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Thirty Tips for a Sales Manager

Date Published: 
September, 1940
Original Author: 
Howard Ott
President, Wisconsin Memorial Park, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Original Publication: 
1940-1941 Cemetery Handbook & Buyers' Guide

Today three-fourths of the problems of management lie in the field of human relations. We have largely solved our technical problems. We have done likewise with problems of production and distribution in the various lines of business. Our attention has been diverted during the past 10 years from the mechanical side of our business to the human side, and our big¬gest challenge today is that of our relations with those who constitute our working force.

Today field supervisors and sales managers are being selected less and less because of their technical skill and knowledge of the product and more and more on the basis of their aptitude in handling and developing people. You men at the head of your sales organizations of the companies which you represent must devote more and more time to the human relationship side of the job. You must become more and more personnel ¬minded - the strategies and shortcomings in selling will avail you little if the operation of your department does not provide for an intelligent broad gaged policy of dealing with those who are on the firing line.

As an aid in building such a personnel program, I take the liberty of bringing to you some tips which are not new ~ which most of you at one time or another recognized and applied, but which are important enough to stand repetition.

1. Our salesmen are largely what we make them. There is nowhere a supply of perfect salesmen. Every salesman is endowed with certain abilities and certain weaknesses. The sales manager's job is to make the most of the human resources that are put at his disposal- to help the salesman develop his ability and overcome his weaknesses.

2. Ability to handle people is an acquisition - not a gift. It is some¬thing that we can study and analyze with resulting constant improvement in our technique. Some sales managers are much more skillful than others in the art and technique of supervision. We must bear in mind that such skill is not some mysterious gift which a person either has or must for¬ever go without. Some sales managers, due to their bluntness, energy and ability, do not have the patience necessary to train those under them. This is the schooling which the sales manager must invoke upon himself.

3. Judgment rather than impulse must be used to meet the problems of salesmen. We must think out our course of action in advance of the arrival of the problem. You can and should anticipate most of the ques¬tions that will arise in the minds of your subordinates and supply the answers.

4. Don't be afraid to give praise. Salesmen need a word of encour¬agement now and then just as they need food. It has been estimated that 85% of us suffer from an inferior complex. Praise is the greatest known stimulant for an inferior complex. Don't worry about the other 15%. I prefer to work with cocky stem-winding salesmen who generate their own steam - and who may occasionally need to be toned down - a lot rather than a group of lagging - self-satisfied men. Salesmen will work just as hard for mental wages as they will for cash commissions. Cash wages keep body and soul together - but mental wages spur the salesman on - ¬keeps him on his toes - and makes him put in his efforts - that something which is not apparent on the surface.

5. Praise the work - not the worker. The sales manager is interested primarily in production. You should therefore put the emphasis there. Word your praise as coming from the general manager - rather than from you as the sales manager - because it carries more weight. Praise is usually more effective if given in the presence of others. Such praise is genuine proof of your sincerity. Don't spread your praise too promiscu¬ously - reserve it for the unusual job -like the fellow with the constant grin - continuous praise loses its force and effectiveness. The quantity and quality of praise must be adapted to the individual salesman. For most salesmen - an occasional pat on the back is essential to bring out the best that is in him. A few salesmen hold such a high opinion of their own ability that they don't need to be told they are good. Those who will become bloated with praise and go to pieces - however - are in the minority. To such salesmen - it is well to temper the word of deserved praise by a reminder that some other branch of his sales work is still not up to expectations.

An- indirect method of praise which is very effective - is to ask the salesman for an opinion as to the method or progress of a certain problem. This gives him a sense of importance - helps to sustain his ego - and believe it or not - his opinions or suggestions may teach you something.

6. Handling of grievances sympathetically is a most open form of mental wage. Salesmen will come to you with various complaints and grievances. They may seem small to you - but they are important to the salesman who has mustered up his nerve to come to you. Listen attentively to the entire story. Don't cut his recital short with a statement that you know all about it-or you will take care of it later. You will immediately create the feeling that you are unsympathetic and unjust. Grant the salesman an opportunity to relate in private - if possible - the entire story. If he is excited - or otherwise worked up - first attempt to restore him to a normal state of mind. Generally the time is never right to dis¬cuss or settle a grievance until you have won a smile from the complainant - and a smile is only possible if the person is restored to a reasonable¬ normal frame of mind. Get all the facts involved and do not let the sales¬man rush you into making an arbitrary decision. Explain to him that both sides are entitled to a hearing. After you have obtained all the facts in the case - make a definite decision as promptly as possible. Undue delay will weaken the salesman's faith in you. Unless you have conclusive authority and faith in your decision - be smart enough and big enough to leave the door open for an appeal. If a salesman is not satisfied with your decision - and you are not sure of your ground - offer to accom¬pany him to your superior officers - where the dispute may be talked over calmly and objectively. The salesman will rarely take up your offer - but certainly the invitation cannot leave him with a feeling that you have been bull-headed and unfair.

7. There is only one justifiable purpose for a reprimand, and that is constructive - to help the salesman improve his work. A reprimand is not merely a bawling-out to be administered in a burst of anger - nor to make the erring salesman feel small- or break down his morale. Be sure the thing you are going to criticize is worth the time and effort that it takes to give the criticism. If it isn't - then skip it. Be sure that the reprimand is deserving. Hold your criticism in check long enough to find out the facts in the case. Do not act in anger. If a salesman makes a mistake through ignorance - the case usually calls for training - not blame. Don't store up resentment over repeated infractions until you bowl over - and rebuke sharply - and in anger. A salesman's reaction to such procedure on your part is one of injustice and bitterness. "If all these things are true - why didn't he speak to me about them before" - is his logical question. The correction of each offense as it occurs will prevent explosions due to penned-up emotions.

