BY LENORE D'ANZIERI
Sales leadership is by far the most challenging of all leadership roles. I say this because unlike most other leadership disciplines‚ until recently‚ there has been no clear-cut educational path for sales leaders. A CFO‚ for example‚ has spreadsheets and numbers to help guide him throughout his responsibilities‚ and there are other well-defined programs such as Six Sigma that offers a clear‚ detail-oriented process. In the sales cycle‚ a leader depends on skill sets that are more intuitive‚ experiential‚ and environment-driven. Not to say that there are not sales disciplines available to complement leadership skill sets‚ but there are no set ground rules. One of the questions I’ve been asked during interviews in the past was‚ “What is the silver bullet to leading a successful sales team?” That is the million-dollar question‚ and sadly‚ there is no silver bullet. Each successful organization develops its own personality that will support a strategic sales methodology and with that‚ a sales leader who will have to guide his team through the complex maze of successful selling.
Sales leadership is not for the faint of heart. As a key revenue generator within any organization‚ the stress of managing a sales team goes beyond members hitting their goals. There is the fact that the organization’s survival depends on the successes of the sales team‚ employees’ livelihoods are at stake‚ and shareholders/owners hold the team accountable—that is a heavy responsibility for any leader. We can’t ignore that the personalities of most sales professionals are very passionate and strong. Salespeople are money and goal driven and for that reason‚ become extremely territorial and emotional about their jobs. In addition to sales leaders’ accountability to their employers‚ they are held responsible for the successes‚ actions‚ and failures of each member of their teams.
As I mentioned earlier‚ there are no clear-cut processes that will deliver a successful sales leader‚ but there are practices and traits that are consistent with being a superstar sales leader. One of the most important of those traits is being a visionary. Much like a CEO or an entrepreneur‚ a sales leader must have a clear vision of what his team needs‚ but more importantly‚ it needs to be communicated by setting goals and providing a road map to help his team achieve those goals. As rejection is a way of life for sales professionals‚ it stands to reason that they are extremely cynical and critical by nature. It is for this reason that a sales leader must be able to deliver pithy and concise themes for the sales team’s vision‚ which of course will align with the entire organization’s vision. The team will always be watching their leader and therefore‚ the leader must be the exemplar of that vision.
MeasuringA successful sales leader will create metrics to measure revenue and profit generated through sales efforts‚ as well as track the progression of sales goals and the performance of the team by understanding the successes and opportunities of the sales cycle. A few examples of metrics a sales leader will look at are:
- Prospecting: Are the investments made into providing prospecting tools generating a significant ROI for the organization? Is the sales professional equipped and trained to convert a cold lead into a hot prospect and ultimately a client?
- Sales Strategies: Is the organization designed to produce sales that are profitable based on talent being positioned properly (geographically‚ specific verticals‚ skill sets‚ etc.)?
- Sales Process: Does it follow the buyer personas of potential clients?
- Sales Cycle Life: How long is a cycle? Are there redundancies in areas where the cycle tends to be stalled?
- Close Ratio: What is the close ratio of a sales professional?
... The organization’s survival depends on the successes of the sales team, employees’ livelihoods are at stake, and shareholders/owners hold the team accountable.
Knowing the PlayersA successful sales leader should be aware of the roles that individual contributors make to the team. Sales professionals‚ by and large‚ are capable of effectively navigating through a sales cycle with little to no assistance from their leader. Knowing his team and members’ individual strengths will help a sales leader understand where he needs to get involved in a sales cycle. For example‚ the salesperson may be excellent during the selling stages of the cycle‚ but not as strong of a closer. The leader knows that for this salesperson‚ it would be in the best interest of the effort to be present during closing—to bring the business home‚ so to speak. There are several ways that a sales leader could contribute
- Teammate: engage in joint selling with clearly defined responsibilities or topics
- Model: the sales leader will run the call
- Observer: for coaching purposes
- Support: to provide decision making on site
- Knowing Clients: using personal information from previous dealings
VisionForecasting is key in helping to understand how your buyers are being hooked. The only consistencies of the buying process in any industry are the inconsistencies‚ and sales leaders must be on top of these variations. Customer or prospect behavior is crucial when forecasting. If you’re winning business and you have no idea why‚ you should be concerned because many sales professionals could consider it just “luck.” As we know‚ luck never lasts. A sales leader should keep his finger on the pulse of the buying process. For example‚ in years gone by‚ many companies that were looking to procure travel or transportation services would buy based on cost savings‚ reporting‚ support‚ customer service‚ and pricing. Today‚ that landscape has changed and continues to change as a result of technology. Ease of use‚ instant gratification‚ and cost containment are clear indicators of the changes in the buying process of potential clients today. Ultimately‚ by understanding present and past behaviors and by staying aware of industry trends‚ a sales leader can predict and adjust the outcome of the efforts in the future.
What’s My Motivation?This is the critical role of a sales leader and there is no one skill set that can fulfill that calling. Each sales professional is motivated differently and therefore‚ a strong sales leader will make the time to understand each individual on his team. The obvious motivator for any sales professional is money‚ so developing a compensation plan that will keep the team wanting for more is key. As “gamification” and recognition become driving factors with the new generation‚ a traditionally stagnant commission schedule might not be what gets your team’s heart racing. Strong sales leaders will think of new and creative ways to incentivize and motivate their teams. Rewards and recognition should be timely and relevant. In the past‚ annual rewards programs (e.g.‚ “Presidents Club”) were something that sales teams got excited about‚ and the recognition tended to be annual. Those days are over. Today’s salespeople want more immediate rewards‚ even consistent praise for a job well done. To reinforce behaviors and align with the instant gratification personas of today‚ sales leaders should invent regular incentives throughout the year based on performance‚ autonomy‚ and degrees of freedom. Coaching
Last‚ but certainly not least‚ is developing and coaching talent—which‚ in my experience‚ is the most important aspect. I’ve sat with countless sales leaders who have complained that their sales teams/professionals were not performing. During the course of those conversations‚ more often than not‚ many of those “unsuccessful sales teams” did not get the proper coaching and training that they needed. More importantly‚ they had no destination—there were no strategic goals set and if there were‚ there was no direction or plan on how to achieve them. Putting a sales professional on the ground without goals and objectives is like getting in a car and driving‚ but not knowing where you are going. The sales leader should work closely with their teams to:
- Develop reasonable and aggressive goals
- Develop a business plan with the team (road map) on what steps will be taken to achieve those goals
- Set scheduled one-on-one meetings to measure progress or just to say “how’s it going?”
- Conduct weekly sales meetings with a tight agenda
- Conduct biannual‚ quarterly‚ and annual reviews to explore where individuals are in regard to their goals
- Mandate the use of a CRM to help identify training opportunities
- Create developmental projects
Finding the right sales leader is a skill set in and of itself. Create a job description for a sales leader or be sure that the person leading those efforts has the proper training and coaching to help them develop exceptional teams. Sales leadership skill sets are very different from that of an operational leader or a distribution leader. I always ask my clients if they would go to a dermatologist for a problem with their eyes. Look for a passionate‚ attentive‚ confident sales leader who has great listening skills and the ability to be flexible‚ motivating‚ and strong enough to handle the opportunities of this amazing profession. [CD0614]