What does it take to increase a company’s top line? There are a number of steps you can take, but an increase in targeted sales is the main goal. Does that mean you need to hire better sales reps? Yes, that is an ingredient, but more important is making sure you have effective sales leadership. Your sales leaders are the ones who can help your team achieve greatness. Here’s a guide to effective sales leadership for your company.
The term “sales leadership” can be a bit vague. Many people equate it with sales management, but in fact, they’re not the same. There are a number of differing viewpoints on what sales leadership actually means and how it relates to management, but the most basic way to quantify the difference is this: sales management has the vision. Sales leadership determines how to achieve that vision. In middle market companies, these jobs are often done by the same person
Sales managers set the goals for what your company needs to accomplish. Sales leaders are the ones who figure out what needs to be done to reach those goals. They examine the data and look at where to focus, set direction for clients to be targeted, and determine what sales approaches work and what don’t. Then they drive the team towards not just more sales and higher conversion rates, but higher value clients for each sale and better customer retention. Recognizing that all revenue is not “good” revenue, sales leaders are there to find ways to increase revenue by targeting the right clients.
Moreover, it’s their job to inspire and motivate the sales team. Ideally, a good sales leader should not just be someone your team has to follow, but someone they want to follow. That leader will inspire them to work harder and help them improve.
When selecting sales leaders, a mistake made by many middle market companies is thinking that anyone who can sell well would make a great sales leader. Unfortunately, people who have great numbers often get promoted to leadership positions, only to find that they weren’t ready for the responsibility or didn’t have the necessary qualifications to succeed. It’s ‘The Peter Principle’ played out in your own company, if you’re not thoughtful about ensuring that you understand the skills needed to lead your sales team.
So what does it take? Ideally, a great sales leader is someone who (i) knows their market and can identify the target clients and the rationale for focusing on those clients, (ii) has the emotional intelligence to work well with both the sales team and with management, (iii) has a track record of success in sales and (iv) knows what it’s like to be in a sales rep’s shoes in their industry.
To be effective, a good sales leader should not only have the skills and experience, but be able to teach those skills to others. Coaching and mentoring the sales team, both as a whole and as individuals, is essential for sales leadership. They need to be able to show sales reps what works and what doesn’t, and why. They should also be able to recognize where various team members are lacking and tailor their coaching for each member of the team.
A salesperson has one of the hardest jobs in the company, and sales leaders need to set the pace and constantly motivate the team. They need to be someone other people can and will follow. In many companies, top management set the numeric goals, but they are not “in the field” and may not understand obstacles that impact sales growth. It’s the job of a sales leader to remove those obstacles, get the reps excited about the work they do, and actively help them hit their given goals.
And of course, sales leaders need to be able to coordinate with sales managers, or in many cases, wear both hats! They need to be able to understand not just the practical side of sales but also the administrative side. It’s their job to embrace the goals created by management and turn them into practical, actionable strategies. Effective sales leadership means embracing (or in some cases, setting) the goals and leading the team to sales success.
We’ve looked at what a great sales leader needs to be able to do. But how do they go about it in the real world? There are a few best practices for effective sales leadership.
A top priority should be two-way communication. It’s their job to ensure the team is successful and make sure they’re hitting their goals. If the team isn’t hitting their goals, it’s important to know why, so leadership can help fix it. That means clear communication at all times and providing feedback, both individually and as a group.
Depending on the location of the team, this may be in person or remote communication. Since many teams are not in the same physical location, regular e-mails (or groupware messages) are an important part of this communication. Sales leaders should send group updates at the beginning of every day to let the team know how they’re doing, offer words of encouragement, and give them any important news or announcements. An app such as Slack or WhatsApp are options that make it easier to communicate with the team en masse, in small groups, or as individuals—and allow them to communicate with one another more effectively as well.
Great sales people are competitive by nature, and sharing performance information in groups is a great way for team members to hold each other accountable. Of course, everyone’s leadership style is different, and different teams respond in their own way to different tactics. What’s inspiring and motivating for some may be cloying and intrusive for others. For some sales leaders, online communication is the best way to keep in contact, while others may find in-person meetings to be more effective.
