You Can Herd Cats and Salespeople

Anti-cat people, like I once was, are challenged by feline independence and the seemingly impossible task of training them. Training and herding top sales producers and cats are not very different, but both are doable.

The other day, I worked from the mostly empty patio of a local restaurant enjoying the warm spring sun and a glass of wine comingled with fresh crab cakes. The silence was broken by the distinctive voice of Bluto’s mews for my attention.

Bluto is a Maine Coon nicknamed for Animal House icon Blutarsky. He lurks the local restaurants for dinner invitations that significantly outnumber the offers I receive. Bluto parked himself in the chair next to mine and purred away while I worked. The patrons, who know him as a regular, were entertained through the window by our Hemingway imitation. OK, it was more like Austin Powers.

One couple came outside with some left over fish for him. When we were done, he followed me home. But our relationship did not begin this way. On the contrary, it was war.

Our furry, alpha male grandcat was inherited from our daughter when she moved out to dance. The first week we took over guardianship was hell. His attack on my wife left claw marks and scars that took months of vitamin E and Retinae to heal. A couple of chases through the house backed him down. It was not the best beginning for what eventually became a beautiful friendship.

Like Bluto, I was quite the rogue in the early days of my sales career.

Wally Bock, one of my favorite leadership writers and author of the Three Star Leadership Blog, recently wrote an excellent post called “You can be tough without being a jerk. We need to lead with firmness.”

“Being a tough boss means being clear about what you expect, taking away all excuses for sub-standard performance, and holding team members accountable for results.” – Wally Bock

The first summer with us, Bluto became very ill. He had an undiagnosed infection and would not eat or drink. I had to hold him gently under his neck to maintain control while I trickled water down his throat with an eye dropper. That’s when things changed. Don’t try this on sales people!

We win followers when we provide the support to get our team across the finish line. When the top producers follow us, so will the rest of the herd.

Now we talk. No, I’m not Dr. Doolittle, but he understands the tone, talks back, and I listen. We have a tonal understanding.

How we say things are as important as what we say.

Bluto is very particular about the way he is petted and he will let you know how you’re doing.

Everyone wants positive stroking, but not everyone wants to be stroked the same way. Observation of our the reactions to our behavior is our guidance.

When he eats or wants to be left alone, I give him his space. When he wants to hang out, he comes to my desk, couch, or bed and waits for my tap, tap, tap before he jumps on my lap.

Respectful behavior begets respectful behavior.

When we want him inside, I call him by name and usually comes running.

Salespeople respond to positive behavior with positive results.

When he catches a mouse or some other varmint, he deposits the remains at the door for the recognition that he earned.

Salespeople are results driven and thrive on recognition. Reward is the surest way to surpass revenue targets.

Our behavior defines the persona and outcomes of our team. If you’re not attaining the desired results from your team, take the recent advice of Trusted Advisor’s Charles Green:

“Learn how to seek, and learn from, feedback.” – Charles H. Green

You Are Not Lazy, But Other Salespeople Are

Most people who are sales people are somewhat lazy in observance, however some spend a lot of time strategizing and thinking. As a Founder of a Franchise company I had often been accused by my own Bonzai and Blitz marketing teams of being lazy and sleeping until 11:00 Am or Noon, yet I had stayed up all night until 4:00 Am or 5:00 Am studying maps, making plans and lists of the best possible clients.

In fact in the mornings I would send out our teams at 9:00 Am and go back to sleep for few more hours. They would come back and report their great success and I would congratulate them and smile. Of course in reality I expected results and winning, nothing else was acceptable and if they did not perform we Sheet Canned them.

Then I would go out myself and score the biggest account of the day and several small juicy ones between 3:00 PM and 5: PM. How is this possible? How can someone sleep away half the day and look lazy by observation and yet out perform entire teams of 5-10 sales folks? Well it was simple really, I took all my observations, intuition and experience and used my mind to clearly focus on a specific target. Bingo.

Sales managers need to be the back bone and work twice as hard as the sales people in preparation, strategy and use their knowledge to make it all happen. When in the Ready Room or sales meetings, explain their strategy and focus and send out their sales people to Fu*&^%$# Win! You need to Plan, Decide, Attack and Assess. Dear Sales Managers and Sales People, Stop judging each other and the team and go out there and kick some butt. And I am not blowing smoke. Play to win, I did. Consider this in 2006.

Sales Management Part 3 – Mentoring Salespeople

Salespeople are most often associated with being coached to improve their selling competence but mentoring is seldom discussed or implemented for them. The question is why not? Is it because we have been conditioned to believe that mentoring is only for up and coming young executives or for those in non-selling roles?

So what is mentoring and its value to a business, a salesperson and a sales manager to become a mentor?

Mentoring is the term used to describe a relationship between an older and more experienced individual who is known as a mentor. Their role is to support and guide a less experienced individual, the protg.

