Steve Stewart Seminars
Steve Stewart Seminars

SYNOPSIS: By common personal example, author relates the problem with a manager having to continually motivate sales people and solve their problems for them. Also, an alternative is offered to the reader. 740 words


Here's a common management experience. I used to have a salesperson who would come into my office in the morning and sit down looking tired. Beat.

"Bob, what's wrong?" I'd ask.
"I dunno," was the answer.
I'd probe, get a little information, probe further still. What he was going through happens to everyone who ever sold for a living. He'd get tired, lose motivation, lose perspective and incentive. Every sales manager has had the experience of dealing with the fall out. We'd talk about what was wrong, why sales were down for him, what could be different and how he could effect that change. I'd work on him, talk about the challenges of sales, about how important the contribution was that people like him made to the company. Without sales, there's nothing to administrate nothing to account, nothing to manufacture, develop, ship, service or train. Without sales beyond the average, there was no growth, no move to bigger facilities, no corner offices, no extended vacation plans like the UPS drivers get.

Thirty minutes later he would walk out of my office with a spring in his step. Bob saw his place in the company and the industry. He could work with a vision, seeing each call as another stepping stone to the bigger plans we all had for tomorrow. And I felt good because I had just made a difference. Isn't that a sales manager's job?

The next morning, he was back in my office, dejected. "What's wrong?" I asked. "I dunno," came the answer.

So I'd start all over again. Couple of lefts, a few rights. I'd roundhouse him with his importance in the company. I'd uppercut him with his value to our customers. Like warriors sitting around a campfire, I'd quick-jab him with a re-telling of his recent successes. With a big punch to his chin, I'd send him back to the phones with a solid commitment to make a difference in the world. Then I'd get a cup of coffee because I needed a pick-me-up after pouring all my energy into him. He left full but left me empty.

Next morning: "Bob, what's wrong?" This has got to stop.

Three, four times a week this went on. By spring, the best I had done was to get our thirty-minute routine down to twenty but the problem never got solved. I was doing patchwork. This was just rubbing a bar of soap around the grinding edges to ease the friction.

The problem wasn't mine. I was just taking responsibility for his responsibility! Bob was upward-delegating his problems to me. "Boss, I'm not feeling so good. What are you going to do about it?" - and I'd start jumping through the hoops like a little circus dog on the Ed Sullivan Show. The real problem was that I had taught him to expect it.

Finally I learned to say things like "Bob, you need some fresh air. Get out of here. You've got five minutes to walk down to Mission Blvd and back. Don't come back in here without a better attitude. Take a walk and decide what you're going to do differently." There's a magical, invigorating effect to a walk, getting all that oxygen to the right brain cells. Later, I would tell him I didn't want to hear about what he was going to change. "Just do it. After you're done, let me know how it worked out."

Certainly, it's better to put salespeople into a position of learning to solve their own problems. It makes them stronger, more independent and self-reliant. Managers no long need to be chained to their desks in case a crisis breaks. The stronger people are, the bigger they think. Mere contacts become steps toward full marketing plans. Single clients become elements of a client base. A client base becomes a team moving together toward a common cause with a common sense of direction. Any client who doesn't fit on that team should probably be traded away least they hold this team back!

The answer to "Bob, what's wrong?" was Bob. And me. By solving his problems for him, I had prevented a grown man from growing up professionally and discovering what he could do.

- END -

Steve Stewart is a popular writer/speaker based in Southern CA. This article is based on his book, "You Thought Managing Was a Promotion?" available from his office at (760) 298-8146 or

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