5 Sales Leadership Secrets That Will Put You at the Head of the Pack

sales leadership involves planning, resource management, and strategic thinking

I think we can all agree that being a topflight sales rep or account manager doesn’t automatically make you a candidate for sales management. I’ve seen plenty of cases where the people leading an organization took their top sales rep out of the field, where he or she was flourishing, and put them in a sales leadership role where they couldn’t use their favored skills. 

The role of sales leadership is vital to the performance of the sales team. But leadership is never about who has the best sales skills or who is the best producer. Sales leadership requires a new set of skills and abilities. It requires a different way of looking at the organization. It requires a different way of thinking.

If you are looking to break out of the pack into a leadership position, or you want to sharpen your current leadership skills and lead your team to the next level, here are 5 ideas to help you in your quest.

Sales Leadership Secret 1: Ship or Crew

Here’s a question I’ve posed in some of my leadership sessions: If leading a team is like being the captain of a ship, then which is more important – the ship or the crew? 

This question has been the source of arguments for some thought leaders. Some lean towards the ship while others argue in favor of the crew. 

So how does this relate to sales leadership and business? We ask a similar question in business – do we manage “the ship” or lead “the crew”?

In most of our jobs, from a sales leadership perspective, most people say, “Geez, I’m more of a leader than a manager.”  So, if you think about it, leadership is about getting results from people at some level. If you look at some of the things that are important to leadership, you find things like vision, communication, people skills, understanding motivation. And management consists of activities like planning, organizing, directing, and coordinating. 

There should be a healthy dose of both leading and managing a team. Remember, we manage resources and processes, but we lead people.

Sales Leadership Secret 2: Motivation or Manipulation

In a previous post, we established that motivation comes from within each of us. Many leaders mistakenly think their job is to motivate someone. But your job is to understand the concept of motivation and know what drives your people. 

This means you must manipulate someone to get them to do something. This turns manipulation into a dirty word. But if you go to Merriam Webster’s dictionary online and look up the word, you’d find that one of the definitions of manipulation is to act in a skillful manner. 

As a sales leader, you must break that stigma and get comfortable with manipulation.  A contest can be viewed as either motivating somebody or manipulating somebody.

What the Avengers Can Teach Sales Leaders About Motivation

Remember the first Avengers movie?  That’s the one where an alien army from outer space attacked New York City.

In one scene, Captain America and Tony Stark were sitting at a conference table on the helicarrier bridge just after losing Agent Coulson, licking their wounds. That’s when Nick Fury walked in and threw down a handful of bloodstained Captain America Trading Cards on the table and said, “These were in Phil Coulson’s jacket. I guess he never did get you to sign them.”

Nick Fury went on to say, “There was an idea, Stark knows this, called the Avengers Initiative. The idea was to bring together a group of remarkable people to see if they could become something more, to see if they could work together when we needed them to, to fight the battles that we never could. Phil Coulson died still believing in that idea. In heroes.” And as Tony Stark got up and left out of shame, Fury said, “Well, it’s a good old-fashioned notion.”

Later, as Fury was standing on the bridge of his helicarrier, his right-hand woman, Agent Hill, approached him. She said, “Sir, those cards were in Phil Coulson’s locker, not his pocket.”

Fury replied, “They needed a push in the right direction.” And as he notices the Avengers take off in their jet, he says, “They got it!”

Most of us would look at Fury’s actions here and say he motivated his team. However, if we look closely at what he did, we see that he understood the strengths of  his team, and skillfully created, or manipulated, the right environment where his team members motivated themselves to take action. And that is exactly what we want to do as leaders.

Sales Leadership Secret 3: Coaching or Corrective Action 

Here’s another question for you: Are you coaching or are you performing corrective action?  In addition to being an instructor or trainer, Merriam Webster defines a coach as a horse drawn-carriage, a railroad car, or a well-equipped bus. In other words, a coach is a vehicle that helps you get from point A to point B. Or in our case, a coach helps you get from one performance level to a higher performance level.

Here’s the challenge. Many sales leaders will see somebody do something that violates a set standard. For example, they will see someone come in late or engage in behavior that is not becoming of the company. They will pull the person aside and perform what they call coaching. What they’ve done is pulled the team member out of the ditch and put them back on the road. That’s not coaching, that’s corrective action.

You coach to impact a person’s behavior or attitude to reach a new, agreed-upon performance standard. You use corrective action when a person is continuously underperforming, outside the lines, or always in the ditch. And you have to get them back on the path. 

Here are 5 essential elements to boost your coaching process.

If a sales rep needs to get back on track, help them by providing corrective action. Then, coach them to reach higher performance levels.

Sales Leadership Secret 4:  Distinguish Between Training and Knowledge

There’s a lot of information available to people today. And most people equate education with training. But there is a difference between them. Here’s the question you must ask yourself: Do you want your people to know something new, or do you want them to do something new?

With education, your sales team will know something different, but they won’t necessarily do something different. However, with applicable training, your sales team will be able to do something different.

Here’s a four-step model we share with our clients as it relates to training:

  1. Raise the salesperson’s awareness of a needed skill or ability.
  2. Provide knowledge and educate the salesperson on basic elements of the skill or ability
  3. Train and coach the salesperson on how to apply the knowledge in real world situations by allowing them to practice using role-play, drills, and other training techniques.
  4. Allow the salesperson to practice the new skill or ability in active situations with review and follow-up

Using this model, we see sales reps develop solid sales skills which they can use to build their careers on.

Sales Leadership Secret 5: Strategically Leverage the Power of Your Meetings

The last sales leadership secret is leveraging the power of your meetings.

When we are trying to hold people accountable for a sales call, pipeline numbers, or certain activities, we often let people off the hook by reverting to a one-on-one session. But there’s a power in the herd. Celebrating people or holding people accountable in a group of salespeople can be more powerful and more effective. 

In a typical sales meeting, sales leaders are making announcements, talking about product knowledge, trying to motivate the troops … Most sales meetings try to do too many things. So we revert to the one-on-one to motivate, coach, or take corrective action. 

Discover additional methods to tame your meetings here.

Be strategic when determining the purpose, outcomes, and execution of your meetings. If you’re trying to drive a pipeline to goals and activities, and you want to use the power of the herd, have a meeting that focuses on the pipeline and acknowledge the accomplishments of those high achievers. Let people know the results of the team. But, if you want to do a training session to apply product knowledge, put it into a different meeting. Don’t pack too much into one meeting by making it a training session and a pipeline development meeting.

Keep your meeting focused tightly on one or two outcomes. And leverage the power of the herd in a group sales meeting.