A mentor fosters the personal and professional growth in their protg by sharing knowledge, skills, experience and insights that have been learnt over many years. A mentor’s background can vary greatly from the same profession and same position as their protg’s through to a completely different industry.

Mentoring creates an exceptional opportunity for cooperation, goal achievement and personal development. An effective sales manager mentor can establish rapport, respect and trust between them and the salesperson

Mentoring a salesperson can provide:

• Purposeful learning

When the sales manager also becomes the mentor their role is to encourage and advance the growth of the salesperson though planned learning. This includes their sharing learning experiences as and when the experiences relate to the salesperson’s need to learn. The experiences are communicated through anecdotes, scenarios and situational examples.

Both successes and failures are discussed in an open and truthful manner. These insights are often memorable for the salesperson and provide valuable learning

• Cooperative responsibility

This means sharing the responsibility for the learning outcomes. This can be formalized in a written agreement between the salesperson and the sales manager and designed to achieve the business’ specific mentoring objectives. The other type of mentoring is informal in that it operates by chance and for the most part is unrecognized by the business. Whatever method is used the salesperson’s growth is the focus

• Allocating time

Effective mentoring requires regular interaction between the sales manager and the salesperson and is not done intermittently. A schedule needs to be developed with dates, activities, planned experiences, demonstrations, case studies, and time set aside for reflective analyses. This adds motivation and direction for both parties.

For the business mentoring a salesperson can:

• Cultivate loyalty

• Boost morale and motivation

• Strengthen shared values and goals

• Uncover Talent

• Improve productivity

• Set new standards of professionalism

• Increase the years of service to a business

• Be an effective career management tool

• Enhance leadership skills of the sales manager

• Identify any barriers in the business

• Attract quality salespeople from other companies

For the salesperson mentoring can:

• Fast track their development

• Complement other structured learning or training

• Be tailored to suit the salesperson’s needs in terms of content and time frame

• Create an open and trusting relationship that provides encouragement and support

• Develop and explore their natural talents

• Expand current thinking and embrace new perspectives

• Reinvigorate their selling career

• Challenge the salesperson with new skills and ideas

For the sales manager mentoring can:

• Be the vehicle to share knowledge and expertise

• Develop skills in a more personal manner

• Build active listening, communication and modeling skills

• Develop a trusting and unique relationship with the salesperson

• Expand their understanding on what else is happening in other parts of the business

• Uplift their level of self-worth

• Receive professional recognition for their role

• Expand their expectations of self

Qualities of an effective mentor

Not every sales manager has the attributes to become a mentor. This can be because of their background or their lack of interest in this type of work. A senior salesperson with the right attitude and skill set may be better suited for the role? Often the driving force is a need to give back to others who will benefit from their experiences.

The following qualities however are common in all effective sales manager mentors:

• A successful track record

The sales manager may come from a different industry or profession but their level of expertise and experience is evidence of an individual who has ‘been there and done that.’ They can have a good reputation for developing others and possess a humble approach to their abilities. They have much to offer others

• The desire and commitment

The desire to be a mentor is a yearning from within that propels them into action and is underpinned by a feeling of excitement and the thought of the doing something extraordinary. The commitment is the sales manager’s pledge to continue working with the salesperson on the mutually agreed plan

• The ability to model

With this carries much responsibility because the sales manager needs to be an individual with a good moral reputation and is respected and admired by others. This is the reason why their behaviour is often copied by the salespeople. The mentor remains calm when the salesperson expresses frustration or anger. They show that they genuinely care about the success of the salesperson as much as the salesperson does.

• A positive attitude

Often a sales manager was the past recipient of formal or informal mentoring so they know what it feels like and the benefits of being mentored. One of the many things they learnt as a salesperson was the importance of being positive particularly when things don’t go according to plan. These are the times when they need their sales manager to give them encouragement with a positive attitude

• An active learner

Sales managers keep up to date with current technology, the latest in business and personal development, knowledge and skills in their field of expertise. They research and discuss areas the salesperson may need to further their development

• Time and boundaries

An agenda and the required time is allocated for each session. It is usually a mixture of meetings in and out of normal business hours. Additional time is needed for the sales manager to prepare for each session and complete post meeting notes of the outcome. The boundaries of the relationship are discussed so both parties know the limitation of their engagement. For example marriage difficulties won’t be discussed

• Compatible

Not every sales manager and salesperson relationship is compatible for a number of reasons including a lack of openness on the part of one party and if one isn’t ‘sold’ on the other. What works is:

– When both the sales manager and salesperson have similar goals

– They genuinely like and believe in each other

– They have an open and honest relationship

– When expectations such as what can and cannot be realistically achieved are discussed up front.


Mentoring isn’t for everyone. It may not be in your natural make up to be a mentor in which case actively look for someone who would be. It can be hard work and require your time and commitment. However, mentoring can also be a most intrinsically rewarding experience.