Crash Course for Boosting Your Sales Leadership Productivity
The role of a sales leader is one of the toughest in the business. The end goal is to lead a team to produce profitable revenue, but with the barrage of emails, endless meetings, and daily fires to put out, it can feel like an uphill battle.
Join Steve Hackett, RVP of Sales and Will Brooks, COO, as they deliver a crash course on boosting your day-to-day productivity in a sales leadership role.
In 19 hyper-focused minutes, we’ll cover:
- The common mistakes that sales leaders make that suck up their time and energy
- How to effectively draw boundaries on your time while still being available for your team
- The coaching cadence that allows you to get better results in less time
- How to structure your meetings to drive engagement from your team-and take back your calendar
Read the Full Transcript of the Briefinar Below:
Will Brooks: Okay. If you’re here for the Briefinar, you’ve landed in the right place. We’re going to wait just another minute or so. We’ve got people still signing on, so just hang tight and we’ll jump into the content here in about a minute.
Will Brooks: Okay. Hello and welcome to Briefinars for sales leaders. We promise to be brief, bright, and bring it all to you in 19 minutes. Today we’re going to be delivering a crash course for boosting your sales leadership productivity. This is Will Brooks, I’m COO of the Brooks Group, and I’m joined today by Steve Hackett, one of our regional Vice Presidents of sales. Steve’s been a driving force in Brook Group’s growth for nearly two decades. Steve, thanks for joining us today.
Steve Hackett: Will, glad to be here. This topic today is one that hits home for anyone who’s ever been charged with leading the salesforce. With technology beating down your doors, just in time mentalities, and everyone looking for an immediate answer to their problems, how do you strike the balance between what needs to be done now, and what can be eliminated?
Steve Hackett: Leading a sales team. It ain’t easy.
Will Brooks: Amen.
Steve Hackett: And I think about a quote from an ancient philosopher named Lin Yutang, that all sales leaders should follow. And I’d like to share it with you. Besides the noble art of getting things done, there’s a noble art of leaving things undone. The wisdom of life consists in the elimination of the non-essentials. And Will, when you and I talked about the role of the sales leader, the essentials and the non-essentials, that’s a constant challenge for most sales leaders.
Will Brooks: That’s a very powerful quote, Steve. And I think you’re right. In a sales leader role … And full disclosure. Actually here, at the Brooks Group, I head up the sales department, so I can totally relate to what you just said. Because here’s the thing: In this type of role, it feels like there’s so much to be done. And everything feels important. But my take on what you just shared with us is really … You have to boil it down to what we talk about as high-gain activities and focus on those areas.
Steve Hackett: So let’s go in and just share with you in five productivity-killing pitfalls that sales leaders face in their day-to-day work.
Steve Hackett: Time is a limited asset, and the most important asset, really. So we need to be sure what we’re spending the majority of our time on, and what really matters: The high-gain activities. And less time on the things that cause the distractions, or the productivity-killing pitfalls.
Will Brooks: So productivity-killing pitfalls. Man, that’s a mouthful. Steve, what do you mean by that?
Steve Hackett: These are the traps that are easy for any sales leader to fall into, but if they’re aware of them, and get disciplined about them, they really are too difficult to avoid. Here are four key questions that I think most sales leaders need to ask themselves in order to determine whether or not they’re spending their time with those high-gain productivity activities.
Steve Hackett: So four questions are: What must happen? What is the priority? How much time is required? And, what is the payoff? If you use these as the activity test, the answer generally is revealed to you.
Will Brooks: Mm-hmm (affirmative), okay. So these are really the guideposts, you say, for helping me understand where I need to be spending my time.
Steve Hackett: Absolutely.
Will Brooks: Awesome. That’s good stuff. Let’s jump into the pitfalls, now.
Steve Hackett: Pitfall number one. Parachuting in on every qualified opportunity. Will, we find that most sales managers, they want to know about the numbers every week, every month, this quarter. So they’re constantly hitting the sales team and jumping in on every one of these qualified opportunities.
Will Brooks: Yes, especially if we’re behind the number. Right, Steve? Then the manager’s under pressure, so he or she is going to want to dive into every deal, especially if the deal looks like it’s getting sideways, and he or she might actually need to close it so that they can hit the number.
Steve Hackett: And for all you sales leaders out there, you’re always behind the number. Aren’t you?
Will Brooks: Every quarter.
Steve Hackett: So how can we fix it? You need to track the leading indicators and intervene only when necessary. Hire competent salespeople and train them well. Coach salespeople and let them fly on their own. And Will, I think there’s a misconception here that most sales leaders will also fall into, in thinking that their best people don’t want your time, they don’t need your activities, they don’t want your thoughts, just leave them alone. And nothing could be further from the truth.
