults I hired the way they deserved to be treated. As the competent, capable Sales Professionals that they are. When morale goes up, and people are happy to be part of the team, what else do you think happened?
We didn’t get redesigned products, and our location didn’t change, but my team grew 67% in gross profit and 42% in unit sales over the next 18 months. The only thing that changed was the realization that I needed to focus on managing time and LEADING people. This is a simple change that will help everyone thrive and one more thing…it’s absolutely free.