What is the secret to success as a sales leader?
Most sales managers, especially new ones, believe the secret to success involves a combination of weekly meetings, pipeline reviews, forecasting, and showing up as the “closer” when a rep needs a little extra help with a sale. While these activities might be necessary from an organizational standpoint, they are not key drivers of success.
Rather, as we have helped thousands of sales managers over the past twenty years become more effective and successful in their role as leader, we have found that those sales managers who passionately and consistently provide unique value to each member of their team experience superior levels of respect, appreciation, and, most importantly, achievement from the same. This secret to success may sound simple, but can be very difficult to implement. The challenge is learning how to add value to each individual from their perspective versus your own.
Effectively providing value from another’s perspective requires a shift in focus from self to other; and then demands consistent and tenacious execution. To help you accomplish this, we have identified the eight behaviors managers must demonstrate in order to distinguish themselves as Value Added Leaders. When applied on a regular and consistent basis, these behaviors provide value in a way that compels and drives success for each individual at their level. Listed in no particular order, each behavior is equally important in providing maximum value to your team and maximizing the secret to your success.
Ask More Than Tell
Effective learning depends on a person’s ability to think critically, reflect on an experience and apply lessons learned from the past to similar experiences in the future.
Learning something on your own is more difficult simply due to the obvious fact your perspective is limited to your own experience. This is why the adage “two heads are better than one” is so often used in reference to problem solving. Aiding someone by reflecting on their experience in a way that increases their understanding of what, how, and why something is happening, as well as what to do about it, helps them learn more quickly and completely. Telling someone what to do or giving them the answers might help them temporarily, but it doesn’t provide them the tools or skills necessary for the long term.
To truly help someone learn and develop, it is essential to ask questions that guide an individual along a self-discovery process. To best facilitate such a process, managers must focus on asking more questions, providing time and space for a person to reflect, and practicing patience and silence.
Of course, as with most things, there are exceptions to this general rule. When an individual is learning something for the first time (product features and benefits) or requires specific instructions (how to submit an order), explaining how something should be done and providing direction requires more telling than asking. This, however, is what training is for. After they’ve been trained, the goal is to help the individual apply the new skill or knowledge productively and effectively. To accomplish this, the individual must understand the goal, practice the skill, and be able to learn from their success and mistakes (self-discover) in order to improve on a continual basis.
Typical managers direct, monitor and correct this process themselves. Leaders, however, facilitate this process by asking powerful questions that stimulate self-reflection; guide conscious awareness of opportunities for improvement; and encourage application of new insights in effective ways. When meaningful and relevant questions are combined with timely and useful suggestions, a manager becomes a highly valued partner vs. an undervalued and disregarded boss. The solution is simple – in order to add the most value – Ask More; Tell Less.
Do you ever wonder why you can’t seem to get the “increase” in call activity you want or the “improvement” in sales revenue you need? When you use general or vague terms to deliver expectations, you leave performance up to interpretation. Asking your team to increase their call activity might mean ten extra calls to the high achiever and one to the low. If you’re thinking twenty is most desirable, no one on your team has a chance to meet your expectations.
Bottom line – your team needs to know specifically what you expect of them; when you expect it to be done; and how you expect them to do it. Vague expectations are not an option; they only set you and your team up for failure. People want to succeed. To help them do so, it is essential that you, as their leader, provide the clearest path possible. Your ability to provide clear, specific, measurable expectations requires thoughtful consideration of each essential factor of success. Each success factor must be communicated in tangible, measurable and/or visible terms. You must be able to express what excellent looks like and how someone can know if and when they are on track to succeed.
Used effectively, clear expectations are also the foundation for improving your comfort and confidence when holding people accountable. Leaders who provide clear expectations make it easy for their employees to self-evaluate how well they are performing and hold themselves accountable. When you combine clear expectations with your newly reinforced skill of “Ask More Than Tell” to ask them how they plan to achieve the expectations and how you can help them do so, you inspire and encourage personal accountability, which equates to more success and more value for all.