Will Brooks: Absolutely. I’ve fell into that trap for a long time, but it turns out my experienced top reps, they’re looking to grow even more. And so there needs to be time spent coaching, there. I will say this, too. In a way, while parachuting in and closing deals for reps, there is a short-term gain there, in the form of additional revenue that might’ve gone away. But quite frankly, you’re inhibiting your growth, because the more you disempower these folks and do their jobs for them, the less capable they’re going to be to grow on their own, and become more self-sufficient. At least that’s been my experience.
Steve Hackett: Agreed. But knowing when to intervene, when they could use that assistance, that’s a critical skillset for most sales leaders.
Will Brooks: Exactly. And I like the hiring competent salespeople. We know that’s a moving target at all points in time. So all of this is kind of predicated on having the right talent in the seats. And we know that’s a tough nut to crack.
Steve Hackett: And again, tracking leading indicators. What are you leading indicators? What have you determined to be the leading indicators for your environment, your sales environment, and making sure that people all know those on the sales team.
Will Brooks: Go on. Let’s go to pitfall two.
Steve Hackett: Being a prisoner in your inbox. I think Will, you probably have a comment or two about that.
Will Brooks: Yes. This is a topic that’s kind of been beaten to death over the years. It’s really a time management topic. But for sales leaders, it becomes even more of a challenge, because you’ve got reps pushing deals over to you to evaluate, maybe if you’re having to police margins in your inbox. And so it just feels like you can’t really get away, so we got a couple tips here, but I think it boils down to staying organized. So maybe you want to talk to us a little bit about this.
Steve Hackett: Sure. One fix, it could be just organizing your email into a system that works for you. We hear many sales leaders say, “I’m going to look at my email from this time to this time, and then I’m going to blank it out for the next three hours. And then I’ll come back in at another time later on in the afternoon.” So it’s being disciplined with your schedule, and not fall into the activity trap of looking at every email like it’s something that has to be done that minute. So organizing your time around that.
Will Brooks: Key word is discipline. And I’m going to tell you, especially with the phone buzzing in your pocket all the time, and, “Oh man, could this be a contract that just came in? And we’re behind the number, and I just need to interrupt what I’m doing and check my email.” That’s certainly a reality, and it’s a challenging one at that, but I think that’s about discipline.
Steve Hackett: If you dedicate a specific time to check your email, you need to make sure that your sales team understands not to expect an immediate response to something, especially when it’s not time that you’re even going to be looking or entertaining those emails. Share and communicate that with your team.
Will Brooks: So that goes to point three, there. The alternate communication method for “emergencies.” Right? So a rep sends you an email, and he or she doesn’t hear back. And maybe this is something that truly does need your attention. I think for me, I use text. Right? So Steve, you and the rest of the folks here know that if there’s something that truly needs my attention, you all can text me or call me if you need me. But email is really, that’s for the day-in, day-out things that can wait.
Steve Hackett: And you’ve communicated that with us, so we understand that is the preferred way of communication for these emergencies. So we talked about setting up alternative communication for your team for emergencies. Maybe it is that text.
Will Brooks: Yeah.
Steve Hackett: Maybe it is a direct phone call. Maybe it is physically getting up and walking next door to see your manager, if it’s something that’s really pressing. But make sure it’s really pressing.
Will Brooks: Well, and I’ll tell you just a point that kind of came to my mind right now, too. I think there’s something to be said for working with reps to help them understand the kinds of things that can actually wait until a face-to-face, the one-to-one, as well. So a rep can kind of create a parking lot for himself or herself, where ideas or questions, they may be able to wait until the next meeting, and that will keep the inbox less cluttered, as well.
Steve Hackett: Maybe turn down the volume so when that email comes in and clicks on, you’re not being attracted to staring at your computer as it rings.
Will Brooks: Right. And as far as the mobile device is concerned, too, I have to take it away from my body, or else it’s going to distract me. Oh, this is a good one, too.
Steve Hackett: Pitfall number three is making yourself too available. Will, what do you think about that? How does that impact most sales leaders?
Will Brooks: So I think that for a sales leader who is aspiring to be a great leader, he or she may fall into that trap of wanting to be, “Hey, salespeople, I’m here for you whenever, wherever. I am here for you.” And in a sense, that does create a high level of trust, but it’s a double-edged sword, because it almost creates I don’t want to say co-dependence, but maybe that’s the right term, here. So all of a sudden, if you are too available and you’ve got people coming to you all the time, and essentially, it may be that you become someone who’s in effect, doing their job for them.
