Selling as a Mid-level Manager Bites
Every leader must be a salesman but sometimes it bites. We are constantly pushing new ideas, products, services, and processes. A component of our success depends on buy-in and an ability to sell the vision. However, it presents challenges to mid-level managers, at least it did for me and many others. Often, the vision you're selling doesn’t belong to you and you're not fully sold on it. Still, you must put on a smile, arm yourself with charisma, stand in front of your team, and deliver. If you fail to deliver by putting your ego and uncertainty before the organization, then the vision becomes lost. The adage says, where there is no vision, the people will perish. Therefore, it is your job to keep them focused and sell the vision of the company.
I spent almost a decade as a mid-level manager and almost twice as long consulting them. It can be challenging because the entire organization is betting on your ability to sell the vision to the team members on the front line. In most organizations, you are responsible for implementing new ideas but have very little say in developing those ideas. You are the first to be called to the plank and the last to come to the table. It can be frustrating because plans are fully developed before they reach your desk. It makes it feel impossible to remain proactive. Not to mention, you often feel overlooked and underappreciated. I have been THERE! I spent many days peeling out of the parking lot, tension tap dancing on my temple, contacting my best friend using speed dial, and inaudibly venting my frustrations. However, it was not good for my blood pressure or sanity, so I had to make some adjustments.
The first adjustment that came to mind was to quit. I wanted to quit and tell the man what he could do with his little job, but I am not the quitting type. I just like to feel like I have options sometimes. The only time I quit is on my terms and when I have conquered the flag. Besides, based on feedback from colleagues, friends, and research studies, this was a common complaint provided by mid-level managers. I could not move on and marry a new company with the same problem. Therefore, I developed some guiding principles to make me check in when I desired to check out. I learned how to sell, even when I was not pleased with the product.
Here are my top three guiding principles:
Plan for the objections. A large part of being able to sell is understanding objections. Therefore, when I was skeptical about introducing a new idea, process, product, or service I wrote down my objections and the possible objections from my team. What made me feel uneasy or uncertain? What do I need to research or better understand? How does this impact current processes or workflows? By thinking through the objections, I became better prepared for conversations with my team and senior management. Also, it allowed me to see the concept from different perspectives and present it from an objective point of view.
Focus on the how not the why. Often when decisions are made, we want to know why the decision was made and why they chose to go in that direction. Then, if we feel the reasoning is illogical or unjustifiable it awakens our inner toddler, and we can become stubborn and bitter. In cases where you can’t veto the decision or the reason behind the why is a luxury, then your only focus is on how to get it done. Become obsessed with how you can pull this off with the least amount of impact on human or capital resources. At times you will have to roll up your sleeves and get in the trenches to let your team know you are in this together. Deciding to make this adjustment is the total opposite of speaking poorly about why decisions were made and being the captain of the Disgruntled Dianas.
Choose to be a team player. If you have played on any team then you know the win isn’t always pretty. Also, you know you will run some unsuccessful play, but your job is to stay in position. Whether you agree with the play or not, your team needs you to run it and run it to the best of your ability.
My guiding principles weren’t just to assist me with selling to others. They assisted me with selling it to myself so that I could confidently gain buy-in from others. They helped me develop momentum and a positive outlook to push new ideas, products, services, or concepts regardless of my level of involvement and the reasoning behind the plan. I was able to remove my personal feelings and support my team and organization. Being a mid-level manager can feel unmanageable, but you can handle it. You have all of the necessary abilities to deliver and play your position. Trust in your abilities so that you can show up and perform at a high level. Remember, plan for the objections, focus on the how versus the why, and choose to be a team player to run the play and sell the vision.