June 14

Are You Managing Your Sales Team or Are They Managing You?

Just this past week, I was doing a keynote presentation for a company (who shall remain nameless) whose executives warned me that my biggest challenge would be the sales team.  “They just don’t like change they said.”

Are you kidding me? What do you mean they don’t like change? So why does that matter? Your customers need better and more enhanced service, your profits need to improve, and business growth is not an option it is a requirement. To get any of those things you need change! So why is a little pushback from a sales team making you hesitant, and getting you to slow down? Who’s in charge anyway- you or the sales team?

Okay, I hear you, and I get it, you are going to get nowhere “forcing” your team to accept change, and yes, I have seen those cultures where they push, drive and demand change; that does nothing but create cultures of disengagement, resentment, and lackluster results. However, setting a vision or creating a strategy and then not engaging your team to carry it out has even worst consequences. It ensures you never implement change, and you will lose your best and most talented employees along the way, your best customers and any chance you might have to grow your business.

“Take risks. If you win, you’ll be happy; if you lose, you’ll be wise.”

– Anonymous


This is what we call being caught between a rock and a hard place. How do you  “make” your team do what you want them to do, and make them happy about doing it?” Answer – You stop letting your team run you, and you start running your team.

Let me show you what I mean. A few months ago, I was working with one of my favorite clients in business development training and strategic business growth. Our typical style when making change is to involve and engage the team right from the start, ensuring before we implement change we get their support and buy-in.

However, out of nowhere the company got a major opportunity, and the CEO had to make a quick decision. It was a unique and innovative new product line that would be the perfect addition to their client offering. A little out of the box, but truly filled a client need. If they wanted to offer it, they needed to act quickly and sign an exclusive deal with the vendor. Meaning there was not the time to engage the team and get their input and buy-in. Not an ideal situation, but one we didn’t worry about as this product was going to give the team a great new product to sell, a great way to open doors and sell more to existing clients. I mean who would not love that right?

The CEO was pumped up, excited and could not wait to share the news with the team. I cautioned him that we needed to prepare for this meeting and discuss how we were going to get their buy-in; and how we would handle their push back. He blew me off, and felt that was unnecessary, his feeling was how could the team not embrace a new product line that was going to make sales, client growth and retention so much easier?

Oh, how naive some leaders can be; so, I let him go, and it was like watching a lamb being lead to the slaughter (not that I have ever done that – but you know what I mean.) So, forward he went, had the meeting, and he rolled out the new idea complete with the dates of required training to get started. I asked to be at the meeting to observe, and observe I did. The moment he started talking, his entire sales team, including his sales leader, began to resist. Before they even said anything, you could feel the energy in the room change, feel how irritated the team was getting, and you could almost hear all the negative thoughts running through their heads.

As soon as the CEO stopped talking, they started; pushback, complaining, and shear resistance. So strong and so loud, that even the sales leader jumped in and the CEO started to cave, and he at once began making concessions. Concessions such as, perhaps we could wait on the training, maybe we could have the product in our mix and not highlight it, perhaps we should review it one more time before we truly signed the contract, and the list went on. The more he back peddled, the more the team smelled blood and the stronger they got, they knew they had him, and if they just pushed a little more, they could kill this entire “change” thing.

It was clear at that moment who was running the sales team and the company, and it was not the sales leader and not the CEO, it was the sales team. Unfortunately, if someone didn’t start leading the sales team, this company was going to miss a significant opportunity.

However, again, what do you do when the very people you need to embrace the change, resist it? You stop managing your sales team, and you start leading it. People don’t resist change because they are bad people, they oppose it because they don’t understand it.

Your job as the sales leader is to simultaneously acknowledge the challenge of what they do see and help them see the benefit of what they don’t. You need to ensure they understand what is in it for them, your sales people, their customers and their company.

In this case, right after the meeting, the CEO, the sales leader and I had a coaching session in which we debriefed the meeting. Going through what went well (very little) and what could have gone better (a lot). The result, a CEO with a stronger backbone and a willingness to strategize before meetings about change, and more importantly a sales leader who was now committed to focusing on seeing opportunity rather than challenge when change is introduced.

We had a “do over” and this time walked the team through all the benefits of this new product line (which were immense and why the CEO was so excited,) acknowledged their worry with the added challenges on the front end and guaranteed the support and help they would need to make the transition.

The result? A motivated, engaged and excited sales team hitting record sales numbers with the new product line; and a CEO and sales leader who back in charge of their sales team.

Meridith Elliott Powell

Voted one of the Top 15 Business Growth Experts to watch by Currency Fair, highly engaging corporate motivational keynote speaker Meridith Elliott Powell delivers a cutting-edge message, rooted in real-life examples and real-world knowledge. Meridith’s presentations are full of powerful content, highly interactive, and fun. She helps her clients learn the leadership development, sales and business growth strategies to turn uncertainty to competitive advantage.

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