The Top 10 Mistakes Sales Reps and Managers Make in One-on-One Meetings

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Hunter Madeley
Hunter Madeley




I firmly believe that sales manager and rep one-on-one meetings are the single most important lever a sales organization can pull to change performance on both an individual and team level. Those who feel they’re a waste of time have simply never participated in consistently effective one-on-ones.

It’s true there are a bunch of ways one-on-ones can go awry. But I would caution sales professionals not to throw out the practice due to poor experience. It’s hard to overstate the value that can be derived.

However, getting to good requires cutting through the bad. I’ll dive more deeply into what makes an effective one-on-one in a future post. For now, let’s examine some of the most common mistakes reps and managers make during these sessions.

Top One-on-One Meeting Mistakes for Sales Reps

1) Showing Up Unprepared

A one-on-one meeting is an important exercise, and that means you shouldn’t wing it. Before the meeting, reps should take stock of their pipelines and where they are on key deals. You should be able to answer questions about the state of your business without having to search for information. And you should be prepared with your asks -- how can your manager help you be more effective tomorrow than you are today?

2) Shoving Problems Onto Your Manager

If you’re having trouble with a deal or situation, a one-on-one is the perfect time to talk it over with your manager (note: seek real-time feedback if it’s urgent). But before the meeting, you should brainstorm solutions or plans of attack to present. Don’t just plop the problem in your manager’s lap and ask them to solve it for you. Your commitment and preparation will bring out the best in your manager.

3) Speaking in Generalities

A one-on-one meeting is an opportunity to get specific feedback on your individual challenges. But oftentimes, reps talk in wide-reaching generalities, which makes it hard for a manager to offer tailored guidance. "Competition is tough in my patch;” “my champions are moving too slowly;” “we need more product training” -- all too general. Zero in on your particular issues and be precise: “I’m having difficulty against Vendor X in my patch, especially in the education vertical where their reach into procurement gives them an advantage.” Now we have something to work with.

4) Failing to Make Progress

Effective one-on-ones should end with action items for both rep and manager. So be sure to make some progress on your deliverables in time for your next meeting. It shows your manager that you’re serious about your performance and development.

Top One-on-One Meeting Mistakes for Sales Managers

1) Showing Up Unprepared

This is the number one sin for both reps and managers. Just like the rep should know the state of their business and development, the manager should also have done their homework prior to the meeting. In addition, managers should bring insights from the team or industry that are applicable to the rep. Reps don’t always have time to look across teams for best practices or dig deeper into the industry trends, but managers do.

2) Running the Meeting Like an Inspection

A one-on-one should be a collaborative coaching experience, not an interrogation. Keep in mind that the purpose of a one-on-one meeting is to add value and develop the rep, and inspections aren’t terribly helpful in achieving these goals.

3) Believing You Need to Know it All

The rep has the most skin in the game in terms of their performance and development. They want to improve, but this is not a teacher/pupil relationship. Sales managers should strive to collaborate and problem-solve, not instruct. You’re there to support and guide based on your experience, but they’re ultimately responsible for executing against a plan they believe in and of which they take ownership. You won’t -- and shouldn’t -- have all the answers.

4) Always Booking the Same Room and Following the Same Format

Holding your one-on-one meeting in the same conference room every week allows both rep and manager to get comfortable -- and lackadaisical. Switch up the location and format every so often. Don’t be afraid to try something new -- just be sure the objective of focusing on your rep’s development can still be met. I knew a manager that used to throw in a walk-and-talk meeting here and there. Many people do their best thinking while in motion, so if problem-solving is on the agenda, take it all in stride.

5) Holding the Meeting When the Rep Is Unprepared

If you come to the meeting having done your homework, you should hold the rep to the same standards. If it becomes clear they haven’t adequately prepared for the session, stop the one-on-one, and don’t reschedule it. This will communicate to the rep that this is an important exercise. You are invested and they need to be as well.

6) Getting Distracted

When you’re meeting with a rep, that rep should be your sole focus. Don’t check or answer other emails. Don’t look at your phone. Concentrate on the issues at hand, and give the rep your undivided attention. Seems obvious, but with the barrage of emails, deal approvals, and customer issues that face most managers, it’s not easy.

Once you begin to eliminate these practices from your one-on-ones, you’re ready to start infusing more positive habits into your meetings. Take a pass on the old inspection-based, manager-knows-best model and embrace a collaborative, committed partnership in sales development.

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Topics: Sales Coaching

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