On sales floors worldwide, reps are boiling with barely-repressed rage. Blood pressures are through the roof. It’s a miracle they’re not all throwing their computers through the office’s floor-to-ceiling smart-glass windows and jumping out after them, ending their days as a broken, furious mess in the car park below.
Honestly, I can see why. Sales leaders spend so much time turning over the minutiae of systems, cycles, strategies, processes and relationships that they forget to take a biiiiiig step back sometimes. And you should take that step back, because it’s the only way you’ll ever see the shit show that is the relationship between leadership and sales teams in large-scale sales organisations.
I say relationship, it’s often more of a gaping chasm…
Leadership expect a lot from reps. They expect reps to act in an empowered and self-motivated way. They expect reps to be accountable. They want reps to be self-aware, coachable, keen to turn around flagging performances and able face tough, high-pressure situations. They want reps to be able to use, analyse and leverage CRM and metrics properly.
And that’s all fine. That’s all part of the job, right?
Sure, but they become unreasonable expectations – window-smashingly, car park-splatteringly unreasonable – when combined with corporate cultures that just don’t give reps the means and the freedom to deliver on those expectations.
The philosopher Emmanuel Kant proposed the idea that there are two kinds of freedom: freedom from, and freedom to. Freedom from is ‘negative’ freedom – the freedom of autonomy, of people relieved of some burden. Freedom to is ‘positive’ freedom – the freedom to act in a certain way, to do certain things.
If this sounds like wishy-washy sixth form philosophy bullshit, stick with it.
When it comes to managing people or establishing a leadership strategy, people often think of positive freedom – the freedom to do something – as better than freedom from. It’s not, as a rule. Freedom to is generally very focused – reps are allowed to do X, Y and Z. That allows leadership to dish out very specific freedoms. That approach has its place in limiting and honing certain job roles, of course, but in real terms it can feel micro-manage-y and stifling.
What more reps need – personally and professionally – is to be treated like f*cking grown-ups. That means giving them freedom from. Freedom from overbearing leadership styles, decisions made at a total disconnect from conditions on the ground, and days at a time spent making blood sacrifices to SFDC. By giving them those freedoms, you create a corporate culture in which accountability, empowerment and initiative are encouraged and rewarded. You create a corporate culture in which the expectations you have of your reps make even a little bit of sense.
Changes elsewhere might be necessary – giving reps more freedom will make tightening up the hiring process vital (Jesus Christ do some appalling reps getting hired as things are), onboarding will need to be less of an after-thought.
The relationship between leadership and reps needs to change in the most fundamental ways for reps to be able to do their job properly in a motivated and accountable way.
It’s not about increasing budget, paying lip service or tweaking corporate messaging, and that’s why so many organisations struggle with it. You can throw all the money you like at this, I promise you it will do f*cking nothing unless you’re also changing the dynamic in a way that gives people the freedoms they need to do their job.
It’s a matter of genuine cultural change, and that’s why you probably won’t get it done. Just don’t come crying to me when your car park is littered with reps who just couldn’t take it anymore.
– Tom @ WSL