Sales leadership is as important as the steering wheel on your car. You can have a Ferrari with a full tank of gas, but without a way to point it in the right direction, you won’t get far. Likewise, it’s critical to set your team up for success with the training and sales leadership they need to thrive in today’s competitive environment.
Strong leadership creates productive teams. Through our extensive experience delivering sales leadership training, The Brooks Group has identified the habits of highly effective leaders.
Follow these eight best practices to build a productive team and achieve leadership excellence.
1. Understand the balance between selling and leading.
Sales leaders have to spend time in the field to gain the trust of their sales professionals. Without credibility, leaders will find themselves in a position of weakness.
It’s hard to avoid getting bogged-down in administrative or managerial paperwork. But it’s essential to keep one foot “in the trenches.” You’ll gain credibility with your team and you’ll have a better idea of the frontline challenges they face.
And while it may be tempting to step in when you see a deal going awry, keep in mind that your role is leader, not sales professional. After all, it’s what you were hired to do. For many sales leaders who started out as salespeople, this is the biggest challenge.
The requirements for successful sales leadership are completely different from those for success in sales. Keep your position in mind and work to support your sales professionals, not do their jobs for them.
2. Institute a consistent sales process and coach within that system.
There are many benefits to establishing a consistent sales process. Given the pace of business and level of competition, it’s essential that everyone is on the same page and “speaking the same language.”
A sales process is important because it gives the team a unified framework for activities, makes it easier to track progress against goals, and helps sales managers control their teams’ efforts. It also makes skill gaps and other challenges more observable and helps identify areas where sales coaching is needed.
Finally, when a company’s entire sales team follows the same process, it builds a strong sales culture and helps sales align with other departments more easily.
3. Provide sales skills training for every sales professional—regardless of experience.
It’s clear that the skill level of your sales professionals will either differentiate your organization from the competition or erode trust in the eyes of your buyers.
But many sales leaders believe that people who have a few years of selling experience don’t need any training. The truth is that everyone—regardless of experience or age—can benefit from up-to-date tactics or a refresher course to improve continually.
Ironically, it’s often the experienced pros who may have fallen behind. In many cases, they have built their contact database based on relationships and being “professional visitors”. But with the rise of virtual selling and a consultative sales approach, there are many new skills to learn.
Too often, a seasoned salesperson will simply rely on outdated selling techniques that don’t cut it with today’s buyers. Both veteran and new hires can benefit from upskilling.
And don’t forget your own training. Modern sales management training is vital to give sales leaders the current tools and techniques to lead their teams to success.
4. Make the quota discussion a collaborative effort.
The quickest way to upset your sales team is to make unanticipated changes to pay plans. An abrupt change in incentives or quotas can distract from results-oriented behaviors. If you decide one day to adjust, reduce, make changes, or otherwise alter a pay plan without being very intentional about it, expect problems to arise.
Instead of making unannounced changes, great sales leaders get support and suggestions from their team. Begin to make your changes by asking for input. Don’t ignore your team when it comes to their pay. They may have some great ideas.
5. Focus on “in-process” measurement when evaluating sales professionals.
Measuring performance based on sales results alone won’t tell you how to positively influence the outcome. Without tracking other metrics, you won’t have the information you need to identify issues or coach to improve behavior.
Though it can be more challenging to measure performance throughout the sales process, doing so will give you a great deal more insight into your team’s ability. It will tell you exactly where improvement needs to be made.
Every member of your team is better at some steps of a sale than others. Conduct a skills assessment to thoroughly understand where those skill sets lie (and where they don’t).
Then, you can more effectively coach your team in-process to help them improve. You’ll see the benefits demonstrated in your end-process metrics and in sales revenue.
6. Empower your sales professionals to finalize their own transactions.
The best sales leaders recognize the importance of “teaching someone to sell so they can eat for a lifetime.” Unfortunately, many sales leaders don’t permit their sales professionals to complete transactions.
Sales professionals must have the ability to drive a sale from beginning to end. If this is the case at your company, ask yourself why you haven’t given your team the autonomy they need. Do they lack the necessary skills? Is there a breakdown in sales operations or other systems? Or is there a simple lack of trust?
Sales leadership training can show you how to manage (and coach) in the field and determine the point at which your team members can carry the ball themselves.
7. Coach every member of your sales team.
In practice, most sales managers tend to spend the majority of their energy coaching the “very best and very worst” salespeople on their team (the top 20 percent and bottom 20 percent).
The bottom line is that every member of the sales team should receive coaching, both to help them keep doing what they’re doing well, as well as improve where they have challenge areas.
The only salespeople who shouldn’t be coached are the ones who aren’t open to coaching. In this case, it may be time to release them to the marketplace. Learn more about how to spot coachability in salespeople in this post: Coachability: Why It’s Important in Football and Your Sales Force.
8. Understand and encourage the individual differences within your sales team.
Every sales professional on your team comes with their own set of unique motivators, behaviors, and communication styles. The most successful sales leaders understand they must approach each team member in a way that gets through to them.
When you acknowledge these differences, you can be a much more effective communicator. You will know how to encourage a new hire, support a veteran, and engage every team member to help get the best results for themselves and the company.
Get your copy of The 10 Most Common Sales Management Mistakes and learn from the thousands of sales managers we’ve worked with.