It’s All About Them
The best, most effective, leaders are passionate about helping others. Their personal gratification comes from helping others reach their full potential and experience exceptional success. To best achieve this, they learn what motivates each individual they coach and then leverage this knowledge to align performance expectations with how ideal execution will help the individual achieve what they most desire in life. When done effectively, helping individual sales representatives as well as teams see “what’s in it for them to succeed” inspires and motivates them to excel in ways that few incentive plans or contests ever could.
To best accomplish this, great sales leaders eschew the notion of “one size fits all” when it comes to coaching their people. Instead they tailor their communication style, development methods, and learning activities to each individual, making it “all about them.” They actively involve them in formulating the strategy, tactics and tasks required to achieve the desired goal. This individualized approach removes barriers to listening, comprehension, willingness, behavioral change, and skill mastery quickly; and instead creates a willing and ready partner in success. Making it all about them ensures maximum effectiveness of coaching for each individual.
High-Impact Few vs. The Meaningless Many
Make calls. Update the CRM. Generate referrals. Attend sales meeting. Follow-up with customers. Learn new product features. And, of course, sell. The list goes on…and on…and on.
You get the point. The demands on today’s sales representatives and leaders are already overwhelming; and the list is likely to grow longer over time. Feeling the need to do everything ASAP, most of them spend their time jumping from task to task – resulting in many things getting done, but done poorly; confusion; lack of productivity; missed opportunity; and lackluster performance. To achieve success, one must focus on the few fundamental activities that directly impact results the most and learn to execute them exceptionally well, while reducing, or better managing, attention on the meaningless many activities that contribute little or no value at all.
Successful sales leaders get it. They actively help their people maintain focus on a few high impact activities for a sustained period; ensure they are pursued logically and completely by the right people at the right time; and help them prioritize the most valuable activity over that which is meaningless and unproductive. Activity for activity’s sake must not be allowed. Focus is the objective – distraction is not an option. Instead, the mission is to do a few things extraordinarily well to drive exceptional results.
Timing, Not Time
Great sales leaders rarely miss an opportunity to make an impact. They constantly seek opportunities to support, teach, mentor and coach their people in the moment. To have the greatest amount of impact, they understand the timing of their coaching is much more important than the amount of time they spend. The timing as well as the amount of time spent should always be relative to the progress desired.
Sales leaders have a number of coaching techniques at their disposal, ranging from planned one-to-one meetings to “in the moment” or “just-in-time” coaching moments. Effective leaders understand which coaching activity to use, when, and how, in order to achieve the maximum amount of progress in the least amount of time. They know a “just-in-time” coaching moment, such as debriefing a sales call in the car immediately after the call, is almost always superior to a planned, yet delayed response – in this example, reviewing what happened with the sales call during the one-to-one meeting a week later. They do not wait for the regularly scheduled meeting to rehash the successes and failures of the prior week or two. Rather, they find a way to always be in the game and coaching in real time. By doing so, they have more impact on their team in a more relevant and timely manner, which results in higher levels of improvement, achievement and sustainable success.
Stay With It Until They Get It
One of the biggest mistakes we see many sales managers make is asking their reps to focus on one thing one week, and an entirely different thing the following; week after week, month after month. With all of the task switching, changing strategies and conflicting agendas facing today’s sales professional, it is next to impossible to develop proficiency in any one area, let alone with the few high-impact things that matter most to achieving success. As a result, adequate or mediocre performance is often accepted as the norm, creating drag on the team as well as the organization.
Switching from one activity to another before one has had a chance to learn and develop, prevents the possibility of proficiency in any skill, concept or task. To become proficient, and eventually a master, requires repetitive practice, thoughtful improvement, and consistent action. Unfortunately, even the best intentions wane under the burden of the more prevalent “get it done now” mentality. The minute something doesn’t appear to work, people are more inclined to try something new than figure out what isn’t working with the current situation and fix it.
