Leading the Way: How to Manage a Business

You’re building a great business, but are you the best leader you can be? Here are some smart ways to manage your business—and propel your team to the top.

Whether they oversee inside salespeople, outside reps, customer service people, or fulfillment specialists, top managers of ad specialty distributor companies supply the support, tools, and inspiration their people need to succeed.

A leading sales trainer, author and speaker featured in media ranging from The Today Show to The Wall Street Journal, Barry Maher believes a good manager can be a powerful facilitator that jumpstarts even a severely struggling team to lofty achievement levels. Once, Maher took over a sales team that was at the bottom of the sales report. But in his first meeting with the unit, he told them within one year they would be the number one group in the region.

“Within less than a year,” he says, “they were.”

Maher helped make the team’s success possible by demonstrating faith in them, making it clear that he truly believed they could be the best. Team members tried to live up to those expectations and soon adopted them as their own. Maher championed his group within the company and helped members work out short- and long-term goals. He supported the salespeople however he could and offered praise and rewards for their accomplishments.

“We created a team mentality,” he says, also noting that the unit focused on building strong rapport with customers. “No one who wanted or needed help was ever left alone.”

Intent on turning negatives into positives wherever possible, Maher helped his salespeople to overcome fear of failure. They learned to rigorously review their own performance, always asking what they could have done better. “But after absorbing the lesson, they learned to absolve themselves, leaving the mistakes behind and moving on to the next call,” Maher says.

Reasoning that sales professionals who enjoy their work will ultimately sell more, Maher focused on creating a fun atmosphere where people looked forward to coming to work. “A salesperson who can make the call fun for the prospect is half way to a sale,” he adds.

Similarly, at distributor firm 14 West (asi/197092), Kevin Scharnek has spurred success from his sales and client services teams by creating a fun, open, and team-oriented environment. The Wisconsin-based distributorship frequently takes part in camaraderie-building activities, such as employee-only dinners and trips to downtown Milwaukee and Brewers games.

“We actually have a ‘fun committee’,” says Scharnek, the company’s founder.

When it comes to helping salespeople prosper, Scharnek has found it effective to aid associates in setting measurable goals and developing plans for meeting them. Furthermore, he finds that by accompanying salespeople on calls, he shows that he is invested in their success, while also reinforcing the distributorship’s commitment to the clients. “We encourage our salespeople to be in front of clients as often as possible,” Scharnek says.

To help maintain a smooth relationship between his sales and client service teams, Scharnek has everyone – including himself – fill out DISC personality profiles, a behavior assessment tool. Everyone has access to each other’s profiles, which helps employees understand the most effective ways to work with different individuals.

To start off right with building a cohesive team dynamic, Scharnek places particular emphasis on hiring people who fit the 14 West culture – something he says is critical to being a good manager. “We have a fairly extensive process that’s worked out unbelievably well,” says Scharnek.

Like Scharnek, Andy Shuman, general manager at Rockland Embroidery (asi/734150), says getting good people to join the screen printing and embroidery crews at the Topton, PA-based decorating shop is a critical managerial function. This contributes directly to another tenet of Shuman’s successful managing style: Giving employees the autonomy to make efficiency-enhancing decisions amid the hustle and bustle of fast-paced decorating runs.

“I don’t want to micro-manage,” says Shuman. “If you get the right people and you train them well, they’re going to get the job done.”

Additionally, a tiered bonus structure that rewards collective achievement helps Shuman get the most out of his teams: “It encourages teamwork, double-checking and accountability,” he says.