Observations on Sales Leadership Essentials for the Year
Being a top-producing sales rep doesn’t automatically make you a candidate for sales leadership. I’ve seen many cases where a sales rep was hitting their numbers and killing it in the field. But when they were promoted to sales management, they failed because they couldn’t use the skills they came to rely on in the field.
The roles of sales management and sales leadership are vital to the performance of the overall sales team. But leadership is never about who has the best sales skills or who is the best producer. Sales leadership requires a new and different 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 grow your sales organization and put a few people in leadership positions, or you are looking to sharpen your own abilities and lead your sales team to the next level, here are 5 sales leadership essentials you’ll need to review for the year:
- Distinguish between the ship and the crew
- Get comfortable with motivation and manipulation
- Know when to coach and when to take corrective action
- Know the difference between gaining knowledge and getting training
- Strategically use your sales meetings to sharpen your team
Let’s do a quick run down on each one of these essentials.
1. Should Sales Leadership Focus on the Ship or the 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?
In some form, 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 why do I bring this up in my sessions? Because this is not a theoretical exercise. We do ask a similar question in business, and a good sales coach will highlight this with their clients. That is, which is more important: managing the business or leading the team?
In the leadership sessions I facilitate with my clients, I hear a lot of people say, “Geez, I think I’m more of a leader than a manager.” That’s because leadership is perceived as fashionable and exciting.
But when we break it down in the session’s review, participants see that leadership comes down to getting results from the people in their team.
If you look at some of the important elements of leadership, you find things like vision, communication, people skills, and understanding what motivation is. Now, when we break down sales management, we start talking about activities like planning, organizing, directing, and coordinating.
In the coming year, there should be a healthy dose of both leading and managing your team in your daily and weekly activities. Remember, we manage resources and processes for maximum results, and we lead people for maximum impact.
2. Sales Leaders Will Need to Understand How to Use Motivation and Manipulation
In a previous post, we established that motivation comes from within each of us. We all have something unique that drives us forward to achieve great things.
Now, many new sales leaders think their job is to motivate their people. But your job, as a sales leader, is to understand the concept of motivation and know what drives your people.
This comes down to acknowledging that as a sales leader, sometimes you must manipulate circumstances or the environment to get people to do something. Naturally, this turns manipulation into a dirty word. But if you go to Merriam Webster’s dictionary online and look up the word manipulation, you’d find that one of the definitions is: to act in a skillful manner.
In order to thrive this year, sales leaders must break that stigma and get comfortable with the idea of manipulation. Something as simple as a contest can be viewed by some as a motivating action while others see it as a manipulation tactic.
What We Can Learn From Nick Fury About Motivating a High-Performance Team Like The Avengers
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 Phil Coulson. Then, Nick Fury enters the room and throws down a handful of bloodstained Captain America Trading Cards on the table and says, “These were in Phil Coulson’s jacket. I guess he never did get you to sign them.”
Nick Fury went on, “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 leaves the room 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 Maria 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 for the next battle, he says, “They got it!”
Most of us look at Fury’s actions and say he motivated his team. However, looking closely at what he did, we see that he understood the strengths of his team. He then skillfully manipulated the environment where the members of his team could motivate themselves to act. That is exactly what we want to do as sales leaders.
Become skillful at manipulating the conditions where your sales team can succeed and they’ll motivate themselves.
3. As a Sales Leader, Know When to Coach and When to Take 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 and they’ll perform what they think is coaching. For example, they will see someone come in late or engage in behavior that is not becoming of the company. They’ll pull the person aside and perform what they call coaching. However, what they’ve actually 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, is outside the lines, or is always in the ditch. At this point, you aren’t helping them hit a new performance standard. You are helping them back on the normal path.
If a sales rep needs to get back on track, help them by providing corrective action. Then, coach them to reach higher performance levels.
4. Sales Leaders Will Distinguish Between Gaining Knowledge and Getting Training
Today, people have access to plenty of information. It’s easily accessible in large volumes, and in some cases, it’s not always factual. Now, when you have a large body of factual knowledge disseminated in a formal learning environment, we call that education. In fact, some of what passes for training is actually education about a product or a process.
But there’s a difference between the two. And you can determine the difference by asking the same question we ask our clients. When your people go through a training program, do you want them to know something new, or do you want them to do something new?
With education, your sales team will have new knowledge about a product, a process, or they’ll know how to do something differently. But having that knowledge doesn’t guarantee that they’ll act differently. With applicable training, your sales team will not only know something new, but will be able to change their behavior based on that new information.
A Four-Step Process Sales Leadership Can Use to Change Behaviors and Create High Performing Sales Teams
Consider this four-step model we share in our leadership sessions as it relates to the training process:
- Raise the salesperson’s awareness of a needed skill by assessing their current abilities and identifying the desired outcome.
- Provide knowledge and educate the salesperson on elements of the skill.
- Train the salesperson on how to apply the knowledge in real world situations by allowing them to practice using a variety of training techniques.
- Allow the salesperson to practice the new skill in active situations with reviews and coaching.
Using this model, we have seen sales reps develop solid skills which they use to grow their book of business and their careers.
Bottom line here is that new knowledge doesn’t always translate into new action. Knowing the difference between education, training, and coaching will help you develop your high performance sales team.
5. High Performance Sales Leaders Will Strategically Use Their Meetings to Sharpen Their Sales Teams
The last sales leadership essential involves leveraging the power of your sales 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 power in the group. Celebrating people or holding people accountable in a group of salespeople can be a more powerful and effective motivating factor than you can in a one-on-one session.
In a typical sales meeting, sales leaders are making announcements, talking about product knowledge, and trying to motivate the team. Most sales leaders try to do too many things in the short timeframe of that meeting. So they revert to the one-on-one sessions to motivate, coach, or take corrective action on an individual level.
What I’m suggesting here is to 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 group, have a meeting that focuses on the pipeline and acknowledges 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 in a different meeting. Don’t pack too many activities 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 group in a group sales meeting.
To discover more ways to improve your powers of influence and persuasion, pre-order Lance Tyson’s upcoming book, The Human Sales Factor: The H2H Equation for Connecting, Persuading, and Closing the Deal on Amazon today.