The Various Hats Of Effective Sales Leaders and When To Wear Them

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.

Summary

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.

Lindsey Hood

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

A Key To Over Performance – If Done Right

Motivation – Results because they want to achieve them

Motivation can be tricky and daunting. I often see organizations very focused on extrinsic motivation, and allowing intrinsic motivation takes a backseat. Before we dive in to what I mean, here is a quick illustration to differentiate the two types of motivation:

motivation types

Intrinsic motivation is critical to being a transformational leader, and the differentiator in motivating employees to overachievement. The art of motivation can be figured out, as long as you understand one thing: there is not and will never be a single formula to motivate employees on a mass scale. Motivation is like a tailor-made suit, designed with only the individual in mind, but first you have to know their measurements to get the perfect fit. To think otherwise is simply a missed opportunity to take your staff from good to great and achieving to over achieving. Dwight D. Eisenhower said it best:

quote-Dwight-D.-Eisenhower-leadership-is-the-art-of-getting-someone-490Sales is a great example of where intrinsic motivation can often be forgotten. “Sales people are motivated by money! Show them the money, and they’ll do it.” Sure, money does in fact incentivize sales folks – but it’s not an rule of thumb. Let me just debunk that myth with a quick story.

I was leading the creation of sales campaign – with the goal to build up a solid pipeline during what was historically a very slow quarter for our business. I pulled together an amazing team to collaborate and ensure this was the most successful campaign yet. We evaluated all of the lessons learned from past campaigns that didn’t yield the results we were hoping for and addressed them. As the team and started to build a solid plan, with enough time to prepare the execution {for once}, we knew if it just had an achievable target for the reps backed by a killer incentive we would crush it. We solicited a ton of feedback from the reps, created a simple go to market message for a focused audience, and even sweetened the deal by incorporating a lucrative incentive for our clients. The sales incentive was standard quota attainment paid via commission, a heafy heafy SPIF on top of that, and of course a healthy competition for bragging rights. {For the non-sales folks, a SPIF is basically a sales bonus usually a fixed amount based on a predefined goal – it’s not intended to replace commission}. Listen folks, when I say heafty, I mean it. Between commission potential and the bonus the rep had the opportunity to take home an extra $10K +  for closing a single deal with 90 days to do it, minimum. When you think about an average deal size and sales cycle within this prospect list, it was MORE than achievable. Wow, we were finally going to crush this one. Nope.

Making the assumption that all the reps were incentivized enough at that moment in time by cash and by competition, landed me in one of the easiest traps to fall into; assuming one motivation formula fits all. What I could have done was specifically tailored motivational ‘options’ that encompassed both extrinsic and intrinsic drivers that the reps could choose from so that they were passionate about the result. For example, some of them were looking to transition to management or expand their experience outside of sales, while others were looking for flexibility, and some to get in the field and travel to shows more, others just simply wanting a deeper connection of their impact to the business. A lot of these folks were on their way or already on the ultimate sales leaderboard of presidents club and making money, they weren’t inspired by just my little white board local office competition or the bonus. The worst part is, I KNEW ALL OF THIS…but I just missed the opportunity. It wasn’t intentional, it was simply an after thought. Wouldn’t it have been cool if I had offered a variety of things like working from home, a management development plan, a lead role in planning a sales event or cross functional project, or a front seat to the biggest trade show or conference of the year? Would it have been more work for me to create? Sure, but I can guarantee you, that kind of approach alone to customize drivers would not have gone unnoticed, and naturally would have also created even more enjoyment to preserver in support of my elaborate effort.

Don’t just ask, dig deep and pay attention!

To understand what motivates people, you must first understand where they are in their career, life or circumstance, what their goals are, and what is driving them and sometimes that means a balance of both extrinsic and intrinsic motivators. THESE THINGS CAN AND DO CHANGE. For example, if someone has mentioned their spouse just lost their job, their motivators at that time could be money and stability. If someone has expressed their hunger for transitioning their career or field of expertise, or starting their own thing, motivators could be knowledge and purpose. There are some opinions out there that suggesting finding this out is simple, and that you just ask them. I don’t agree with that, it certainly doesn’t hurt however, often times people do not realize what their true motivators are until they are presented with something that brings them true excitement or inspiration. I cannot count the number of times someone has told me one thing motivates them the most, only to see that not be the case.  Someone once told me their #1 motivator was having autonomy and trust from a great leader to make an impact {that’s really 3 things}, only to see when they had that, they were actually more motivated by title and status. In fact, I have even awarded role changes or promotions to folks {justified of course based on achievement and skill} that they insisted on a desire for a change and opportunity to expand their experience across the business; only to have them realize shortly there after that mastery of their original craft and more money is what really inspired them. Guiding people to their purpose to identify their drivers is not easy, but you have to dig deeper, and you have to pay attention. Your employees will appreciate this. Here are few questions you can try:

motivational questions

To sum it up folks, do not miss opportunities to motivate your employees to exceed their ceiling and over perform – not just because they have to, but because they want to. Understanding the factors behind someone’s drive and tailoring methods to achieve all types of motivation is the key.

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