What's The Call-in Number?

As an immature manager, I used to get outwardly irritated every time a member of my sales team asked "What's the call-in number?" prior to our weekly conference call. The number was always the same, and I expected it tattooed -- so why the fire drill every week?

I eventually got over what was really just a weekly expression of nervous energy (on both sides) and started including the call-in number with every email sent out setting up the conference. I look back now in horror and I wonder - my sales team's jobs were hard enough, so why was I making it any harder on them, and why did I take it so personally when they made it harder on me?

The reality is that as a manager you are in fact still a human, so you do react emotionally to the interactions with your direct reports. However, the more seasoned you become, the less human you appear, as you learn to do a better job self managing your reactions so you can better identify and execute an objective course of action. This sounds easy -- but don't believe what you hear. The relationship between manager and sales rep can be a constant emotional tug of war regardless of what side you stand on. The manager is significantly outnumbered and yet must not only stay on his/her side of the pit of hot charcoals, but move an entire team forward without burning them out. That's why managing is a skill those who do well, do well.

Managers can hardly help but take on the role of "parent," so members of their team subsequently play the role of children. This doesn't mean you can ground your team for not obeying you, nor does it mean salespeople act like kids, but subconsciously; these are the roles we slip into given the responsibilities we are assigned.

Like a parent (full disclosure: I'm an uncle, but not yet a parent), the danger comes when you stop directing those who report to you -- and they start directing you. This can happen often and quickly -- and before you know it, the children are running the household.

But that's where this metaphor goes "down like Frazier," because the reality, of course, is that those playing the role of children are talented, intelligent, motivated adults who may want --and can be asked-- to replace the parent sitting at the head of the table. So as a manager, how do you stay in control without being destructively controlling?

Listening to your sales team is critical. Good to Great author Jim Collins (I am so late on this book, but if any of you are equally late, grab it) recounts how managers at Pitney Bowes would use annual sales meetings to "allow their sales force to pelt questions and concerns to the entire management team."

Listening is a constant, but does no good unless a manager responds with a concise course of accountable actions. Regularly scheduled sales conference calls are ideal times to huddle and call out the play. Like a quarterback, the manager should be the only one to talk in a huddle if the team is going to be effective. These calls are not the best time for group discussions.

If you are the Tom Brady or Tommy Kramer at your company, it's helpful to always include a bullet-pointed agenda prior to the huddle you called, so everyone knows exactly what will be discussed and what is expected of them. It's equally important not to pile on once these points are covered. This shows a respect for salespeople's time, helping them to trust you more because you delivered on what you promised.

And, of course, include the call-in number -- again.

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