Fundamentally, a strategy answers three questions:
- Who is the sales force going to sell to?
- What are they going to sell to them?
- How are they going to sell them?
Answers to these questions help define things like account segmentation, channel management, and value chain. Moreover, these questions help new sales leaders move beyond the practice of simply maintaining the status quo.
This is important because the status quo is expensive. Consider that the median tenure for employees is just 4.2 years and declining, according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics. This revolving door economy has financial implications; the median cost of turnover is 21% of an employee’s annual salary.
However, there is an equally important yet less quantifiable cost to leadership — high turnover can cause a sales leadership role to become an attrition management role.
The burden of onboarding new hires and getting the team up to speed becomes overwhelming. These distractions undermine the sales leader’s ability to help employees keep pace with an increasingly complex and competitive climate.
Here we look at ways in which sales leaders can achieve quick wins that both foster longevity in working relationships and improve business outcomes.
Communicate a Flexible Approach
Change has always been a factor in business. However, the rate of change is increasing. Moreover, research from Brandon Hall suggests that sales leaders are not keeping pace. A 2015 survey found that 71% of respondents believe that their sales leaders are not prepared to lead their organizations in the future.
Sales leaders must not only be prepared for change, but they must also communicate their willingness to change. Sales leaders can inspire confidence among employees by acknowledging that change is inevitable and critical to success.
Doing so means stating that all practices, new or established, are subject to change. However, there is a distinction to be made here. Change, simply for the sake of change should not be the goal. Instead, sales leaders need to exhibit openmindedness to the idea that some degree of change will be inevitable. They can use this messaging as an opportunity to invite employees to share their insights on what they think will change and how the business should respond.
Drive Engagement Early and Often
“Engagement is absolutely the answer to employee retention, and the best way to engage your employees is to let them know you’re invested in them,” remarked Ryan Ross, VP of Global Alliances at Hogan, a leader in personality assessment. This process begins with communication. Sales leaders should take immediate steps to outline their vision for an employee’s role in the company. Doing so gives them a sense of agency, which is empowering.
This empowerment boosts one’s “locus of control,” or the degree to which they believe they have control over the outcome of their work. In fact, research has shown “a positive and significant influence of organizational culture and locus of control on employee job satisfaction.”
Employees are more engaged when they believe that they have the wheel in their grasp. Therefore, sales leaders need to demonstrate their trust by allowing employees to make decisions that give them control. With control comes engagement.
Support Leadership Goals By Supporting Employee Goals
Driving employee performance is about transparent sales coaching. This means being upfront about your intention of following a coaching process. This open dialogue fosters trust. This trust is critical to new sales leaders because often they’re hired to correct a problem.
In Richardson’s eBook, Becoming an Effective Sales Coach, we explore the idea that sales leaders can help employees perform by sharing knowledge and experience while collaborating in a nonjudgmental way.
This approach is direct and without subtext. That is, sales leaders need to engage employees on a personal level. They can do so by giving employees an opportunity to share what they know. This means asking them what they believe they do well and don’t do well. Sales leaders then need to listen. After the employee has shared their thoughts, sales leaders can respond, offering their observations. The idea is to center the process around a conversation rather than one-way communication in which the sales leader provides a list of requirements.
Put More Focus on the Individual
Millennials will represent 50% of the global workforce by 2020. A new sales leader can expect to have at least a few millennials within their team. For this reason, it’s important to understand how a new generation approaches challenges at work. Some have cited millennials as a group focused on new priorities in the workplace.
In truth, however, they’re a group that’s more vocal about priorities long held by workers across generations. They want feedback, ongoing learning, and connectedness to work.
Sales leaders can engage all three. A study from PWC found that 51% of millennials surveyed seek frequent, individualized feedback.
Sales leaders can embrace this finding by clarifying targets early and offering structured and consistent feedback. This line of communication also resonates with millennials’ drive for ongoing learning. Additionally, sales leaders can foster development among millennials by adopting the role of a mentor or pairing them with a mentor.
Draft a Collaborative Definition of Success
It takes time to form a definition of success supported by unanimous buy-in. Sales leaders have specific numeric goals while employees may have more nuanced “soft” goals. Balancing the two is a challenge. By putting the effort in early, sales leaders set the team up for success because all efforts drive toward one goal.
With numerous people involved, it may be necessary to create a multifaceted goal that touches on various outcomes. Some sales leaders find it helpful to draft or redraft a mission statement. Doing so helps clarify the definition of success.
The above steps represent the opportunity for quick wins because they all require superior communication, which can occur instantly. However, sales leaders must do more than communicate; they must offer the right communication. Doing so means facing issues and challenges head-on with open dialogue that invites different voices, even if they are dissenting voices.
Some team members will volunteer their thoughts. Others will be reserved. Sales leaders must ask questions to understand where everyone stands. These quick wins do more than move the business forward; they challenge the leader to go further, which is critical for employees. The reason: talent begets talent.