From Minnesota to Maui: the awkward sales manager

Today’s Fable Friday is actually a true story from a project I did with a group of sales managers in Minneapolis a few years ago.  One of them called to tell me about a great program for incenting his sales team, and he wanted me to attend his next sales meeting so he could show me how it was going.

So I met with the manager before his team meeting and he took me into the conference room adjoining his office, where the team would meet in a few minutes.  On the wall he had put up an enormous map of the United States, with a big star at Minneapolis, and another big star about ten feet to the left of it on the island of Maui.  The map was the basis for one of those bar graph charts, which showed the progress of the individual members of his sales team on their way to a trip to Maui.  At this mid-stage of the program, I noted that the leader’s bar had reached Nevada, while most of the others were still in Wyoming.  But one guy hadn’t yet gotten far from home and was barely out of Minneapolis.

We talked about the various skills, behaviors and motivation of the salespeople and I asked about the guy who was still stuck at home. “Oh him,” he said.  “I’m going to have to do some serious coaching with this guy.  He hasn’t done anything yet.”

Now the meeting begins, and this huge map is directly behind the sales manager. No one can help but see how well the leaders are doing, nor can they miss the lack of progress of the guy still in Minnesota. The sales manager, to ensure that no one misses the point, reviews each salesperson’s progress.  “Phil, you’re really taking off here.  You’ll be in California by next week.  These guys had better catch up.”  And after a few good-natured quips about this fun competition, he finally gets to the laggard at home.  “When are we going to see some movement from you John?  Haven’t you even packed your bags yet?  These guys are going to the luau and you’ll be stuck in South Dakota, the rate you’re going!”  It was pretty embarrassing I can tell you, even though the sales manager tried to sound as if he was joking.

The notion of reward and recognition is a fundamental tenet of human performance. We must always ask when we see non-performance, “what would motivate someone to do this?”  (The other questions are:  “Does the employee have the capacity, knowledge and skill to do the job?”)

In this story, the manager violated a cardinal rule. Always praise in public, coach in private.  There was no mistaking the message in the wall graphic, so the manager should have said something positive, for example, “John, I can see you’re a late starter, but I know you’re ready to put some great numbers up here soon.”  Then in private he has to learn what is getting in the way of performance.

It’s good sales management technique to measure and publish progress, but this manager should have let the graphic do the talking.

In my next few posts, I’ll discuss reward and reinforcement, along with other motivating factors that allow sales managers to drive performance.  The people who work for you are just like your customers and have to be managed in a considerate way, so remember to…

Think Like Your Customer!

About Gregory LaMothe
I teach people how to sell things. I own the company ActionSystems. Visit my website at

One Response to From Minnesota to Maui: the awkward sales manager

  1. Elizabeth Goodwin Brown says:

    Another great post! I’ll be on the look out for your next few posts to follow up on this. Thanks Gregory.

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