• Mike Burke

Have you ever had to give news you knew wasn’t going to be taken well? What was your stress level before walking into the meeting? It happened to me too.

One time stands out.

I was a sales manager with 12 commissioned salespeople.

It was my first sales manager position, before that I came from operations.

On Friday my boss called, he said, “Mike, we’re dropping the Frazier Line.

It’s just not selling to our projections, and it’s losing money."

I just sat on the other end of the phone with my mouth open.

I knew the fury that was going to come from my salespeople.

Then he said, “Every sales manager in the company will call an emergency meeting for Monday to tell their salespeople.

I’ll email you your talking points and sales reports right now, sound good?”

I said, “OK, well, yea, well, OK?”

The talking points were very logical, and I thought, “I can do this.”

Then I looked at the sales report and realized I was wrong.

One salesperson alone was going to lose $15,000 in commissions.

Another $12,000, yet another $11,000, well, you get the idea.

After a crappy weekend, Monday came, and as I walked into the room, I could tell my team already heard through our companies grapevine.

They were ready for me.

That threw me off a little bit.

I expected to control the conversation and to have them look at the situation logically, from the company’s perspective.

So, here’s how the meeting went.

“I want to thank you all for coming in on short notice, and I know your all busy.”

I looked out into the crowd, and I could see the anger in their faces.

I felt my stomach turn, and my voice started getting shaky. Then, I fumbled to give out these two stacks of papers.

The first was the customer talking points, which is what the salespeople were expected to tell the customer.

The second was a report showing how much every individual was going to lose.

The meeting turned ugly fast, and they were blaming me for not standing up to senior management.

One person asked, “Are you taking a pay cut too?”

Then they started talking about the company and me to one another like I wasn’t even there.

While all this ugliness was going on, I looked over, and I saw my talking points.

These were six bullets I was supposed to go through.

At that very moment, I decided that I need to take back control of the meeting.

I said, “I understand this is an emotional decision, but please hear me out.”

Then I read out each bullet, and when I got to number three, “Ask for reactions,” the room got quiet.

Then Charlie said, “I’m tired of this.

I have two kids in college, do your bosses even care?”

The last two bullets helped me handle Charlie’s emotions.

The experience I went through taught me that you can’t just wing it when the stakes and emotions are high.

You need a communication plan, and you need to stick to it and not let emotions of others or even yourself get you to go “off-script.”

Throughout my career, I’ve had to give bad news a lot.

I mean a whole lot.

But whenever I stuck to the framework that I’m about to show you (the 6 Bullets), it made my emotional life less stressful. Want to know the six steps?

Well, here they are!

#1. State the objective of the meeting and main issue of your message. I’ve got something to announce, and it will affect everyone on our sales team. Effective today, we will be discontinuing the Frazer product line. #2. Explain specifics to help them understand. “The Frazer inventory is not selling at the levels needed to maintain an effective inventory for our customer’s needs. We’ve decided to use the inventory dollars on items that are selling.” #3. Determine their understanding and ask for reactions. Understanding: “So, that’s the big news. What questions do you have?” Reactions: “What do you think? #4. Deal with reactions to the changes. This is a great place to use the “Feel, Felt, Found” technique. For example: If Charlie say’s, “Customers are going to go to our competition when we drop this line,” You could say, “Charlie, I understand how you feel. I felt that way too when I first heard the news, but what I’ve found is….” #5. Recap the main points. “So, just so there’s isn’t any misunderstandings, let’s recap. Starting today…” #6. Offer Support and Encouragement “I know this isn’t going to be easy, but you are strong salespeople, and I know you will make this transition successful. If there’s anything you need help with, please ask! Thank You.”

©2020 by Mike Burke Management.