There are hundreds (if not thousands) of blog posts about the most important characteristics sales leaders demonstrate. Many of them say metrics and time in the field with customers learning about their challenges are critical. Others discuss how to coach and the need for data-driven decisions. Still more provide readers with tips and tricks for getting sales teams to take action toward desired outcomes.
All of those things are important. And they all miss the point.
You see, the most important quality any sales leader can exhibit is Awareness: Awareness of self, of the people they work with, and of the organization they serve.
Instead of trying to control the uncontrollable world around them, the best sales leaders look inward. They understand who they are at the deepest level. In other words, they know what drives their emotions.
Emotions precede every action a sales leader (or any person) takes. And until a sales leader understands their emotions, he or she will be controlled by them.
Sales leaders I meet with often tell me that they feel a tremendous amount of pressure to live up to some kind of idealized image of what it means to have the role. One Senior Vice President of Sales recently said to me, “I am supposed to be serious and in constant control of the entire sales organization. But, really, I have no idea what I’m doing.” That sense of inauthenticity is something we all feel when we’re acting in contradiction to who we really are.
At the most basic level, many professionals experience this disconnect because they erroneously endeavor to maintain at least two entirely distinct identities – “me at home” and “me at work.” But walking through the physical threshold of the office each morning doesn’t change the person you are. Here’s an example:
It’s 1:00 a.m. on a Tuesday and one of your kids just came in past his curfew. It’s the fourth time he’s done it and you’re mad. Your anger won’t disappear when you walk into tomorrow’s sales meeting. Instead, unless you’re supremely aware of it, it’s likely to come out in unexpected ways. And, since you’re in a leadership position, it could even impact the actions of others inside your company.
Great sales leaders are aware of the controlling nature of their emotions and endeavor to understand it. They know that awareness allows them to manage their emotions, instead of allowing their emotions to manage them.
Understanding yourself begins with paying close attention to the physical effects that experiences have on your body.
• What does anger feel like?
• What does fear feel like?
• What causes your throat to clench?
• What puts your stomach in knots?
• Once you start noticing those physical manifestations, you will begin to notice how they impact your day-to-day interactions with others.
Understanding Your Internal Customers
The greatest sales leaders don’t stop at self-awareness. They also know they need to understand their internal customers (most importantly the people who report to them), as well.
An excellent sales leader will adapt, bend, and flex to the people they lead in the same way they expect salespeople to adapt, bend, and flex to prospects and customers.
The difference between mediocre sales leaders and the best, is a deep understanding of the people with whom they work – their direct reports, peers, and leaders. This is challenging, to be sure, but certainly offers tremendous payoff on both the personal and organizational level.
An assessment can significantly shorten your learning curve here.
Understanding Your External Customers
Understanding the mindset of customers may seem simple on the surface. However, great sales leaders never make assumptions. They know that what worked well when they were on the front lines may be drastically different than the situation faced by today’s sellers.
Great sales leaders get into the field to listen to their prospects and customers. They don’t hide behind a desk or in an office. And, most importantly, when they’re in the field, they’re listening, not talking. They’re asking effective questions to understand their customers.
• Why did you buy from us?
• What was the trigger event for hiring us?
• What could we do better?
Understanding Your Organization
Finally, the best sales leaders also seek to understand why their organization even exists in the first place. And this is about more than just “generating a profit.”
The ultimate goal for a sales team is to successfully articulate this purpose to the people who share that vision. As Simon Sinek explains in his Ted Talk on Inspirational Leadership, “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” By enveloping your offerings with the message of why your organization exists, you are able to speak to the buyer on a deeper and more meaningful level.
Lisa Earle McCloud calls this your “Noble Purpose.” Check out her book Noble Purpose Selling. She’s also the keynote speaker at our annual Sales Leadership Summit in August and will be sharing more about this vital concept. I hope you can join us to learn more. In the meantime, ask your team about their noble purpose.
• Other than a paycheck, why do you do this?
• What sales interaction are you most proud of? Why?
• What’s your most significant accomplishment here? Why?
In short, the best sales leaders we know exhibit deep awareness. They know themselves, their internal customers, their external customers, and the true reason for the organization’s existence. Only then can they focus on other essential components of leadership like developing the right metrics, coaching properly, and sales process improvement.
Experiences create Memories, which form Beliefs, which lead to Emotions, which shape Values, which drive Behaviors, which make Cultures.