According to Harvard Business Review writer Scott Edinger founder of Edinger Consulting Group, the leadership job that's hardest to do is the head of sales. And not just because sales brings in the revenue and tends to feel the friction from the external environment first, though both are certainly true. But because in addition, sales leaders deal with situations no other department encounters! Below are the highlights of Scott's article "The Most Challenging Leadership Job"
Sales organizations are unique in ways that create unique challenges.
First of all, in most cases, sales reps are often spread out physically all over the place, since sellers tend to stay close to customers, not to headquarters. Not being all together makes substantive interactions between sales producers, management staff and sales team leaders difficult.
Second, there's no standard educational path, or shared body of knowledge, for sales professionals. Accounting leaders can look to the Generally Accepted Accounting Principles. Manufacturing leaders can look to Six Sigma and other well-defined processes. Human Resource practice is bound by regulations and case law stipulating what is acceptable and what is not. But sales professionals have experience and a lot of books to choose from. Few of them have university degrees in sales, since so few institutions of higher learning even offer one. Today's sales reps and future sales managers come to the job with backgrounds in everything from philosophy to physics, each with its own outlook and ways of thinking.
Finally sales professionals tend to be prima donnas. They have a tendency to challenge authority. They're very driven toward results, and they have strong preferences for how those results are achieved. And of course more often than not, they have extravert personalities.
Over the last decade Scott has had the opportunity to work with many great sales leaders. He found the best of them tend to share a common set of leadership traits and practices.
4 Leadership Traits of Effective and Successful Sales Leaders
- They lead with metrics. Everyone knows that the ultimate measures of success in sales are revenue and profit. But while critical, they are lagging indicators. The best sales leaders focus on leading indicators, as well — metrics like "key milestones in a long sales process" and "increases in the value of a pipeline," which are predictive of success or failure while there's still time to adjust. When your interactions with your staff are limited, few things are more powerful than having the right balance of both of these kinds of metrics.
- They coach and develop talent. Coaching is particularly critical for people learning most of their job on the job. That means that sales managers need to put a premium on developing the capabilities of their staff. Gallup research indicates that having the right manager can improve a seller's performance by 20%. Too many sales managers are promoted because they were great at selling but then fail to devote enough attention to teaching their staffs to do what they (used to) do. But the best sales leaders make coaching a priority. After all, even prima donnas want to improve their craft, be more successful, and earn more. (Read "Through The Eyes of The Sales Rep" white paper for additional details on the coaching activities that drive performance)
- They provide strategic guidance. A competitive strategy often looks terrific in a PowerPoint presentation in a boardroom or conference center. But rarely these strategies are not translated into specific actions for the members of a sales team. It is up to the sales manager to make it clear how their teams are expected to implement those plans so that the strategy is carried out effectively. (Download the best practice document from the EcSELL Institute Resource Library titled "Ride Along Coaching Guide", a tool to help you coach consistently)
- They keep the focus on value creation. This isn't about the value of the company's offerings; it is about the value created by sellers in the selling process. Sales managers must continually draw the focus of their teams away from simply discussing features and functions and toward the value they can create by helping clients define their needs, establish success measures, and meet their objectives with the company's products and services. When a sales staff guides customers to see needs they hadn't considered, helps them understand the impact of those needs, and introduces them to solutions or configurations they were unaware of, the chances for differentiation are far greater. And so is the likelihood that your company will earn the clients' business. (To learn more, download our sales management webinar on how a sales manager can helps reps become a trusted advisor)