Great leaders are aware of this fact and dedicate significant attention to ensuring their people continue developing and honing their aptitude on the required activities to drive mastery and a competitive advantage. They “stay with it [the desired skill, concept or task] until they get it.” They are masters at accountability. They know what excellence looks like; they demand it of their people; and they appreciate the importance of giving them the time, encouragement, and support necessary to develop mastery.
Management’s pursuit is to be the best. This pursuit isn’t over until execution excellence occurs in a reliable and predictable manner. “Good”, or even “pretty good”, are not good enough.
Learn From Each Win
Success is infectious. People love to repeat what they do well. When someone “has it down,” you can rest assured the action will be completed correctly again and again.
Great leaders love to catch their people doing something right. When they do, they make a big deal out of it. They want the individual to know when they have done well. They understand that by doing so, they increase the chances of the action being repeated in an even better manner, simply because it feels inspiring to the individual to do so.
To be most effective, you must be in a position to create and recognize success; understand and appreciate how each individual prefers to be recognized; and be able to demonstrate enthusiasm for success.
Unfortunately, many of today’s managers do not focus on finding success. They tend to see their role as one of “fixer”, dwelling on what’s wrong or needs to improve vs. what’s going well. Of course, it is necessary to address performance issues when they arise. However, instead of focusing on what’s wrong or what needs to be done differently when providing less than positive feedback, great leaders leverage every win they can to develop the confidence, composure, and motivation necessary to reach for new levels of success.
Valued leaders invite people to enjoy the process, have fun, and celebrate work well done. They engage their people in learning from each win to better understand, apply and leverage what works at achieving maximum success in every possible opportunity.
Take It On
Everyone has a comfort zone. Some people hate cold calling while others profess to love it, or at least they say, “It’s no big deal.” Moving beyond a comfort zone takes motivation, courage, and persistence. The fact only 8% of New Year’s resolutions are kept is compelling evidence of how tough moving beyond one’s comfort zone can be. Getting there on one’s own initiative is tough enough, but when you need to get an individual to move beyond their limiting beliefs in order to meet their sales goals, the task can be sensitive and difficult.
Exceptional leaders are not afraid to assume the role of pushing and challenging individuals to go beyond their comfort zones. They do so by employing multiple methods to determine if the right activities are happening with the appropriate frequency. They never miss a chance to tackle an opportunity for improvement or reinforcement, making sure to always add value as they do so. Even when it would be easier and less risky to ignore the opportunity and hope the person figures it out on their own; their passion for improvement, execution, and mastery compels them to take action.
Even so, people often resist being pushed beyond their behavioral “happy place,” and strongly at that. Valued leaders are not constrained by a desire for popularity. They understand it is more important to be respected than liked. So they just Take It On, realizing respect is earned by helping others to achieve more than they could ever believe themselves capable of on their own.
If you are currently a sales manager, we challenge you to implement these eight compelling behaviors in order to ascend to the level of Valued Leader. The best way to do this is to ask yourself, “How can I provide value to every individual on my team during every interaction? How can I make sure to provide value from their perspective vs. my own? Which of the eight behaviors must I demonstrate to achieve this most effectively?” Then, get in the habit of regularly asking yourself, “What value did I provide?” and “What contributed to my success?” after every interaction. You will be surprised at the impact you will begin to have.
If you are already a Valued Leader and feel you provide value on a consistent basis, Congratulations! Keep going and strive to become even better as a result of each opportunity. Remember, the biggest enemy of best is “good enough.”
And, no matter where you are along your path, we recommend you make a habit of analyzing your performance for each of the eight compelling drivers discussed above on a regular basis in order to develop mastery. Determine which require the most improvement and would have the greatest impact if you improved them. Then, one at a time, “Take It On,” making sure to “Stay With It” until you have mastered each driver such that you can apply any one of them, in any circumstance, with any individual you are coaching to add the most value.
As Teddy Roosevelt said, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” To which we would like to add, and once they know how much you care, you will be amazed at the lengths to which they will go to live up to what you ask of them.