8. Don't hesitate to reprimand a salesman for fear it will make you disliked. Disciplining your associates does not detract from the respect with which you are regarded. The boss who is an easy mark is neither respected nor does he get maximum production. Nothing is more unfair to your subordinates - particularly if they are new people - than to allow them to persist in a serious fault without attempting to correct it.

9. Adjust severity of the reprimand to the individual. A sensitive ¬high-strung person may be quite broken up by a scolding which would have little effect on one with a thicker skin and perhaps a duller mind. Gage your method by your analysis of the offender's personality - and also by your experience of his reactions to previous reprimands.

10. In criticizing a salesman's performance - compare his work to a standard - and not the accomplishments of a fellow employee. People do not object to being compared to a standard because that is imper¬sonal. They do object to being compared to a fellow employee who may have other shortcomings which the salesman has had the opportunity to observe. "Why are your sales constantly lower than Mr. Blank's.?" Such a question immediately generates a dozen excuses - "Mr. Blank has been longer with the company" - "He has a private drag with the superin¬tendent" - "Has a drag with the telephone operator and secures tips on prospective buyers" - "Has less missionary work to do" - "Has a drag with some of the undertakers" - or one of many other excuses - which to the salesman are valid reasons.

Such a reprimand fails in its purpose. It does not fill the salesman with the desire to study his own shortcomings - instead it fills his mind with a desire to tear down Mr. Blank - and belittle his accomplishments. The average individual is quite ready to suspect that such is a basis against him and in favor of someone else. No one likes to be compared unfavorably with a person who works next to him. It arouses antipathy against the person whose work is held up as an example - instead of stimulating a resolve to improve one's self. It is better to set up a standard of comparison. Say for example - "We have set a mark - that no sales¬man will turn in less than 3 lots a week" - or - "We are proud of the reputation established by our salesmen - and do not want to spoil this record."

11. Is a public reprimand ever permissible? Such a reprimand may humiliate and embarrass a salesman unnecessarily - while a private talk will offer a much better opportunity to get your point across. I. would say that the only exception to this rule is when the salesman has violated dis¬cipline so openly that other salesmen must be made to see that he cannot get away with it.

12. Check yourself constantly in your dealings with sales people. Sales managers may err in one of two directions. Some are too lenient and mild in the handling of salesmen. Others are too severe. Watch for these danger signals if you are too lenient.

1. Your salesmen will display a lax attitude toward the work in hand.
2. In various cases they will impose on your good disposition.
3. They will exhibit a lack of respect for you.
4. Your salesmen will try to restrict their own output.
5. Your praise will lose its power to stimulate them.

If you are too stern - the following signals may be noted.

1. Your salesmen will begin to avoid you.
2. They will display a stubborn and sullen attitude.
3. Turnover in your Department will be higher than normal.
4. Your salesmen will try to restrict their own output.
5. Their dislike will be manifested by opposition shown to things that you are trying to accomplish. This opposition is usually hidden and generally very difficult to detect, except by decreased production.

13. Be a teacher. Have you ever heard a sales manager say in tones of exasperation - I have told that fellow a dozen times how to do that job and he still doesn't know how to do it- the rather obvious answer to such a statement is that apparently some one did not do a very good job of teaching. For teaching is not merely telling. It is telling plus fol¬low-up. First explain - then demonstrate if you can. After you have done this - ask the salesman to explain and demonstrate the idea to you until he has assimilated all of the details. From this point on - the training job consists of persistent and unceasing routine on your part of follow-up –follow-up – follow-up.

14. Give your salesmen a chance to earn mental wages. Every salesman seeks recognition and some measure of a place in the sun. Men will work hard to merit service stripes or medals to prove their value to you and your company. Do not hold back with these little things which mean so much. I heard a story recently that illustrates this point in reverse. A young man who had been working for about 6 months was asked by his father - How he was getting along. "Fine" - said the son. "They want to make me a partner in the business already." "Is that so? What did they say about that" - inquired the father - "They told me I would have to get another job if I did not take an interest in the business."

15. Don't take yourself too seriously. A sense of humor is an exceed¬ingly valuable addition to a sales manager's kit of tools. Many a serious situation can be passed over and tranquility restored by a joke or a hearty laugh. Don't make the mistake of confusing dignity with serious¬ness. Be cheerful in, order that those around you may be likewise and the entire atmosphere purified thereby.

However, jokes that ridicule or have a basis of sarcasm are extremely dangerous. To a subordinate a spiteful jest or a note of sarcasm is par¬ticularly galling. One of the bitterest comments that a salesman can make of his boss is - that is sarcastic.

16. You are a constant pattern for your subordinates. The instinct of imitation is one of the most powerful of human instincts. Those whom you employ are being constantly and unconsciously influenced by your appearance - your voice - your manner - your entire attitude. If you are a poor example - expect nothing above that grade from your employees.
A great president once laid out 14 points by which he hoped to con¬vert the world. All of his points had merit. A world that was out of tune soon disregarded his 14 points.

Here I am bold enough to present 17 of 30 points to men who must be thinking constructively along these lines - or you would not be hold¬ing the position you do occupy. I only hope that my 17 points will not meet the same lack of acceptance that was accorded those 14 points which President Wilson propounded.

From the publication:
“1940-1941 Cemetery Handbook & Buyers’ Guide”
ACOA 11th Annual Convention & Exposition
Hotel Statler, Buffalo, New York
September 8-11, 1940