Steve Hackett: Co-dependence is a good term to use, Will. Because we actually will train people, by making themselves so available will actually have hindered their growth professionally.
Will Brooks: Exactly. Now there’s a fine line, I think, between not being available enough … Let’s see the best way to say this. You don’t want to abdicate. You don’t wat to abandon your people and make them feel like they’re on their own, but I do think that maybe making them just a little bit uncomfortable is a good thing. Right? They’re going to have to think on their feet. You can’t just be there to make the decisions for them.
Steve Hackett: Will, you and I have had these conversations and worked with many sales leaders. A good strategy here is yeah, make yourself available. But if it’s something that needs to be discussed, come with two or three suggestions.
Will Brooks: Oh yeah.
Steve Hackett: Do the analysis beforehand so that you can actually share what your thoughts are and not just always ask an opinion or pass it off to your sales leader.
Steve Hackett: So here’s a couple things to think about. Block off time on your calendars for getting things done. That’s a hard thing for most sales leaders, because most of the sales leaders that we deal with, they’re so subserving to everyone else during the day, and then when everybody else leaves for the day, that’s when they’re doing their work. When I hear people up at 11 o’clock or working all weekends, that to me is just a very dysfunctional environment for sales leaders to maintain for long times.
Will Brooks: And that’s exactly where I was going to go. How sustainable is that? People want to believe they’re superman or superwoman, but guess what? That’s not going to last over the long term.
Steve Hackett: In time management, there’s a structuring your blocks of time and then being disciplined about that. So if you’re going to take a block of time, a consistent block of time in the morning, block it off and let everyone know that you’re blocking it out so that you have the ability to do your job, not their job. And be disciplined about that on a daily basis, whatever that is. Whether it’s an hour, two hours, three hours. You have to determine, based upon what your business is like, and what your responsibilities are. And communicate with your team what qualifies as an urgent, and again I emphasize urgent interruption.
Will Brooks: And that goes to the point that we made on the previous pitfall slide about the communication methods and so forth. So I think the text idea comes into play, here. But again, the takeaway here is again, I think it’s about being disciplined with your time and communicating openly with your team about your preferences and what you need to be working on at any given point in time.
Steve Hackett: I know we’re talking about sales leaders, but it’s probably a pretty good tip for most salespeople, as well.
Will Brooks: Absolutely.
Steve Hackett: Number four. Scattering your one-to-one meetings. And the question becomes how often should you have the one-to-one meetings?
Will Brooks: Yes.
Steve Hackett: And, what is it that you want to accomplish on those one-to-ones. So Will, you’re a big fan of this. Tell me what, some of your thoughts.
Will Brooks: Yeah so we’ll meet once a week, here. I will personally meet with each RVP and of course, we’re talking about opportunities, we’re talking about deals, we’re talking about leads. And importantly too, we’re talking about strategy. So those sessions are dedicated to those conversations. I think this slide is really about spreading these one-to-ones across a week. And obviously this is all contingent upon how large your team is, but I think where we’re going with this slide is, it’s a good idea, at least I’ve found, to have all of your one-to-ones on one day if possible. And the reason is, it puts you in the right frame of mind to focus on just that type of work during that day. So if at all possible, I think that’s what we’re talking about, Steve. But talk to us about the fixes as you see them.
Steve Hackett: Yeah. Great point, Will. Schedule your meetings in chunks instead of scattering them. It’s interesting when you have a block of time and you’re doing your one-on-ones consistently. Because there’s different kind of things that you may see within your whole sales team, or maybe there’s operational issues or some other issues that you have.
Will Brooks: That’s a great point.
Steve Hackett: If I’m scattering them up over a week, I lose that thought and that potential threat, or that issue.
Will Brooks: Yeah, you miss the theme. Right?
Steve Hackett: The theme. Keep the meetings structured and don’t go over the set time. Ours are a half hour. Yours may be less, yours may be more. But a half hour’s a pretty good time. And the basic layout of our meetings are, we’ll start about 10 minutes discussing opportunities. We’ll talk about future opportunities for several minutes, and then we’ll talk about some operational issues, or delivery. Or maybe there may be a little bit of coaching involved with some of our meetings. But the structure remains the same. We don’t really need an agenda, but I would suggest early on, when you’re first starting these one-on-ones, create an agenda for everyone to be prepared to discuss, to stay on schedule and on time.
Will Brooks: And we’ll have the funnel right there in front of us. Right? So the various stages of impact, where are we with each opportunity, what are the next steps? And your point, there’s coaching there. Think about what questions could we ask of this person or that person to move the ball down the field?
