Transformational Leadership in the Sales World Continued
Part 2.2 – Various Hats Of Effective Sales Leaders
As mentioned in the introductory post of this 2 part blog, as a sales leader you have many hats to wear. To be an effective and successful sales leader I believe you need strong communication and interpersonal skills, and be able to know when to move between being leader, manager, mentor and coach for your team. There is often overlap, and the terms are sometimes used (incorrectly, in my opinion) interchangeable – so, what are the hats that make for an effective sales leader, and when do you need to use each of these skills?
Leader – giving direction to your team
I believe leadership is about selling the direction of the company and your team, whether that is the long-term strategy, or the shorter term tactics that need to be deployed – the ‘why’ behind the ‘what’ and ‘how’ of management, if you like.
It isn’t just about giving the inspiring speech though, and ensuring everyone understands the message, it is also about ensuring your actions are aligned to the messages you are delivering. If, for example, the strategic direction of the company is to offer fair and honest pricing to customers, you need to ensure that your decisions with your team support this, and not allow for that ‘one case’, where you know you can get away with a higher margin, to happen.
It is also ensuring you are living the values you are talking about – you need to lead by example. If you are giving the direction of being fair and honest this means no talking about other team members behind their back – as when others hear this, you are sending two possible messages:
1. This is what you say about me behind my back and/or
2. It is okay for me to bad mouth my colleagues, and you.
Manager – letting your team know what needs to be done and ensuring it happens
There are many management styles and depending on several factors, including urgency, prescriptiveness of output, and experience of the team, will mean you will need to deploy the style most appropriate for the situation. For example, a new member of staff may need very explicit instructions of what to do to give them the confidence to progress a deal; an experienced member of staff may just need to know the output you desire and timescale and you know they will work to this and you just need to be on hand to remove any roadblocks for them. If the board have given a very prescriptive output, such as an executive sponsorship report structure, you need to communicate this to the team and ensure they are sticking to this – there is no room for their interpretation.
A mistake is sometimes not wanting to be seen as a ‘micro manager’ and then not checking in with your staff on progress. The risk is, without regular checkpoints, they wait too long to tell you about a concern because they want to sort things out for themselves. This is great and empowering to a point, but your role as a manager is to manage the task so it is your role to know where your team is at, and to support in moving things along to ensure successful completion by the agreed deadline. Let your team know from the outset the expectations – for example – that they own getting that deal over the line, but you will expect daily updates [state if this is in writing, or verbally], that you want to know if there are any roadblocks that they haven’t been able to remove within 24 hours of identifying, that your role is to ensure this is delivered to time and budget/margin, and their role is to make this happen!
Mentor – sharing your experiences
Mentoring and managing can get confused. As a mentor you are sharing your experiences so the individual can get the view of how you did something, getting an understanding from your experience of what worked for you, and decide if this is how they could also approach the situation; managing is ensuring the task is done, and it may be that it has to be very prescriptive in the direction given. This means you may have experience to impart, so the lines may blur, or it may be that it isn’t a learning opportunity for someone to get insights into your experiences, and it is imperative they ‘just do it’.
Mentoring can also be used alongside coaching. You can give your experience and then ask ‘how would you deal with the situation?’
This is why it is often easier to mentor individuals outside of your direct reporting line. You can be more objective, and individuals are never confused as to the role you are taking and if they have to follow your experience or if it is purely a suggestion.
Coach – asking the questions to allow your team to find their own answers
Being a coach, or having a coaching management style involves having the time to devote to your team members to ask them questions to unlock their full potential. It is difficult to do as the answers given may not be the answers you would give, or would expect to hear. It takes patience, and practice to listen and understand the other view-point, to not overrule with your own opinion and overpower the situation by basically telling them they are wrong by giving your own solution. It is a balance and learning coaching skills is a great way to develop your team. Asking things like:
‘do you feel that would be the most effective way?’
‘do you think there are other options for how to handle this?’
can elicit further dialogue and help someone find different answers themselves, empowering them to implement a strategy that they have developed and could work for them.
I would suggest using coaching when you want the individual to find their own answers. If you are really wanting the individual to do something differently, but your way, mentoring or managing styles may be better styles to adopt.
I think all of these roles have their place and the skill as a sales leader comes in knowing the appropriate time to be utilising each of the roles. As a coach, I know the power of coaching. As a manager, I always preferred using a coaching style as, although I am a control freak by nature, I accepted that my way wasn’t necessarily the best way of doing something, so I would prefer to give my team the expectations of the end results and let them find their own way. If they struggled with this, I would give my opinion and/or facilitate a brainstorming session, however, I know there were times I should have been more managerial and given a more prescriptive way of doing something, to avoid some mistakes or missed deadlines. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but I do think it is important to reflect and take the learnings for your own future development.
When I have had the pleasure of working with more junior or ‘entry level’ positions, mentoring is a great way to help them learn, but I try to do this alongside coaching so they understand that this was the way I handled something, but would they do it differently? Does it fit with their ‘style’? Do they actually think I handled it well? [This can be a tough question to hear the answer to!]
I don’t think anyone gets it ‘right’ 100% of the time; we are all a work in progress and doing the best we can. Having the skills is one thing, knowing the theory is great, but the application is where the real learning happens and where you get to hone and develop your own sales leadership styles. Embrace the process, keep being open to feedback and learning, and you will keep improving as a sales leader.
About the Guest Author: Lindsey Hood is a life and executive coach who specialises in working with amazing professionals who secretly struggle with imposter syndrome, to help them feel genuinely confident by embracing their unique awesomeness and excelling in the career they love! Lindsey has had a successful corporate career working in management, sales enablement, product marketing, and project management. https://lindseyhood.net