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5 Things a New Sales Leader Needs to Think About

training programs for sales leaders

ben-taylorJune 19, 2018Blog

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Like a 747 speeding down a runway, a sales leader stepping into a new role has only so much time before they need to reach cruising altitude. The problem: the runway is shorter than it has ever been.

The reason: advancing technology increases efficiencies; however, it also increases expectations. We can do more, but more is expected — and sooner. Moreover, technological advantages erode as the competition leverages these increasingly commoditized tools.

Perhaps the answer is not more or even better technology. Perhaps the answer is stronger skills among those using the technology. As McKinsey writes, “the problem now, as a generation ago, is that organizations too often overinvest in technology while underinvesting in the human capabilities needed to make it useful.”

Selling organizations see this challenge every day. They intensify their focus on measurable activities within CRM systems. This time-consuming routine comes at the cost of a core selling practice: meaningful customer interactions.

Fortunately, a strong sales leader can help. For this reason, it’s critical to enter a leadership position with a plan to drive, above all else, the team’s capabilities in selling.

Here we look at 5 things a sales leader must consider as they step into their new role that will help them realize immediate results for their team.

Communicate to Motivate

As recently as 2015, Gallup reported that engagement among US workers was at a three-year high. If you think that’s a reassuring statistic, think again. This “high” is only 32%. In other words, two-thirds of US workers feel disengaged at work.

Fortunately, effecting change is within the leader’s control because most of this disengagement comes from communication issues.

Keep communication open and regular. Doing so reminds the sales professional that they are critical to success and part of a larger team. Moreover, communication instills a sense of collaboration.

The most successful teams thrive on shared contributions rather than one-way communication characterized by directives. As more conversations unfold, the sales professional will be more likely to volunteer information. This openness creates opportunities for new ideas or solutions to emerging problems.

Set Clear Goals to Drive Results

Research from Deloitte found that clear employee goals are critical to successful business outcomes. In fact, the data showed that clear goals meant businesses were four times more likely to score in the top 25% of business outcomes.

Creating goals that drive results requires three parts, according to the research:

  1. The goals must be clear
  2. Clarity must be ongoing through the review process
  3. The goals must matter and resonate with employees
These findings underscore the importance of ensuring that sales professionals feel vested in their success. Finding this level of engagement may require the employees and sales leaders to revise or review their goals quarterly or more frequently. The same research found that this cadence yielded the best business outcomes.

Use Metrics to Track Performance

In many cases, a new sales leader is tasked with more than staying the course. Often the team needs to improve their performance. That is, after all, why the business needed a new leader in the first place. Therefore, the sales leader must determine where the problems reside. Doing so means reviewing a few critical selling metrics.

The benefit of numbers like win rate, quota attainment, and attrition is that they’re relatively easy to measure. Leaders can get these numbers fast. They contain little ambiguity and underscore the most pressing challenges.

When looking at these numbers, it’s important for leaders to remember that this step can instill anxiety among some team members. Therefore, make clear that the intention is to drive performance with skill growth and not a “rank and yank” approach.

Take Ownership to Build Cohesiveness

New sales leaders should remember the proverb “All roads lead to Rome.” This phrase is a reminder that many different routes tend to result in the same outcome.

That is, the effectiveness and cohesiveness of the team ultimately trace back to the sales leader's leadership skills. This doesn’t mean all responsibilities sit with the leader. It simply means that the leader must take the first steps towards involving the sales professional in their own performance and development.

Remember that the team’s success is the leader’s success. Sales professionals often work to avoid “seller-centric” behaviors. Similarly, leaders should avoid “leader-centric” behaviors. In doing so, they must demonstrate fairness and honesty.

Give Feedback to Ensure Improvement

Sooner or later, the leader will need to deliver negative feedback to a team member. Prepare for this inevitability. Remember the power of cognitive dissonance. This is the stress experienced when confronted with information that conflicts with our beliefs. Even well-intentioned criticism can spark this common reaction.

Leaders should remain mindful of this outcome. In doing so, they’ll be better equipped to balance directness with support when offering feedback.

Additionally, leaders should remember the influence of negative bias, which makes negative experiences more memorable than positive ones. These traits can appear as defensive on the part of the sales professional.

The sales professional is responsible for their own emotions. However, the sales leader, who is prepared for these reactions, is in a better position to handle them.

Nearly every aspect of successful sales leadership traces back to communication. It’s a skill no one masters because there are always ways to improve. For the new sales leader, the key takeaway is this: communicate early and often. Driving change always starts with a conversation.

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