Is Your Rep Falling Down on the Job?

What do you do if your rep is pulling his own weight?

This is the gist of a question I recently received from a newer SE via email. It’s a tough question and one I don’t think I’ve addressed here before. Since the answer is involved I thought it would be best to describe my approach more thoroughly here.

First, when you’ve worked in the business long enough, this situation invariably happens. Usually it doesn’t start to manifest until you yourself have been in the role long enough to have worked with a variety of reps to understand what works and what doesn’t.

Second, when you’ve been in the business long enough, the situation will eventually reverse and, justified or not, your abilities will be called into question.

This is a face-paced, high risk/return game we’re in. Succumbing to the continuous pressure and jumping to rash decisions is all too easy a trap. All it takes is a quarter or two of missed results for the pressure to be ratcheted up enormously. It’s in your best interest to take a step back and rationally assess the situation. It takes real skill not to get caught up in the blame game.

Don’ts

  • NEVER go straight to your boss or the sales manager with the issue. Put yourself in their place and ask how you’d react to that. Not positively I’m sure.
  • Don’t assume you know everything the rep is and isn’t doing. I see it time and again where SEs don’t appreciate the work that goes on behind the scenes to get meetings together, remove business barriers, negotiate contract/legal, etc. Get the “my rep just schedules the meetings and I do all the work” out of your head. It’s hard to counteract the overconfidence effect or egocentric bias.
  • Don’t assume your rep has the benefit of seeing the strategies and tactics other reps you’ve worked with are using. Just because you’ve seen the presentation done a dozen different ways (and have learned what works best) doesn’t mean your rep has. It could just be a simple coaching issue.
  • Do not ignore the problem if you feel it is impacting revenue. At the end of the day you are paid by the company to maximize revenue for a set of accounts. You are accountable for your sales targets, even if less directly.
  • Never take matters into your hands and subvert the strategy your rep has put in place. That directly undermines trust in the relationship and damages your reputation.

Do’s

  • Almost without exception you should bring up the problem with your rep directly first. Start with a casual comment. Maybe something like: “Joe, I saw the PM give this presentation the other day and he skipped the 15 minute company introduction slides and the audience really seemed to appreciate it. Maybe we should give that a shot.” That sounds way better than “Dude, you’re putting them to sleep in there!”
  • Escalate the directness of your comments in response to their effectiveness. Have the frank conversation and get it out in the open in a non-threatening way. For those with some difficulty with this skill, I recommend Crucial Conversations.
  • Be cautious and courteous with offering advice. Your reps will appreciate advice from you about as much as you’d appreciate their advice about being a better SE. Mileage may vary.
  • If all else fails, you have to get management involved. Typically there will be a dedicated SE manager you can interface with. Only take this step if you’ve exhausted every other avenue and your rep knows you feel strongly enough involve others. The last thing you want is them getting called into their boss’s office about an issue they thought was between you two. That whole “trust” thing is kinda important.
  • Even better: Offer to discuss it jointly under an “account strategy session” with the sales manager. Let the manager mediate. It doesn’t have to be a negative conversation. If you’ve done your homework, acted professionally, and still been outvoted, you’ve done your part. It’s out of your control and you can rationally decide to stay or explore other options longer term.

The golden rule should really be your guide here. Put yourself in his place, think of how you’d like your SE to react and follow that approach. The most important thing is to maintain the trust within the relationship. Your career success as an SE is ultimately determined more by whether the sales force respects and trusts you versus just how well you can demo the product.