Achieving sales leadership greatness | Sunday Observer

Achieving sales leadership greatness

4 December, 2022

Every salesperson is aware that their own success will be significantly impacted by the calibre of their sales manager. During the tenure of my long career in sales, I have witnessed  more than once how sales managers become responsible for creating successful and performing salesmen.  A good sales manager not only can uplift the performance of even a below-average salesperson but also develop his or her character to become an unceasing winner in life.   

This is the primary reason for companies to hire the best and the greatest sales leaders by offering the highest wages and numerous perks. High-performing sales leaders invariably manage their teams effectively and empathetically, fiercely compete in the market, and generate revenue adequately for the growth of an organisation.   

Great sales managers are always empathetic and understand the behaviour of their subordinates. However, this does not mean that he has to always be a fatherly figure when handling salespeople. Most often, a performing sales team is naturally aggressive, knowledgeable, and proactive. 

Hence, they establish firm command over their team by exercising the power their title and position entail. Sales managers use the legitimate power entrusted by the organisation as the team leader whilst using both coercive (inflict punishment if and when required) and reward power (incentivise if and when necessary) to command them.   

They do not, however, exercise their power in an autocratic manner at any time. Instead, it is built on creating a culture where individuals in the sales team consistently strive to impress, which raises departmental performance as a whole. Underachievers are reprimanded or shunned until they prove themselves, whereas overachievers are praised and given open attention. Essentially, the command instinct is responsible for creating the peer-pressure and attention-seeking environment that eliminates complacency.

Mentorship-based profession

Sales is a mentorship-based profession. A great sales leader is able to offer tactical sales counselling and adding value during customer meetings by using expert knowledge. This suggests that the profundity of a manager’s sales intuition and the practical knowledge gained from the experience of participating in the sales process and team management is directly associated with their success.

Successful sales managers always monitor team activities and individual behaviour closely to enforce sales processes that are specific to their company’s products.

The control orientation of a sales manager is an integral part of his or her duty. Regardless of efficiency, skill, or knowledge, salesmen need close monitoring. My own experience in sales as a salesman and a sales manager, confirms that performance comes from strict enforcement of standards and specific processes. Hence my opinion is that informal or unstructured sales processes lead to underperformance. 

Coaching adaptability is one of the most important elements in sales management effectiveness. It is a top attribute of a sales manager. There are numerous selling styles by which salespeople can be led to perform successfully. It’s not a one-size-fits-all task. Therefore, great sales managers adapt their style to suit each individual. 

This simply means that high-performing sales managers had higher team effectiveness than underperforming teams. Coaching salespeople is one of those skills that the basics can be learnt from a textbook but should practice with experience. 

The performance of the sales team determines the success or failure of a sales organisation. Therefore, hiring salesmen is one of the most crucial factors and is invariably a tiresome and unwieldy process that takes enormous time, resources, and effort. 

A good sales manager has the capability of checking the credibility of the track record of the candidate, whether they are skilled in selling or whether they can be trained effectively if they are not, and they are a cultural fit to the organisation. 

Not easy

From my own experience, I can safely say that identifying these characteristics is not easy in a brief interview. Habitually, salespeople are good at presenting themselves and convincing even an experienced interviewer to complete a transaction and win. They can be on top of a recruiting interview even in a negative situation. I have come across salespeople who excel at interviews but miserably fail in real selling. Therefore, sales managers usually have a gruesome time when they hire salesmen.    

Most often good sales leaders lead by example. They do not just push their team members towards goals but actively demonstrate how that success could be achieved. It is a difference between a leader saying “you can do this” and “we can do it together. By doing it together the leader builds a strong connection, trust, camaraderie, and mutual understanding, criteria that are exceedingly important to a sales team. Managers who lead by example are actively demonstrating that they value their team’s work by carrying some of the weight themselves. 

Great sales leaders are customarily good and effective motivators. They do not use the “carrot and stick” concept anymore but rather trust the team members individually and as a team. Successful sales managers realise that motivation is not pasting an encouraging notice on the wall.

Improving the sales skills of a team is mostly objective. By evaluating the performance, a sales manager can diagnose what areas need improvement and provide the required assistance. Nevertheless, motivation is a far harder exercise because there are many external factors that affect motivation. Each team member requires different incentives and encouragement.  Sales managers deploy various pragmatic methods to motivate their teams. 

Sales managers cannot get involved in every issue their teams encounter all the time as they are responsible for overall operations. They handle the most critical task of the organisation in bringing in revenue and do not have the luxury of extra hours to get everything done smoothly. Hence, great managers manage time as a priority task.

Ineffective planning, procrastination, disorganisation, and constant distractions are common features in a sales team. Research reveals that only 35.2% of sales reps’ time is focused on selling and 65% on everything else, but not selling.

Therefore, to bring on the methods to this habitual madness, sales managers use various time management strategies. These include strict scheduling, time-sensitive journey planning, monitoring daily movements, encouraging “to-do lists”, strict follow-up processes and many other methods.

Learn from salesmen

Willingness to learn is a behaviour expected from not only sales recruits but also from everyone in an organisation. It is no different for sales managers. There are numerous things a sales manager can learn from salesmen, good or average. 

It is not limited to product knowledge or market conditions but is way beyond that. Experiences of salespeople, whether they are in the field or retail, can be useful to a manager to be more effective in career and personal life. Simply, there is no final product in sales. There is always room to improve and successful managers learn many things from subordinates.

The facts discussed above are not an exclusive list of how to become a great sales leader. These are only a few observations I have witnessed as a salesman and a sales manager during my career span. Hence, my opinion is that sales managers must develop their own list of tasks to achieve career greatness. The guarantee I can offer is that sales managers will have plenty of followers when they retire as great leaders.