Management by Questioning: Training Sales Managers to Lead in Tough Economic Times

Management by Questioning…

Not the most electrifying title for a post, I know, but an important topic nonetheless.

A friend who owns a successful business recently lamented that his sales teams were ineffective selling into the “terrible economy” we’re faced with today. I was surprised, because this man has always done a great job driving revenue and profit growth through the actions of the great teams he assembled. When I asked why he thought this was, he said he really didn’t know, “it seems I spend hours everyday telling my sales managers how to do their job and nothing seems to click,” he shared.

Wow! So much has changed for this man and his company since their sales went from slam dunks to half-court prayers. He used to listen and now he tells.

How can anyone expect to lead simply by telling?

I’m hopeful most of the readers of this leadership development blog already understand that we learn more by listening than we do by speaking. This is really lesson one for management training and should go without saying… so, I’ll go without saying it.

My advice to my friend? I gave him the following five simple questions to review individually with his sales managers on a daily basis. Now when he sits down with them he “asks” instead of “tells.”

  1. Tell me about your team’s biggest success today?
  2. Who on your team really stood out and what did they do?
  3. Where do we have the greatest opportunity in your market?
  4. What are your goals for tomorrow?
  5. How can I help?

I encouraged him to keep these interactions positive and to refrain from injecting his opinion. If his sales managers ask him questions, I’ve instructed him to turn these around with his own question: “what do you think?”

He’s now three months into this routine and after a short period of confusion by the sales managers, they now look forward to these interactions. They’ve turned around their sales and they are growing market share in a very difficult market.

This is sales training 101 – salespeople sell with their hearts and their heads, not their backs. You can stand in front of an assembly line worker and “tell” them how to do their jobs all day long, but when you interact with salespeople and sales managers they have to buy in to your vision. By asking them questions in a positive manner, my friend was able to make the sales managers think about their own markets, and work hard to have both a success for today and goals for tomorrow to share with him.

He accomplished all this without demanding that they have daily successes and goals, and he also no longer has to tell them anything… he just asks.

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