‘Swim Lanes’ and Straight Talk

The term ‘swim lanes’ has a number of meanings…it can refer to the columns in a process flow chart, the actual lanes in a pool for swimming, and the way that I’m using it, which is conducting one’s own job responsibilities. In sales, it is important to understand one’s own responsibilities and to make sure those are fulfilled. Where salespeople, and their managers, run into problems is when individual salespeople overstep their own responsibilities and step on their colleagues’ toes. This can easily occur in split account situations or where there is a lack of transparent communication, or “Straight Talk.”

When these situations occur, what are the best ways to get them resolved with the least amount of ‘churn’ in the organization? Let’s take a look at a few approaches.

Peer-to-Peer Conversation

In a perfect world, I would always suggest having a conversation directly with a peer when there is a situation when that peer is ‘swimming out of their lane.’ This situation could be when another salesperson is taking credit for a sale that you made or taking partial credit for a sale when they were not involved at all in the sales process. These types of situations occur often when there are split accounts involved. I mentioned in a previous article that I believe that split accounts should always be 50/50 because there is no way that a sales manager has the time, or inclination, to do the research necessary to determine an exact split. My experience has shown me that a 50/50 split policy works best.

When you’re talking with a peer about a contentious situation, the first thing you need to do is put yourself in the mind of the other person. You need to understand what is motivating the other salesperson to behave in an unprofessional manner. Is the other person a “lone wolf?” Is the other person basically an honest person with integrity? Or, are they really just a jerk? When you determine what is motivating the other person to act unprofessionally, then you can better understand how to have the conversation with them.

So, you’ve had the conversation with the other salesperson in an attempt to clear up and resolve the situation and, unfortunately, you’ve reached an impasse without a solution. At this point, you need to loop in your manager and provide them with an overview of the situation.

Manager-to-Manager Conversation

Your manager needs to get involved when your efforts to directly work with your peer are unsuccessful. If the other salesperson refuses to change an egregious situation, you need to have your manager speak directly with your peer’s manager. I’ve been in situations where I needed to talk to my fellow VP about someone on their team. These types of conversations are much more productive when both VP’s (or other management levels) have already established a trusting relationship and are both focused on the success of the overall organization as opposed to their own individual team success. While salespeople are oftentimes only focused on themselves, the manager’s role is to look at the bigger picture and health of the entire team.

Sales organizations have management offsites which can be particularly helpful in building trusting relationships among managers and also making sure that the management team is focused on the overall growth and success of the sales team. One of the biggest challenges for the new manager, recently promoted from a sales role, is to change their outlook from “ME” to “WE.” I’ve seen some new managers really struggle with this change in thinking and they will inhibit their career success unless they learn to embrace a total team approach.

The best managers will get a ‘swim lane’ violation resolved as soon as possible. These outstanding managers are not shy about having a tough conversation with a salesperson on their team, if that is what it takes to resolve a conflict. It’s important for managers to make the tough decisions and not to drag out a contentious situation.

I believe it is always better to try and resolve a challenging situation with a peer yourself as opposed to escalating it. Put yourself in their shoes and work to understand where they are coming from. Ask yourself, is this issue important enough to escalate to your manager? As a manager, I always let the salesperson know that I’m there to help but that they should try to resolve the conflict themselves.

Author: Tim Hand

My name is Tim Hand, and I am a digital media, sales & marketing team leader, and I have a real passion for partnering with companies, publishers and agencies to help drive client growth and bottom-line revenues.

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