Steve Hackett: I think this next one’s a big one, Will. Schedule meetings outside of your personal in focus time. If I’m worried about what I need to be doing, my in focus time, I can’t focus in on the purpose of having a one-to-one meeting. You want to elevate a sales team. Be distracted, answer emails, answering phone calls, shuffled papers on your desk when you have this one-on-one with your sales team. And they’re thinking on the other side of the desk, “What the heck am I even doing here?”
Will Brooks: Yeah.
Steve Hackett: “I’m an afterthought.”
Will Brooks: Absolutely. And that does go to, don’t be too available for your team. Right? So we talked about that, but the time to be absolutely, 100% present are in the one-to-ones. And Steve’s right. The rep needs to feel like you’re 100% focused. And so … Hey, I will say this. Sometimes I’m personally guilty. Right? The phone’s buzzing and it can definitely be a distraction. So put the phone across the office. Don’t shuffle the papers. Be fully present. That’s critical for this type of meeting.
Steve Hackett: Now remember, for some or your newer sales people, there may be a little bit more instruction going on, a little bit more coaching, so allow for that.
Will Brooks: Different conversations than with the seasoned folks, for sure.
Steve Hackett: Yeah. And with the seasoned people, it’s a different conversation. They want to talk about how you can support them, how can you eliminate obstacles that they may be facing. They’re going to want to talk strategy on bigger deals, bigger opportunities, and they’ve earned that, because they have that seasoned experience with you. So not all meetings are going to be the same, depending on the experience level, but they’re consistent.
Will Brooks: Yep.
Steve Hackett: Number five. Holding meetings that aren’t “meeting worthy.”
Will Brooks: This is a challenge, because we feel like we should meet, but should we really meet? Steve, so talk to us about that.
Steve Hackett: For all your sales leader who have ever sat in a meeting, and you looked at your watch about halfway through, and said, “What the heck am I doing here, and how am I ever going to save the next … This 30 minutes of my life that I’ve just dedicated to this meeting and away with nothing,” you can all relate to this.
Will Brooks: Yeah, so now put yourself in the shoes of your reps, who really don’t want to be in the meeting. They want to be selling. Now you’re dealing with that problem, amplified.
Steve Hackett: Yeah, yeah. So how do we fix it? We fix it by only scheduling meetings that are 100% necessary. Meeting for meeting sake is a waste of time and productivity. And those’ll be the killers. Keep meetings structured, brief and on track. If you’re going to have a structured meeting that is a meaningful meeting, make sure that you send out an agenda. Make sure people are prepared, they know what they need to bring with them to the meeting so that it can be a productive session. And here’s the other question. We talked about the noble law of getting things done and leaving things undone. If it can be covered in an email or a phone call, don’t hold a meeting. Conference calls, technology allows us to be able to utilize short periods of time to accomplish things, productive things, without going through the formal structure of everybody blocking off schedules, rearranging schedules in order to attend a meeting.
Will Brooks: I have a good friend and client of ours, Steve, and you’ll know who I’m talking about when I mention this gentleman, but kind of a tip he gave me years and years ago was, “Look, you’re going to have to meet with your team about various things, but never have a meaningful gathering of your sales people without discussing, in some way, shape, or form some sort of sales skills development.” Right? So it’s super easy to have a meeting around operational issues or scheduling or whatever, all these kind of nuts and bolts tactical, day-to-day issues will look like. But when you’re together, what a wonderful opportunity to focus on questioning skills or reading buyer types, and all of that good stuff. So that was a really good tip that I try to keep in mind.
Steve Hackett: It’s really productive, and I’ll add one more thing to it, Will. When sales leaders always are conducting the meeting, sometimes it’s just great to have the sales team take the lead.
Will Brooks: Oh.
Steve Hackett: On those sessions.
Will Brooks: And by the way, that alleviates the pressure on the leader.
Steve Hackett: Absolutely.
Will Brooks: All right, great. Well, we’re up against the time here, Steve. But I thought it was worthy of mentioning our sales management symposium. So hopefully you’ve gotten something out of the five pitfalls and the associated tips we’ve given you, but I can tell you this: We have a great program, two and a half days in length where we teach good, tactical field sales management. So of course, there is some information about time management and self-awareness and so forth, but you can see on this slide some of the other things we cover in that program. So we’d love to talk to you about the possibility of attending this program. It’s public. It’s in Greensboro, North Carolina, but of course, we can bring it to you if you have a sales leadership team large enough. So that being said, we really appreciate you spending time with us today. I’m looking at the clock, we did go over by about 46 seconds. So we’ll see you next time. Thanks.