That’s why it is critical for sales leaders to know their team. What do they respond to? What’s the best way to help them in a given situation? How much of a push for each team member is just the right amount, and how much is too much? Sales figures are important, but team members are the top priority. Knowing who they are and how they work, both individually and as a group, is the key to helping them succeed.
For most sales leaders, both group and one-on-one meetings are important. Group meetings help establish a bond within the team and foster motivation. One-on-one meetings allow sales leadership to check in with each team member individually, to make sure they’re on the right track and provide any necessary feedback. While the frequency of these meetings is up to the individual sales leadership, both group meetings and one-on-ones are hallmarks of high performing sales leaders.
Trust is at the foundation of effective communication, and trust is not given—it is earned. Many sales leaders micromanage their teams, keeping them on a short leash and monitoring their every move. Some don’t allow their sales reps to complete their sales or develop their skills to a level where they can complete sales without supervision. When reps do not see a career path, over time this will foster resentment among the sales team. It can make them feel like they’re not appreciated, their position is a “dead end”, and it will ultimately stifle their motivation to do the work required to succeed.
That’s why establishing an environment of trust is critical for sales leadership. This is where those one-on-one meetings really help. Spending time with the sales team as individuals and understanding their motivation allows leadership to get to know each sales persons aspirations and what they’re capable of. Trust also means supporting team members, making them feel both valued and challenged, and providing them with opportunities to prove and improve themselves. Trust is the coin of the realm for better, more effective sales teams and higher revenues.
One of the most important roles in sales leadership is leveraging your experience with your team. The sales leader’s hard-earned knowledge and hands-on experience is a big part of coaching. Whatever system you use for making sales, it’s the sales leaders’ job to know it backwards and forwards and to be able to teach it to the other reps. Often, helping a team member get back on track is simply a matter of reminding them of the consultative selling skills you have used in your career and working with them to master those methods.
Of course, not every problem can be solved through lessons in consultative selling. That’s why a sales leader’s own personal experience is essential. By drawing on their own past experiences—both successes and failures—they can better mentor younger, less experienced sales reps in how to handle more challenging situations, showing real world examples of what works and what doesn’t.
Focus is the next ingredient, and this requires that the sales leader understand the potential markets and a command of market and sales data. Collecting, monitoring, and analyzing market and sales data is a big part of sales leadership’s job, which is the foundation for establishing and monitoring how the team is doing. The numbers tell a story. There’s the big story of whether the team is targeting the right clients and meeting its goals, and how much overall revenue is being brought into the company. But each individual sales rep’s data will provide an indication of coaching required at the individual level – which is where the real progress is made. Within most sales organizations there are the superstars who are bringing in big numbers and often get most of the attention. But great sales leaders are able to get outstanding results from ordinary reps, because they focus on the entire team.
Who’s doing well this month, and who’s struggling? Maybe one team member’s sales have been steadily improving all year, and they deserve some encouragement. Meanwhile, perhaps another rep whose numbers are usually great has been struggling.
It’s important to keep in mind that everyone needs coaching sometimes.
Statistically, the top 20% and bottom 20% are the ones who receive the most attention from sales leadership. That leaves 60% in the middle who are largely left to their own devices. But the truly great sales leaders know that the middle performers have the most potential for improvement, and this is where they focus much of their time. Great sales leaders recognize that this is a team effort, and high performing teams develop potential throughout the ranks
For growth minded companies, building sales leadership is essential for success. Establishing effective sales leadership may require mentoring your top sales people, or bringing in new talent if there are no candidates who can be developed within your existing team. That’s why it’s often a good idea to seek outside help, to guide the selection and development of sales leaders and assist them in improving overall performance of your sales team.
At FortéOne, we have helped many middle market companies build great sales leaders. We’ll look at your current sales team to see what is needed to take sales to the next level in our company. We can show you how to bridge the gap between sales reps and true sales leadership, and establish a culture of performance within your sales team, leading to better sales and higher revenues.
We’d love to sit down with you to understand your sales goals and how we can help. Give us a call to learn more!