Making Transitions

Back in the 1970s when dinosaurs still roamed Earth, I was made national sales manager. One day, my boss (the general manager) invited me to go have lunch. I thought that it was either going to lead to something really bad or really good. As we sat down to eat, my boss said, “We like what you’ve done with the national sales and we want to offer you the full sales management job.”

I said, “Are you sure you got the right guy? Me?” I was around 25 or 26 at the time, and there were about ten people on the sales staff. Every single one of them was old enough to have been my father or grandfather. (This was back in the days when there were no women in media. Of course, things have change drastically since then.) All these guys had been sales managers and general managers at other stations. Now I’m going to manage this group of people? My boss must be out of his mind.

After I got over the initial state of shock, my boss said, “Yes, I want you to manage the department and I believe you can do a great job.” It was a life-changing day, and the magnitude of my situation hit me like a ton of bricks. I was ill-prepared, and I’m sure that plenty of you reading this blog post are in a somewhat similar situation right now. You’re finding yourself in charge, and you don’t know exactly what you’re going to do.

In the 1970s world of media sales, the interaction was very transactional and pitch-oriented. I have tremendous respect for the general sales manager that I worked with when I was a salesperson. Before he took me out on my first big sales call, he directed me to the wall on the east side of the sales department. There were little bins hanging on the wall with stacks of 100 one-sheeters. (These had coverage maps, personality sheets, ratings reports, etc.) I grabbed two sets and placed them in a binder, so they would be ready for me to make the sales pitch.

When we arrived at the meeting and it was my turn to make my pitch, I handed a set of 100-page sheet binders to each guy. I didn’t know what else to do besides describe each page, one by one. “Page one has our towers. Page two has our building. Page three has our personality.” After I finished, we went through some questions and left.

The general sales manager said to me, “That was outstanding!” I couldn’t understand what was so outstanding about what I had just done. All I did was turn the pages of the binder and explain them, but he thought I did a perfect job. “You delivered that excellently,” he said. “You’ve just got to do that enough times so that something sticks on the wall. That’s how we make a living around here.”

I didn’t feel good about my performance that day. They practically could have trained a six-year-old to do the same thing. That was one of my moments of truth, when I realized that I had to approach this differently. When I eventually got into general sales management, I put together a few of the principles that I felt were most important. I call them Transitions. I’ve updated them over the years, but they still ring as true today as they did when I first made them.

I was thrust into a position of sink or swim, but I was lucky; I worked at a company that believed in training. The training I received wasn’t intense, and it wasn’t directed strictly towards me. However, impersonal group training is better than no training at all. When I promoted people who had no managerial experience, I felt that it was my duty to on-board them properly. I developed Transitions as a result of this experience, and I’ve been using it ever since.

If you feel like you’ve been thrown into the deep end as a new sales manager, send me an email. I’d love to hear from you. Stay tuned for my next two blog posts, where I delve into the key principles of Transitions.

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