Are You Leading Your Sales Team? Or Just Managing It?
May 12, 2014
There’s a big difference. Here are 5 qualities shared by the best sales team leaders.
Salespeople are mavericks. To be effective, they know they can’t always color inside the lines, because there’s more than one way to make a sale. They have to be ready to change directions without any notice sometimes. They have to be creative. Intuitive. Driven. Flexible. High-energy with one prospect and laid-back with another.
No wonder managing a sales team is like herding cats.
Your title may be “Sales Manager” or “VP of Sales,” but what you really need to be in order to effectively do your job is a leader. Certainly, you have management responsibilities. But the most successful sales managers have in common many of the same leadership traits.
I’ve observed numerous individuals at the top of the sales food chain in my 20+ years of sales management. The best of them were:
- Trustworthy. Relationships don’t flourish without trust. This is true in friendships, but it must also be earned by leaders. Are you honest? Do you always follow through when you say you’re going to do something?
- Constantly giving feedback. It’s hard for your sales team members to improve if they aren’t clear on what they’re doing badly – and well. Setting goals and reviewing their progress is one way to do this, as are quarterly or annual reviews. But try to catch things on the fly, as they occur; this will increase the chances that your feedback will be internalized and heeded.
- Stressing the importance of fast responses. The best leaders model this behavior so that their salespeople know that they walk the walk. If a customer complains to you about a product or service – or about a salesperson’s words or actions – respond as quickly as you can. This may mean staying late or coming in to the office very early some days. How do you feel when you report a problem to a company and your complaint isn’t addressed for several days, if at all? It changes your perception of the business, and it certainly doesn’t make you feel like a valued customer.
- Supportive of ongoing learning. Your salespeople should be increasing their knowledge and stretching themselves constantly. This doesn’t mean doing an occasional session on cold-calling or dealing with rejection, though sales-related training should be offered as frequently as it makes sense for you. Stress the importance of self-growth, of your salespeople taking the initiative and working on areas of personal weakness on their own time, whether that’s done by reading books or joining organizations or taking classes. And encourage them to learn as much about their customers as they can. That’s one of the tenets of social selling.
- Accessible. Good leaders make themselves available, even if that means you shift some of your administrative tasks to hours when your staff isn’t likely to be looking for you. Let your team know that you’re available to go out on sales calls with them occasionally, or just to go to lunch and talk through a stumbling block.
When you lead capably, your salespeople are likely to improve their own attitudes, work ethic, sense of company loyalty, and, ultimately, their sales.