Developing Sales Leadership
April 21, 2016
For the vast majority of companies out there, selling products and/or services is priority number one. Sure, some businesses with aggressive user acquisition targets may look at this goal a bit differently, but for the most part, we’re all dependent on sales to ensure that bottom line.
While this may seem straightforward enough, those of us who have seen companies grow know that selling is something that must change with it. This demands superior sales leadership. If you fail to develop it, your organization will be doomed to fail as well.
Early Stage Company Sales
At the beginning of a company’s life, sales are chaotic, to say the least. Deals—any deals—are being made whenever possible. Very little thought is given to the quality of the customer, whether or not the product is a good fit, opportunity costs involved, the deal terms, or even the long-term value of the customer. Any sale is seen as better than no sale during this early stage.
After all, no matter what the goal is for the company down the line, if revenues aren’t generated in the present, there may be no tomorrow.
As Companies Mature, Sales Are Given More Focus
With any luck, a company will make it past this challenging time where so little is certain and on to a stage where things are a bit more stable. However, in order to keep heading in the right direction, certain parameters need to be established so that selling no longer means casting the widest net possible.
This would include things like:
- Introducing metrics to measure progress
- Creating sales strategies around targets/goals
- Developing teams and individuals into a true sales team, not just a collection of employees who sell
Of course, all of this is easier said than done. So let’s take a closer look at key elements in moving your company out from chaos and into collective sales action.
Create a Compelling Vision
Simply wanting to make a profit isn’t going to cut it if your business is to succeed. Instead, you need to be a bit of a visionary – you read that right. For many sales professionals, this is a tough hat to put on. We’re a cynical breed so “visionary” sounds like more of a buzzword than an actual function that could produce results.
While your company may have its own particular mission, you need to consider how your sales force will support it. What will your own mission be? Create a compelling vision – coupled with real numbers – and you’ll have the fuel to drive your sales force forward.
Going from Player to Coach
If you’re going to take a leadership role during this important time in your company’s development, it’s important you truly accept this role and not mistake the essence of your new position.
A lot of successful salesmen drop the ball here. They fail to become sales leaders because they keep seeing themselves as someone who’s supposed to go out and sell every day.
Developing a sales team for your company means fully accepting the role of a leader. While this may be frustrating at first—you’ll watch team members make mistakes you would have avoided—it’s really the only way to see your vision come to life.
There are essentially four roles you can play as a sales leader:
- Model – you’re the one who runs the call, makes the sales, etc. but your main focus is doing it in a way that others can learn from you. The glory no longer lies in closing a sale; it’s now all about teaching others to close those sales by modeling your behavior.
- Observer – on the other hand, you can be the observer. This is the one who watches the sales team and then provides them with constructive criticism to help them approve. As we touched on earlier, being the Observer takes a lot of self-discipline. Nothing good will come from you grabbing the phone or otherwise interrupting when you see a salesperson slipping just to save the sale.
- Teammate – in this role, you’re helping a salesperson. It’s a combination of the two above in that you’ll have a clearly-defined part to play on the sales call—so you’re doing a bit of Modeling—but you’ll also be an Observer who gives your sales partner feedback at the end.
- Strategist – you’re the one who comes up with the sales plan before the call and then provides support at the end.
While you can take on all four of these roles at certain points, don’t give into the temptation to try to be everything at once. Again, as a successful salesperson, you’re going to feel pressure
Important Sales Areas to Focus On
If you internalize the above roles into your approach as a sales leader, your organization will be leagues ahead the average competitor during this stage. However, most of you would probably prefer to be even further ahead.
This is why it’s important to focus on important areas within your sales department.
The first should be obvious enough: recruiting raw talent. The better your recruits are, the better your chances will be of turning them into amazing salespeople. There is simply no underestimating how important this area of your sales efforts will be to your future success – or lack thereof.
Furthermore, you need to place a lot of emphasis on the coaching and training necessary to take this raw talent and transition them into the professional who will post huge numbers for your company. Great recruits simply aren’t good enough and, yes, this applies to veterans you may hire on. Don’t take for granted that they are entering a completely new company—one that is going through a tough stage at the moment—and maybe even a brand new industry.
Finally, make sure the buying process your customers have to go through is outlined and understood by every last salesperson. You can’t leave this very important feature vague. Every one of your salespeople should be prepared to talk about a customer regarding the part of the buying process they’re in.
Create Metrics to Measure Success
If you have a buying process, you can apply metrics to it to identify whether or not your company is making progress with its sales and how you’re doing with your sales leadership.
The exact metrics for your company will depend on some of its unique features, but we can give you some good examples to start with:
- Time spent selling – plain and simple, how much time an employee is spending actually selling is hugely important.
- Lead response time – you can’t afford to lose new business because a lead moved on before a salesperson could speak with them.
- Use of marketing collateral – according to the American Marketing Association, 90% of marketing content never gets used, yet 16% of a company’s budget, on average, goes to marketing. Keep tabs on what actually gets used to eliminate waste.
- Closing rates – how many opportunities does a rep need, on average, before they close a sale? This is one of the most important metrics for judging your sales force.
- Average deal size – keep this running average going and you’ll soon know which opportunities simply aren’t worth pursuing.
Sales leadership is going to be a challenge unlike any other. However, if you follow the above advice and truly make it a priority, your company will soon be a well-oiled machine capable of bringing in the types of revenue others envy.