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Four Secrets Every (Sales) Executive Needs to Know

4 Sales Management Secrets

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.

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  

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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Eliot Burdett

CEO at Peak Sales Recruiting

Before Peak, Eliot spent more than 20 years building and leading companies, where he took the lead in recruiting and managing high performance sales teams. He co-founded Ventrada Systems (mobile applications) and GlobalX (e-commerce software). He was also Vice President of Sales for PointShot Wireless. Eliot received his B. Comm. from Carleton University and has been honored as a Top 40 Under 40 Award winner. He co-authored Sales Recruiting 2.0, How to Find Top Performing Sales People, Fast and provides regular insights on sales team management and hiring on the Peak Sales Recruiting Blog.