It’s no secret: highly effective leadership fosters highly effective teams. This is especially true in the case of sales leaders, whose management skills directly affect their department’s sales performance. In fact, according to a 2015 study conducted by Steve W. Martin of the Harvard Business Review, “Sixty-nine percent of salespeople who exceeded their annual quota rated their sales manager as being excellent or above average.” Discover what personality traits and management styles will help you become a more effective sales leader and improve your team’s performance.
Let’s take a look at the six qualities that all effective sales leaders should have to succeed in the modern sales landscape and boost sales performance to help grow their companies.
1. Be a consistent coach. While most people, in theory, understand the importance of sales coaching, it seems that far fewer companies are taking it seriously on a daily basis. Scott Edinger of the Harvard Business Review writes that “the reality I have observed while working with hundreds of organizations is that a true culture of coaching rarely exists.” Edinger goes on to explain: “the further you go up the chain from managers, to directors, to VPs, the more sales leaders ask for help from their direct reports to do their own jobs, rather than investing time in improving the performance of their people.” Coaching is important at every level of your organization, so you need to be sure to get everyone on-board with committing to it regularly.
Good coaching starts with a supervisor observing behavior, processes and interactions, and then providing feedback on what was effective and what could be improved. But, coaching goes far beyond that — extending to the development of new strategies and approaches that will shape the future of the business. Martin of the Harvard Business Review explains how “Great sales leaders understand that there is a diversity of selling styles by which salespeople can achieve success.” Effective leaders really get to know their team members and their learning styles, so they can be flexible in their coaching for even greater efficacy. What’s more, Edinger says that you should reward those who engage in regular coaching and incur consequences for those who do not.
2. Be a support system for your team. Beyond just providing consistent coaching, you should think of yourself as being a support system for your team. This includes providing regular educational/training opportunities, as well as morale-boosting activities that get sales reps’ heads out of the day-to-day hustle and bustle. Encourage your team members to attend educational seminars or training modules that will help them sharpen their sales skills. Let them know that you are invested in them and in their professional development.
Another important way that you should be a support system for your sales team is by organizing fun activities that help them relieve stress and anxiety. Rich Fernandez of the Harvard Business Review suggests the following wellbeing practices that you can schedule for your team:
Fernandez also stresses the importance of helping your team train themselves to disconnect from work to achieve a work-life balance. With today’s technology and connectedness, this can be ever more challenging — but ensuring your sales reps have adequate time to enjoy family and personal time is extremely important to overall happiness and satisfaction. Let your team know that you are always open to their feedback on work processes and timelines, and that you are willing to work with them to help reduce their stress and anxiety so they can be more effective.
3. Be ready to offer constructive criticism. Offering feedback — good and bad — is all part of sales coaching. As Geoffrey Brewer of Caliper says, “The best leaders are still the ones who know when — and how — to get tough.” But, make sure you don’t just point out your team’s weaknesses. Instead, offer tangible ways that they can improve their performance and correct their past pitfalls. If you only point out the negatives without offering a solution, people may become frustrated because they can’t come up with a solution on their own.
4. Know when to let go. And, when we say “let go,” we mean that you should be ready and willing to let go of both processes and people who are slowing down your company’s sales growth. Edinger writes: “For many, success in selling is far less about what they are selling and increasingly about how they sell.” So, if the sales processes you’ve been using are not working, it’s probably time for a complete overhaul. Similarly, Brewer of Caliper says: “Great leaders know that the ‘old ways’ of doing things aren’t always the best ways – especially in a rapidly changing marketplace.” Be agile and ready to adapt your sales processes and procedures to fit new needs that arise. Even the best-fit ways of doing things aren’t going to work forever.
If there’s an individual on your sales team who just isn’t a great fit for their current role, take the time to have a candid conversation with him or her. It’s likely that the rep is feeling the same way. And, if it’s time to part ways completely with a salesperson, don’t be afraid to trim down your sales team. Letting go of underperforming team members who may be dragging down the rest of the team can also help to boost overall morale.
5. Know how to attract and maintain top sales talent. As Martin of the Harvard Business Review put simply, “the ability to hire quality talent will determine the success or failure of the sales organization.” He goes on to explain: “High-performing sales managers focus on hiring salespeople who are skillful builders of relationships, are persuasive, and have a reservoir of experience they use to control sales cycles.” Taking the effort to recruit top sales talent — even if doing so takes up a bit more of your time — will return big pay offs in the form of increased sales and better overall performance.
Matt Sunshine of The Center for Sales Strategy even suggests setting up a “talent bank” that you use as a tracking system to organize your quality candidates and review at least once per month. Sunshine writes: “As a sales manager, you should be in constant recruitment mode and always looking for possible future salespeople to join your sales organization.” So, even if you are confident in your current stable of sales reps, you should always be on the lookout for other qualified candidates. You never know when a life circumstance or something beyond a top performer’s control could take them away from your company. Be ready to fill the vacancy with another top sales rep you already have in mind — rather than having to recruit from scratch and fill the hole with a sub-par salesperson.
6. Always put the customer first. Let’s face it: you wouldn’t be in business at all if it weren’t for your customers. So, lead by example for your sales team by always putting your customers and their needs first. Take the time and effort to really get to know your customers so you can tailor current offerings to their business problems and help to develop new solutions that fill an unmet need.
Putting your customers’ needs ahead of your own — and requiring your sales team to do the same — may not always be the easy path. Brewer of Caliper says that great sales leaders must always be “urgent” and attentive to customer needs. He writes: “In a customer-driven marketplace, the need to get things done now is critical to winning and keeping business. Wait until tomorrow to submit that proposal, and a hungry competitor might get in the door ahead of you. Leave at 5:30 instead of staying late to address a client’s problems, and that client may be someone else’s before long.” Inspire your sales team to deliver the very best customer experience, day in and day out.
Use the tips above to revamp your leadership strategy in the coming months. In doing so, you’ll likely see great improvements with not only your sales metrics, but also things like inter-company communication and morale. Managing sales performance can be a tough job, but making the effort to become a better leader will yield great benefits for your company.
RDI Corporation was founded in 1978 and is headquartered in Blue Ash, Ohio. We provide precise business solutions through a fully integrated outsourcing model and our clients ranged from mid-sized corporations to distinguished Fortune 500 companies.