BK, one of my favorite sales leaders of all time, got it right most of the time. Bob is his real first name, but he always referred to himself as BK, and he always used my nickname, Ketch. Right off the bat, he was personal. BK was an amazing coach, motivator, problem solver, firefighter, and an all-out inspirational leader. When I worked for him, I wanted to be my best at every moment. He inspired, managed, coached, and led me to be a consistently successful sales professional who never missed my number and made the sales trip every year. He used quotes, books, and themes to anchor us on our path to success each year. I have every book he gave us sitting on my bookshelf today, and they will survive the downsizing tirade I’m on. (But that’s another blog). One of my favorite BK sayings is Gladiators amid battle should not be interrupted to discuss sword patterns.
You see, BK knew how to motivate; we felt like superstars who could achieve anything, big or small. We won record-breaking deals under his leadership. We ranked first as a sales team, and each of us won almost every prize possible for new business, account retention, and client growth under his tutelage. He protected us from unnecessary meetings, non-value sales processes, and cumbersome reporting that could get in the way of meeting our sales goals. BK also gave me my first shot at being a sales manager, and, most importantly, taught me a lot about how to lead. He would always say, “Ketch, a great leader is there when you need them and not when you don’t; and the best leaders know the difference.”
As we wrap up our series on Sales Success, it’s only appropriate that we turn our attention to Sales Leadership and consider the key elements needed to lead a team to success.
According to my sales personality test, I’m a tall column 1 on the Omnia Sales Style profile, which means I’m highly assertive and love to win. So, it’s no surprise that the thing I love most about being in sales is that there’s always a goal to hit with clear measures to know how you’re tracking towards the goal. Of course, there’s more to it than quotas and sales targets. A winning sales leader sets the vision and paints a picture of what success looks like. Then they keep reminding people of the vision and how they’re doing on the path to get there.
A visionary sales leader challenges their team to build on their strengths and go after high achievements. The best sales leaders are clear, concise and compelling when communicating expectations. A visionary sales leader is clear about where the team is now, where they are headed, and how to get there. The vision includes team values, expectations, and norms for interactions with clients and each other, and across functions. When things go badly, as they sometimes can, the visionary leader isn’t afraid to bring people together for a reality check to get the necessary parties back on the path. Sometimes sword patterns do need to be discussed so the team can improve.
In sales the numbers are set, the goals are clear, and it’s typically easy to know if you’re succeeding or not. As a sales leader though, you’re going to hit your goals in different ways through the unique selling strengths of the individuals on your team. Not every salesperson is the same, and the worst thing you can do is treat them that way. Not every salesperson sells the same way. You may have a team of hunters, farmers, or CSRs responsible for customer service with upsell/cross-sell objectives.
One of the most common mistakes managers make today is having unrealistic expectations of their sales performers and how they should sell. Let’s face it, a lot of leaders were promoted to sales management because they were great salespeople. As such, new sales managers risk expecting everyone to sell like they did and applying a one-size-fits-all management approach.
Enter sales development assessments. The Omnia assessment presents the strengths and qualities of your sales team, uncovers if you’ve got the right people in the right seats, and builds insight on how best to coach and motivate everyone based on their unique traits.
For example, your column 4 reserved, pragmatic salesperson may not naturally persuade prospects by instilling excitement about your insurance products. His approach will work more successfully if you free him up to use his strength in translating facts and data to give prospects logical, inarguable reasons to purchase. This person is motivated by coaching steeped in product knowledge and should serve as a strategic resource to the decision-maker. This is not the person who is going to enjoy making outbound calls all day or going to a networking event 3 times a week, and they can be successful not doing so.
Similarly, your selling CSRs are excellent at service but may not thrive with quotas and are likely uncomfortable transitioning conversations to uncover additional customer needs. But, you never really know until you assess and observe. That takes one-on-one coaching observation so you can uncover the root problem and address it straight on. Encouraging a CSR to sell, a hunter to manage a large book of accounts, or a farmer to go after a high volume of new business could be a futile effort. Know what you need, know what you have, set a course to correct where needed, and then coach and develop every step of the way.
Sometimes swords do get dull, gladiators do need coaching in the arena, and stuff gets in the way of gladiators being able to battle. A good sales leader identifies these times by observing, listening, knowing who to listen to, and deciding the right time to intervene.
While BK protected us from needless interruption about sword patterns and processes, I also appreciated another leader, Joe, who was consistently in tune with the needs of the sales team and knew how to prioritize what needed fixing. He taught me an important concept about the informal leaders on a sales team. Joe believed and proved to me that every sales team (and all teams for that matter) have one or two informal leaders on it. These are the trusted team members who have the respect of the company and their peers. They are customer focused, emotionally mature, and have the skills of diplomacy to raise tough issues while always bringing a solution to the conversation. These are not your fire starters or pot stirrers. These are the people who will help you lead from the front and have their finger on the pulse of the critical things that can get in the way of sales success.
Sales leadership success requires skills in strategic thinking, conflict resolution, problem-solving, and strong communication. The best leaders know when to get involved and when not to. How you address challenges and pick your battles requires mental toughness, big-picture thinking, and the ability to keep your head above the noise. Knowing when to jump in to help a salesperson with a tough negotiation, or how to support and encourage a new salesperson on their first few attempts, rather than schooling or critiquing them immediately takes thoughtful balance.
Leading a sales team to achieve success consistently takes discipline and a commitment to using all these approaches to get the most of your team, while being willing to learn from your mistakes and keep moving onward. I say this from experience, and a few recent battle scars of my own. The path to leading a successful team year in and year out begins with self-reflection - in knowing yourself and where your strengths lie.
If you’d like to know more about your own leadership traits, and reflect on your own path, please contact us to get a complimentary personalized leadership style report and debrief.