Is it ever OK to Micromanage Reps?

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Micromanagement….

The term makes the hair on your neck stand up – and not in a good way.

The term makes you think of managers obsessed with the trees, and with no clue that a forest even exists.

  • Counting calls
  • Nitpicking over forms
  • Nagging about CRM compliance

Not pretty. Not fun. Not helpful. Not productive.

When I speak to sales leaders about activity management, this kind of micromanagement often comes to mind, and it comes up as “an objection”…

…with good reason too.

Too many front line managers have no idea how to manage (and support) the reps who report to them – often because they got no training, so they obsess about the reports they need to produce and the numbers that go into them – but without context.

In this way, activity management and micromanagement are indeed one and the same – but it doesn’t have to be that way.

There is a right way to manage sales activities that isn’t micromanagement, but rather something useful and productive.

Really.

Now – not everyone agrees that front line managers should be coaching reps. I strongly disagree. The comments in this recent post about why sales managers don’t coach provide some background there, but let’s focus here on micromanagement.

So IF front line sales managers should be coaching, what should they be coaching on and how can they use activity management in a productive way with their reps??

Too often what passes for coaching conversations are conversations about specific deals or counting activity oriented KPI’s (number of calls, etc.).

There is nothing wrong with coaching discussions about specific deals or activity details, but if that is the sum total of the coaching relationship, there is a lot that is left out, and a lot of opportunity for growth that is missing from the coaching relationship.

Deals are the raw materials of coaching, managing and supporting reps, but there are two things to keep in mind if you want to make activity-oriented rep coaching effective:

See the forest and the trees

If a sales team has a common framework / process / selling system that is followed by all at the macro level, then the activities that lead to sales can be seen in context.

  • In the context of each specific deal;
  • In relation to all deals (are there patterns?), and
  • In relation to the selling system as a whole (is there a fundamental problem with the way a rep is executing some key stage of prospect interactions)

If sales management has not done the work to establish a macro-level framework or selling system for the group, then there is little they can do but the kind of micromanagement that everyone hates – but..

…it isn’t activity management that is the problem, it is the lack of context established by management.

Not all reps should get the same coaching.

Should you coach the same way and on the same things for your top reps as you do for those who are struggling? Dumb question – right? But look closely – if managers are coaching at all, and coaching beyond “how’s it going” on deals, then they probably follow a rigid formula and apply it equally across the board. This post is long enough, but for more on how to segment reps for coaching see this Forbes article by Jim Keenan on what he calls The Freedom Box.

Bottom line – there should be different levels of activity oriented coaching between top reps and bottom reps, and the degree of activity management should go up at lower performance levels.

This is important – because many who argue against activity-based management rightly suggest that it is a drag on top performers. That’s true – so use it where it is needed, not equally across the board – and don’t throw out the baby of activity management with the bath water.

Here’s the point: You can’t manage results. If you want to manage, you need to manage the activities that lead to results.

You can do this as micromanagement in the bad way – without context, without a macro-level view and in the exact same way with everyone, or

You can “micromanage” the small pieces of sales activity in context, as components of a selling system and in a way that is specific to each rep.

Micromanagement isn’t the problem – the little things do matter. The problem is managers who are too myopic to micromanage in a productive way.

The difference matters here – a lot.

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