What to do when you’re the new boss

by Matt Bowman – October 2013

Anyone in the sports business very long knows one may have to relocate to advance one’s career.  While certainly not a requirement, top executives have made a few stops in different cities in different sports and with different organizations throughout their career.  It can be an exciting but daunting task to ingratiate yourself with an entirely new team.

Such transitions are challenging for a sales leader, but also provide an awesome opportunity to build (or re-build) a sales team and place your stamp on that organization.

Looking back on my experiences as the new Sales Manager (OKC Thunder) and now Vice President at the Dallas Stars, I’ve noticed some commonalities that might help other sales leader joining a new team.

Take your time, but don’t take too much time

Your first few weeks of the new job are exciting! If you’re like me, you want to start making an impact immediately.  It’s easy, however, to try to take on too much too quickly without having a good enough understanding of how your team operates or the nuances involved with every personality and process.

Key #1: Focus on your people. Let them know you are there to help them succeed. You are not there to flip the business on its head right off the bat.  You plan to lead them, but only until you have an understanding of how the business is operating from all angles.

That said, you were hired you for a reason.  You’ll need to provide feedback on solutions to the team’s issues soon after you start in your new role.  This brings me to my next point . . .

Focus on metrics

After meeting the sales staff the next stop is with your business analytics team, which may be in ticket operations with some teams.  Here, it is imperative to start gaining an understanding of the team’s sales performance over time.

Key #2: Get a grip on historical sales performance. How many season tickets are sold for the year?  How many group tickets and suite rentals?  What are the trends over the last three seasons for each?  Is the season ticket and group sales business growing or shrinking annually?

Key #3: Get a grip on staff performance. Who are the top performing sales representatives in each category?  Who makes the most phone calls and sets the most appointments?  Which reps are best at selling season tickets versus groups versus premium inventory?

SWOT detective

Meet with the staff again. Ask what they feel are their strengths and weaknesses.  Ask what obstacles they face in doing their job at maximum level.

Key #4: Network internally. Visit with department heads of non-sales divisions to introduce yourself.  Stop by the marketing office and sponsorship team to ask them about their major priorities and challenges.  The challenges of these two revenue-generating divisions will be similar to the ones you will face now and in the future.

Of course, on-ice, on-court, on-field performance is an obvious strength or weakness.  But other issues may emerge, such as poor customer service or lack of clarity in external communications.

Focus on your own staff’s business processes, from basic to complex: What does the sales process look like?  What happens when a sale is made?  Who processes the order?  Are there any areas of inconsistency or inefficiency?

Through this detective work the team culture – how everyone views their jobs, the organization and  leadership–will materialize.  As a new leader you can help shape culture.

Clearly present your solutions at the right time

After a couple of weeks in a new position, start to take action.

Key #5: Clarity. The best way to gain respect and support is to present your findings clearly.  First, present the hard data on sales trends and team performance. Second, present the reasons you’ve found behind the trends: inefficiencies, inconsistencies, or lack of processes.   Finally, be prepared to share your own experiences that demonstrate best thoughts on solutions.

Around the horn

Those are my steps and keys to success as the new boss of an NHL team. Here are a few thoughts from two other new Vice Presidents of Ticket Sales & Service in MLB and the NBA:

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Listen. Care. Act.

Jason Howard
Jason Howard

astros logoThe natural instinct may be to come in with what you think are the best practice systems, training, and framework. The reality is your success will only go as far as your people and their mindsets in wanting to understand and execute implementation plans. Hiring in from the outside and implementing new sales structures can be tough, but that’s not what I’m referencing. More importantly, we must APPRECIATE the mindset of the inherited staff.

When starting in Houston, one of the first things we committed to as a leadership team is a familiar quote  several mentors have shared:

“People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” 

Some truths to grasp and manage:

  1. Any change – especially leadership – is a difficult thing.
  2. Understand and appreciate why things were being done the way they were when we arrived.
  3. Find out how every staff member feels about their part in the organization. This was the very first thing we needed our focus on.

Once we learned peoples’ mindsets we could meet them where they were. Let them know we appreciated how hard they had worked to get to that point. THEN we knew our transparency on how we could best move forward as a team would be met with more acceptance. Why? Because they felt they were heard first.

Slowing down a little at the beginning allowed us to run much faster as we all got on the same page. Ultimately that approach allows best practices to be uploaded and executed more quickly and effectively.[/dropshadowbox]

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Prepare. Get personal.

timberwolves logo

Corey Breton
Corey Breton

One of the first things I did when I learned that I was fortunate enough to land the VP position with the Timberwolves and Lynx was to reach out to my new direct reports.

Prior to physically arriving in Minneapolis, I spent two hours in conversations with each direct report, along with sending them two books explaining my leadership philosophy and process.  This helped us become acclimated with each other much quicker, allowing for a more seamless transition.

As Matt and Jason pointed out, your people are your most valuable resource. They must be treated as such.

When I officially arrived in Minneapolis, one of the first things I focused on was sitting down with each of the staffs to tell them my personal story.  I didn’t speak about my work experience. Instead I spoke about my personal upbringing and the core values I stand for. I shared my personal hedgehog concept with them, allowing them to understand my motives, desires, and drivers.

My hope was to break down barriers. For them to see me as more than just a new guy in a suit. To see me as a human being with similar interests and aspirations.

Once I shared, I asked each member of the departments to (1) submit their personal definitions of the core values I provided, and (2) their personal answers to the hedgehog concept questions I asked.  With a unique perspective from each one, I had personal talking points about each individual in a short amount of time.  Overall, I believe this process helped me earn their trust and credibility, along with helping us gain valuable information about how to motivate and drive each individual to be successful. [/dropshadowbox]

What are your thoughts? How have you adjusted in your new leadership positions?

Let us know what you think. Click on the Tweet button below and let us know: @CMB711,@Matt_Bowman14, and @BaylorS3 (#newleader)


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