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Six Reasons Sales Leaders Lose Credibility

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richardsonsalestraining17 August 2012Blog

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Sales is a profession built on reputation and relationships, and both require credibility. It’s even more true for sales leaders, who must maintain credible connections with CEOs, colleagues, clients, and their circle of sales professionals.

This point was driven home recently by the article Five Reasons Leaders Lose Credibility, by Cheri Swales at She defines credibility as “how believable you are to others.”

She also quotes James Kouzes, author of Credibility: How Leaders Gain and Lose It, Why People Demand It: “Credibility is the foundation of leadership. If people don’t believe in the messenger, they won’t believe the message.”

Take this one step further for a sales leader. Without credibility, you’ll lose the support of your sales team and your customers, making it harder to reach your numbers, which will cause your boss to question your capabilities – and could lead you straight out of a job.

As Swales points out, your ability to earn credibility comes from your words and actions. If these two are out of synch, if you say one thing and do another, you can kiss your credibility goodbye. She lists five mistakes that can damage credibility. Again, I’ll take this one step further, with six deadly mistakes that apply specifically to sales leaders.

Six Reasons Sales Leaders Lose Credibility

1. Falling behind the current thinking, trends, and technology in the sales process

The world of selling is constantly evolving, and buyer behaviour has changed dramatically in recent years. Technology has put pricing, reviews, and research at buyers’ fingertips. Just as personal purchases have made a major move online, B2B buyers are conducting their due diligence on the Web. If sales leaders don’t understand the new buying behaviours and technology, they’ll lose credibility with their “feet on the street” – their sales teams, who are often younger and savvier users of technology. Staying on top of trends within your industry has always been a given for successful sales leaders. Today it’s just as important to be aware of changes in the sales process.

2. Being dishonest

Dishonesty comes in two basic forms: withholding information and lying.

  • Withholding information is a sure way for sales leaders to chip away at the credibility and trust they’ve built with their sales teams. Take the example of performance assessments. It’s important to tell people where they stand, especially if they’re underperforming. You need to lay out the situation, address corrective actions together, and encourage improvement. If, instead, you continue to let them fail and then fire them without a chance to improve, your credibility takes a hit from those who remain on your team…and probably from your boss, too.
  • Lying is bad for business – and for your credibility. When you lie to your sales team, to your peers, and especially to your superiors, you might as well start looking for that next job. But forget about asking for references: what good can someone say about a liar?
3. Playing the popularity game

Sales leaders have to make difficult decisions each and every day. And these decisions have to be the right ones for the business. You can’t worry about whether your “likeability” will take a hit. It’s more important to be respected than popular.

4. Showing preferential treatment

An ancillary mistake to playing the popularity game is to show preferential treatment to those who work for you. Say you have a chronic underperformer who is “one of the boys” and a regular golf buddy on weekends. It’s tempting to forgive his missed quotas and bend the rules just a little because he’s so much fun to have around. But even as your sales team is laughing at his jokes, your reputation is taking a hit. How can you hold your team to any kind of standards when you let your buddy slide.

5.  Playing the blame game

This one is all about integrity and personal responsibility. When targets are missed, do you blame the marketing department for bad leads? The supply chain for missed deliveries? Product managers for outdated products? To be a credible sales leader, the buck has to stop with you. You’re dealt a hand of cards, and you have to play those cards the best you’re able. Ernest Hemingway once defined ‘guts’ as grace under pressure. This kind of grace is evident when sales leaders stop blaming and start accepting personal responsibility.

6. Forgetting about strategy

The foundation for building credibility is strategy. Setting a strategy that aligns with business goals gains you credibility with your bosses and colleagues. Executing your sales strategy in an effective way gains you credibility with your sales team, who draw motivation from working for a winner.

Credibility is key for every successful sales leader. Otherwise, when you turn around to look behind, you may not see any followers. Even worse, you could be leading yourself right out the door.

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