Here Are The 5 Keys To Superior Sales Leadership

Randy Illig

- 4 min read

Sales managers often get their jobs because they were stellar salespeople. More is required to lead a team.

Many sales leaders, if not most, are promoted into that role because they were very good salespeople. Yet it’s often the case that they soon realize the skills that got them there aren’t what they need to thrive in their new position.

Many new sales leaders will be thrust into a management role with little to no coaching or training. For this reason, their style of leadership is often just a continuation of the approach they had when they were salespeople: short-term focused, numbers oriented, and looking at their team through the lens of, “This is what I would do to move this deal along and close it.”

If that’s not the right approach, what is? And what should a sales leader really be focused on?

1) Trust and inspire.

Sales leaders often see their job as telling people what to do. In their eyes they are the motivators, which often results in them attempting to direct employees into compliance and make sure their ideas are heard above all others. A style of management often called command and control.

Unfortunately, you cannot command people to perform. You can, however, inspire them to commit to their best efforts. Often by first showing them that you trust in their ability to get the job done, so much so that you don’t talk over them or assume there’s only one way to do it.

2) Shift your mindset.

Just as you have to change the way you manage others, you also have to change the way you manage yourself. This requires a shift in mindset from super-seller to teacher and mentor.

I often hear sales leaders justify their attempt to do the work their own team should be doing. To them, it’s a matter of time management, where it’s easier for them to jump in and make a fix rather than let their salespeople learn to do it for themselves.

The old “give a man a fish” adage comes to mind. Yes, in the short-term it may be simpler to step in. But that shortsighted way of thinking turns you into your own worst bottleneck, where little gets done without your intervention.

Just like in parenting, building competence, encouraging independence, and allowing for failure take longer in the short-term. Yet the advantage is achieving a greater level of performance than previously thought possible.

3) Culture of coaching.

Consider this poll I’ve conducted countless times. I stand in front of a group of business leaders, whether it be 100 or 1,000, and ask them who’s responsible for coaching their sales teams. Without fail the answer is always the same: their sales manager.

That’s the wrong answer.

This is another way of accidentally creating dependency that slows down teams and disempowers employees. If each salesperson thinks the only one they can turn to for sales advice and guidance is their manager, that’s an unnecessary bottleneck.

Instead, think of it this way. If you’re a team of 10, there are 10 potential coaches. Creating a culture of coaching means that if someone needs guidance before a critical action with a customer, they have not just one option, but many.

4) Rethink your one-on-ones.

The average one-on-one looks roughly the same: an intense, focused look at numbers. Where is the employee in the quarter? Where do they need to get to? And for most: How are they going to close the gap?

It’s a command-and-control form of discussion that I’d argue does more harm than good.

Instead, shape those one-on-ones to fit the trust and inspire model. Rather than commanding them to hit a target, help them identify the highest-leverage actions or activities they believe they can focus on to accomplish their goals, whether that be in the form of personal development or overcoming a specific objection from a customer.

5) Advocate for customers.

The last objective for new or struggling sales leaders is perhaps not as intuitive. It has less to do with salespeople and more to do with a common objective, set by the leaders. And that’s to put the customer at the top of the org chart.

Part of leadership is to always have in mind what matters most. It’s easy for salespeople to get bogged down by details and lose sight of what’s important.

Ultimately, for everyone involved, the top priority should be identifying and addressing the goals and challenges faced by customers. The role may change a lot when moving from being part of a team to its lead. But not that top priority—that requires unwavering focus.

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