I work with some organizations that do a pretty good job at providing leadership training for their managers. Unfortunately, it is rare to see organizations do the same with their sales leadership team. While many leadership skills and ideas are transferable to sales, from my experience, there are special concerns and challenges that are different for the sales manager. To get some perspective, I’ve outlined what I call the 7 truths of sales leadership.
Truth #1: The Most Important Work You Do Is The Development Of Your Team. Period.
The vast majority of sales managers get it wrong! When I work with a group of sales leaders, I often do a little exercise. In it, I get them to share with me how much of their time is spent developing their team (coaching, mentoring and training). The individual responses vary, but it’s typically around 20%.
I, then, through a series of “aha” moments and Jedi mind tricks, designed to break through their barriers of resistance, get them to realize that they should be spending closer to 80% of their time on staff development.
The reality is that NOTHING has a greater impact on the performance of your organization than developing your team. NOTHING! It is without a doubt, the single-most important thing that you do or should do.
Truth #2: You are the purveyor (and chief cheerleader) of the vision and the sales culture.
Creating a compelling vision and an appropriate culture has always been important; but today it’s more critical than ever. And the sales leadership must be champions of the vision and the culture that is built to make that vision a reality. Within the larger organizational vision is the sales vision, the latter in alignment with the former.
Salespeople need to understand that they are contributing to a bigger picture, the larger vision. While that is true with all of your team members, we know that it is even more critical for your millennial team members. As a sales leader, your role is to make that vision come alive.
With your passion, you can lead the charge and get others on the same page; all moving forward in-step together to create the organization you want for the future. Don’t default into a culture of mediocrity, which is the norm for most businesses. Instead, embrace your sales leadership role and begin the process of building a stronger culture that will engage your employees, serve your customers and lift your organization.
Truth #3: All you need is love…sorta.
Being a great sales leader is no small task. But there is a fundamental principle at the foundation of everything you do and it’s “love.” Your job is to spread love. You’ve no doubt heard of the expression, “People don’t care what you know until they know that you care.” Love is simply an extension of deeply caring about others. It’s not yours to be stingy with; but yours to offer freely and openly.
What would happen if you approached your team from a place of love? Would it shift how you behave and how you interact with others? You have a powerful responsibility and an amazing gift as a sales leader. You have the ability to change the environment where you work and make a difference. You have the power to provide a simple smile, a comment like, “great job on the Smith account,” or stopping by a colleague’s office to see how her son’s little league is going.” Don’t undervalue or underestimate the influence and power you can exert. Every moment you encounter someone at work is a moment of truth. You have the power to have your team ready to charge forward or ready to run away.
Truth #4: You should be a master of recruiting, hiring, managing, motivating and retaining exceptional talent. And if that’s not enough, there’s more!
As a sales leader, you are in the business of managing the life cycle of your employees. From recruitment and hiring to managing, motivating and retention. Add to that the fact that you have to understand the market, the competitive landscape, customer needs, sales strategy and countless other issues and it’s clear that you have a critical role in the organization. In fact, you are the spark plug for the engine that runs the whole operation. Some would say that it requires you to be a bit of a superhero. And that’s not an overstatement.
The truth is that as the sales leader, you have the ability to influence and shape every aspect of your sales team. By creating the right systems and processes, you can ensure that you engage your team and create an environment for optimal performance from recruitment to retirement. The reality remains that most employees don’t leave organizations, they leave bosses. Be the kind of boss that no one wants to leave and you will find yourself leading successfully.
Truth #5: The “right metrics” are important and should be used to drive activity and behavior. But keep it simple!
It’s impossible to manage successfully in today’s competitive sales environment without reliable data to assess current performance, analyze activities, uncover trends and provide actionable direction to your sales team.
Today, the amount of information that we typically have at our fingertips through our CRM is almost limitless. We can track activities and outcomes with unprecedented ease. This often leads to a seemingly endless process of gathering, collecting, reviewing, analyzing, discussing and reacting to the numbers.
So much time and energy can be wasted in this process however. The bottom-line is this is a reactive approach. And it’s leads to a dangerous temptation to slice and dice the numbers to the point of getting strangled by “paralysis by analysis.” More is not necessarily better when it comes to metrics. A quick tip is that if you are not changing activity and doing something differently because of the metrics or reports you are collecting or generating, you should eliminate it.
With that said, the trend with most management teams, despite the plethora of information and sales metrics at their fingertips is the same management directive when performance falls short – “Do more.” Call on more customers, make more farm visits, put more prospects in the pipeline, close more loans. The “do-more” mantra may make you feel like you are exerting control, but it’s not the answer.
Metrics, and specifically the “right” metrics are important. A careful review should be done on what metrics you are using to drive performance, as well as what measures are desired for an understanding of past performance. Your front-line sales managers need to be driving activity and coaching on income producing activities (IPAs) that will yield the results you seek.
Truth #6: There must be structure and alignment.
Sales leadership and coaching cannot be an ad hoc or casual endeavor. Formalizing and adding structure will prevent the common practice among many organizations and sales leaders to do a little of this and a little of that and hope that it is enough to create optimal results.
We know from the research that consistency and frequency are critical to success. That’s true for all of your sales team – both your sales team and your sales leaders – and also for your organization.
It’s important to note that alignment is making sure that there is consistency in sales leadership practices and application across the organization. This is easier said than done. Yet, it’s essential if you want to create the culture and improve the performance of everyone on your team
Your sales leadership team comes to the table with very different levels of experience and expertise. No doubt, some are more skilled than others. The same is true of your sales team. To create optimal performance across the organization, you need to determine best practices and create resources to get everyone on the same page. By creating alignment across the organization, you can drive the right activities for optimal performance and create a strong and vibrant sales culture.
Truth #7: You must be the perpetual student to be the best teacher.
There is little doubt that one of the most critical functions in any organization are those filled by those managing the sales function. In a survey of 266 organizations in 2015, 74% of respondents identified the lack of training for managers as a key concern. This statistic is particularly alarming. By not providing ongoing and effective training to your sales leadership team, you create a sure-fire way to shortchange the positive impact that coaching, mentoring and development has on the rest of your sales team. To make this point even more dramatically, consider the following:
- Your sales team are the lifeblood of your organization. Their success or failure directly impacts all aspects of your organization’s operation and your customers’ experience.
- Failure to develop your sales leadership team to be able to properly and optimally recruit, motivate, manage and retain your sales team will yield sub-par production results.
- Similarly, if your sales leaders are not consistently coaching, supporting and mentoring your sales team, it means that you are short-changing your success and creating a mediocre sales culture at best. And mediocre sales cultures yield mediocre results.
- Most organizations and most of their sales leaders give themselves higher marks than actually warranted. The true impact and measure of a sales leader is the performance of their team. If all of the members of the team are not meeting or exceeding expectations, the sales leader has work to do to raise his or her performance level.
Let’s face it, you have one of the most critical and demanding jobs. Unlike a function that is clear and straight-forward, like many administrative or analytical job functions where the tasks and activities are consistent day-to-day and year-to-year; yours is constantly shifting. You are managing a diverse team in an ever-shifting marketplace. Competitive advances, customer needs, market conditions, rate changes, etc. all require you to be nimble and responsive. You have to be the change agent, the strategy creator, the culture guru and the market predictor; all while motivating and managing your team to peak performance. It’s a herculean task that’s not for the faint of heart.
You have to embrace and exude the confidence to lead, while being humble enough to realize that you don’t always have all the answers. You have to be the teacher and the perpetual student.