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Is It Time To Put “Term Limits” on Regional Managers?

Dear Stephen,

I’m a senior sales executive with one of the majors. We had a great NeoCon. I’m told by the Mart that attendance numbers were close to their 2019, pre-Covid, attendance records. It certainly felt that way. Our showroom was packed with A&D firms, loyal dealers, and just lots of customers in general. It was great, yet, countering this excitement was the general feeling that 2024 sales are flat. This may be the reason, or maybe it’s just a Neocon ritual, that just a couple of days before NeoCon a handful of our salespeople resigned to jump to competitors, and I suspect I may lose a couple more now that NeoCon is over. What is it about NeoCon and Design Days that compels people to change jobs or compels my competitors to poach my people?

I realized something new this year which is that in my major markets I’ve had the same management leaders for five to ten years. Every company calls this leadership position something different; at some companies they are called “Regional Vice Presidents,” in other companies they are “Divisional Vice Presidents,” and at still other companies with the same job and responsibilities their title might just be “Regional Sales Manager.” Different title same job. In our company, the position is called Regional Vice President. These are individuals whose responsibilities include managing and attaining a sales goal for the region, managing the budget and resources, as well as a headcount of anywhere from 4 to 18 people, including outside sales reps, showroom managers, and possibly some assistants, and the annual reviews for the people that report to them. They’re also the face of that region, and in major markets like New York City, it’s usually that individual that has the best relationship with the major design firms like Gensler.

My biggest fear with replacing that person who has one of those major metropolitan markets is that if I lose that manager, I might lose that relationship with the major design firm. Because of this, like me, many companies tend to let these people stay in their jobs forever.

During NeoCon, as I watched my managers interact with the salespeople and the customers, I suddenly realized that my Regional Vice President was on autopilot. I wonder if they’ve lost their relevancy in their local market. A lightbulb went off in my head that our product is so innovative, our brand so strong, that I don’t need to rely on the same person whose been running that Metro market to continue to get sales from these major firms. Don’t misunderstand me – our product doesn’t sell itself, but our managers no longer own the relationships, I realize now that our brand does.

I’ve decided now that I’m going to start to review salespeople within the division to see which ones I can possibly train and better mentor to be promoted to management, and if none exist, I’ll just look to a competitor. I realize it’s time for a change. I’ve been too comfortable for too long keeping these existing leaders in place. Shame on me. I did notice during this NeoCon that many of my competitors had changed regional leaders, and I thought to myself: why have I been afraid to change my leadership? It’s time for some post-NeoCon firing to help stimulate sales. What do you think of this idea? Oh, and what did you think of NeoCon this year?


Starting to Fire


Dear Starting to Fire,

NeoCon was great for me personally and everyone on The Viscusi Group team. I certainly believe that the Mart got 2019 attendance, it felt like it, even with the companies that moved to Fulton Market. Design Days was equally exciting, all those showrooms were great, no complaints from me! 

In general, people said they were hiring but that business was flat, and everyone is looking for more business in the contract world. But here’s my real takeaway from this year’s NeoCon; Manufacturers and dealers alike want all their salespeople back to work in the office five days a week. I heard this from major manufacturers, small manufacturers, independent rep groups, and I heard it from dealer owners. Most of the design firms that were at NeoCon along with end user customers were back to work a minimum of four days a week themselves. Ironically, it was clear to me in talking to designers, most of them did not like working from home so there was no resistance to getting back to the office.

I recognize that everything you read in the media today tends to point to employees wanting to work from home. And that may very well be the trend, but office furniture salespeople have now realized that if everyone works from home, they will soon be home, unemployed. Therefore, starting at the Regional Manager level, office manufacturers want people back in their offices when they’re not calling on customers. If you move to your vacation home to manage your region, you might as well move to the unemployment line. You want to work hybrid? Go find a different industry where it is more acceptable.

Now, back to your question about changing regional managers and regional vice presidents. My short answer is change is always good. Let me add to that – my personal belief is that these coveted positions of regional leadership should have term limits to them, like most of our politicians do. People that are in a job too long, especially a sales leadership job, take the job for granted, they turn it into a formula and coast. In many metropolitan markets, far away from Grand Rapids, I see regional managers that have had their jobs so long that I believe their jobs are on autopilot. It’s no wonder why sales are flat. Meanwhile, everyone in Grand Rapids, or wherever the headquarters is, thinks only that manager knows how to run a major city, and so they keep the status quo. I think you have a great idea in terms of considering changes in your Regionals, and you came away from NeoCon motivated to make a good change for your company that will have an impact on sales.

Here is where we disagree—I think change in sales leadership, in fact, is critical to grow sales. But I do not agree that a leader always needs to be fired. Sometimes they simply need to be relieved of that responsibility and moved into a different role within the organization. Most smart managers, given the option, will stay in an organization. Chances are they’re just as bored with their job as you are with having them in it, and they can make an important contribution in another area of the company. So, consider that option unless someone is flagrantly doing a bad job – in that case, don’t hesitate to fire them.