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What does good sales leadership look like?

Posted on January 8, 2014 in Blog by VSA

During 2013, I have engaged in many conversations with sales leaders about how to improve their sales results with most of them bemoaning the fact that the majority of their sales people do not meet their targets.

An interesting question about why the desired behaviors are not being achieved relates to whether team members are willing or able in Situational Leadership terms (does the individual have the skills they need to be effective -- willing but unable -- or is it just that they don’t want to do it -- able but unwilling?)

In both scenarios, just running a sales training course is not going to make much difference to changing attitudes or developing new skills. A good sales workshop will only achieve a behavioral change if it is backed up with strong sales leadership and reinforcement in the sales organization.

So what does good sales management look like?

1. Good sales managers lead by example

How many times does one see bad examples of "do what I say, not what I do"? The most successful sales teams have leaders who are able to lead by example on a consistent and long-term basis. This means that the sales managers personally apply the chosen sales methodology learning in selling situations to model the expected behaviour for the sales people.

2. Inspect what you expect

Good sales managers apply this age-old management technique to speed up the transition. They inspect a representative example of each sales person’s pipeline, confirmation letters and evaluation criteria for examples of the preferred sales methodology (or absence thereof). Positive examples should be rewarded and lack of evidence should generate the appropriate feedback.

3. Coaching

This behaviour is best described as developing people by asking them good questions that uncover the risks to a sale, not by advising. The questions are aimed at reinforcing the learnt material, and are open-ended in nature. For example:

  • Start with: "What is the value to the customer?"
  • Followed by: "What’s the impact to your opportunity if the customer does not recognize the value?"
  • And then followed with: "So, what are you planning to do about it?"

This is in sharp contrast to the traditional advisory role of the sales manager that says: "Here's what you should do next..." This robs the learner of the opportunity to develop the connection of the training to their challenges in everyday activities.

4. Measurable initiatives

If you can't measure it, you can’t manage it. Objectively measuring and reporting on the progressive improvement of key measurements tied to the behavioural change required is vitally important. Typically these can be subset metrics to the overall business objective. For example, in the case of revenue improvement as a critical objective, subset measurements include metrics such as average deal size, average discount level, pipeline numbers and close ratio, amongst others.

5. Incentives and consequences

Catch people doing things right. Sales people generally love recognition and incentives, so do this for those exhibiting the new behaviours. These can range from acknowledgment at meetings, prizes and increased compensation plans for preferred behaviours.

6. Be careful to avoid demanding too much, too soon

Good sales transformation projects are careful not to burden the sales people with undue reporting requirements. Even though the level of inspection should be increased, it is important to minimize the written reporting requirements. In a number of successful case study examples, the management team consciously decided to minimize paperwork to avoid having the new behaviour come across as a penalty.

The sales function is the life blood of most organisations and the ability of sales leadership to create attitudinal and behavioural change in order to achieve superior results is critical to the success of that organisation. Sales management’s long-term contributions in modelling the correct behaviour, coaching, measuring and rewarding as appropriate are the only way that a lasting result will be achieved.

PJ Nisbet is Managing Partner at ValueSelling with over 25 years of sales leadership positions spanning the oil, agricultural and IT industries. He is driven by his passion for developing people and sales improvement. He holds a BA (Hons) in Organisational Behaviour. Find out more at http://sellingvaluewithpj.wordpress.com/