The interesting thing about management is that the role is commonly misunderstood.
Stop and think about what usually gets someone promoted to a management position. Typically, it’s the results he or she created in a previous position. In other words, people move up the corporate food chain based on knowledge, skill, or, most commonly, performance.
Especially salespeople. Typically, it is the top salesperson who is picked to become the next manager.
And, more often than not, the great salesperson struggles as a manager. Why? Because they are two different roles and require two completely different skills sets. And great players often make terrible coaches.
But companies make it worse. They typically require that sales managers focus on management tasks, like sales automation, CRM, proposals, slide decks, budgets, reports, policies and procedure, things like that. Which, at first blush, would seem to make sense since those things are important and necessary.
However, they pale in comparison to the effect your leadership skills will have on the performance of your sales team.
Think about all the things managers do that have NOT been mentioned: recruiting, hiring, performance management, coaching, creating a productive culture, communicating vision and purpose, and much, much more.
These are all leadership functions. And to call them critical is a serious understatement.
In the big picture, what we really need corporate managers to do – when it’s all said and done – is to identify, hire, and develop the potential of capable people, and to create a culture where that talent can thrive.
Everything else is just support.
Which begs the following questions:
- How many prospective managers are actually assessed for their ability to identify talent?
- How many managers are trained to hire effectively?
- How many managers would get strong marks for coaching and training?
The answer is very few.
Instead, we continue to promote top salespeople simply because they are great salespeople. But the reality is that selling is not the same as leading.
And it is the leadership side of the sales executive role that will ultimately make you or break you as an executive.
4 Keys to Success as a Sales Executive
When sales teams underperform, companies often struggle to find the root causes of the problem. So, in search of answers, pricing strategies are dissected. Marketing plans are scrutinized. Software is replaced.
In my experience, however, the problem is usually not price or product or marketing or tools. Sure, those things may need to be addressed, but the causes of underperformance are often systemic and/or structural.
And this is where sales leadership is extraordinarily important. Why? Because the leader is directly responsible for the systemic problems.
Worse, he or she is often the direct cause of the problem.
Let’s look at four leadership ‘secrets’ you need to address to be successful in the Sales Executive role.
1. Acquiring and developing talent is far and away the most critical element of your job.
Big secret, huh? Like you don’t know this already.
But, even recognizing the critical importance of identifying and recruiting top talent, how many organizations do it well? The answer is very, very few. Sales teams are rife with average players with loads of excuses.
Whose fault is that?
You hire reactively. You have no strategy for identifying and acquiring great players. Your on- boarding methodology is almost non-existent. You constantly complain that you don’t have time to train your people.
Bottom line, this is a leadership function. Which means if you don’t do it, nobody else will. So, if you want to jump to the top of the class, make this your most important priority and focus on it every single day.
Identify. Recruit. Hire. On-board. Train. [And repeat]
[bctt tweet=”You don’t win championships with average talent. “]
And, not surprisingly, average leaders don’t develop great salespeople.
2. How you deal with sub-par performance will define you as an executive.
Since talent is so important to your success (see No. 1), the way in which you manage poor performance is critical.
But, since most sales managers are completely underwater with all the management tasks they are required to complete, their most common complaint is that they have little or no time to coach, train, and address performance.
And this is a HUGE mistake.
Where performance issues exist, managers – especially new or inexperienced managers – often struggle to address those issues. The conflict is very real, and most people don’t enjoy the confrontation that is necessary to talk candidly about sub-par performance.
So, they employ a number of non-confrontational approaches, including sticking their heads in the sand and hoping things will get better.
But allowing underperformers to remain on the sales team is damaging from a number of perspectives. Overall team performance suffers. Top performers resent it. And your leadership credibility suffers dramatically.
Remember this critical message: “A” players want to play on winning teams, and they won’t stick around very long with average leaders.
3. Creating a ‘no excuses’ culture is critical to success.
If you’ve been in sales management more than a few months, you’ve heard the excuses:
- My territory (or market) is different.
- The economy is killing me.
- Our prices are too high.
- The competition is giving it away.
- I have to spend too much time with our CRM software.
That’s just for starters. There are plenty more.
Leadership is often about distinguishing between the very real obstacles that impact success, and those excuses that serve only to mask poor performance.
It is critical to understand that allowing salespeople to use excuses and blame circumstances for their failures will quickly define your sales culture. And excuses make it almost impossible to identify and address the actual issues that impact sales performance.
Having been in sales for more than three decades, I know that there are any number of factors that can adversely impact results. No question. But the primary difference between top performers and pretenders are how they respond to those factors.
Great players find ways to win. They refuse to be deterred by anything. They take personal responsibility for their own success.
And great sales executives make that trait a non-negotiable part of their sales culture.
4. Creating competition is critical; creating silos will crush you.
There seems to be a significant trend towards not posting sales numbers or even publicly recognizing top performers. Which is, as plainly as I can put it, ridiculous.
If that is your practice as a sales executive, you can rest assured that “competitors” – people who are motivated to compete and win – will work somewhere else.
Sales is, by definition, a competition. When your team wins, everyone else loses. And when your competition wins, there is no consolation prize for second place.
Creating a team that competes is absolutely critical. Salespeople need to be willing to do whatever it takes – legally, ethically, and morally. They need to be willing to work whatever hours are necessary and improve their knowledge and skills as circumstances demand.
They need to be driven to compete and win.
However, allowing that competition to create organizational silos will quickly result in enormous problems. Competition needs to external, not internal.
If you are not aware of the tendencies of salespeople to do horde resources, monopolize assets, and create internal conflicts in an attempt to get ahead, you haven’t been managing long.
As a leader, you should create a culture that recognizes and rewards individuals who play to win. Post your numbers. Celebrate wins. Give most of your attention to the players on your team who have a burning desire to be at the top of the charts.
But don’t ever allow individual competition to create silos inside the company.
For more information on Kelly, visit www.BizLockerRoom.com.
To purchase his book 1-on-1 Management: What Every Great Manager Knows That You Don’t, click here.
To purchase his book Quit Whining and Start SELLING: A Step-by-Step Guide to a Hall of Fame Career in Sales, click here.
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