By Tom Stanfill
My transition to sales manager was fairly typical. I was promoted from a role where I had excelled (selling) to a role where I was completely incompetent. In those early years of managing a team, I was more of an interactive kiosk than a leader. “If you have questions, I have answers. Be safe out there.”
Because I was struggling to lead my team, I started seeking advice from the top performers. Since then I have observed and worked with hundreds if not thousands of sales managers. And, because the frontline sales manager plays such a vital role in driving revenue, determining culture, and rep engagement, my thirst to understand the secret sauce of the best of the best has never been quenched.
So here’s what I’ve learned from the sales leaders who consistently kill their number.
They Remove the Mystery
Earlier in my career, I worked with an exceptionally gifted sales leader. He built a fledgling sales force of 20 into a multibillion-dollar sales organization. In the early years, I asked him why his team consistently outsold everyone else. He explained a simple philosophy: failure isn’t an option. Success is predictable if you do what’s required. He told every recruit success is just a choice. “I will tell you what is required to succeed, and – if you are willing to follow the plan – you will succeed. There is one requirement: willingness. The key that opens the door to a coaching session is desire. So, if you’re in, I’m in. If you need additional training at 6:30 a.m., I’ll be there.”
He removed the mystery and distilled success down to a formula. If reps weren’t willing to participate, that would be their choice. He would help them find another job that was right for them. But, if they were willing to do what was required to succeed, he would gladly walk that path with them.
They Wear a Different Hat
For most, “sales manager” is an accurate label, but it doesn’t describe the high performers. The best sales managers spend far more time developing their people by coaching than focusing on the metrics by managing.
The best sales managers understand that selling requires skills – and developing those skills doesn’t happen when talking about the numbers. An athlete doesn’t get better by focusing on the scoreboard. Yes, knowing how you are performing in relation to your goal is important, but knowing the problem doesn’t improve execution, just desire.
Alternatively, mediocre leaders typically believe that coaching isn’t worth the effort – or they are just too short sighted. Much like planting a peach seed and, after two weeks, saying, “Where’s the tree? I knew it – peaches come from stores.” Top-tier leaders know that coaching will yield quality results with time.
Selling boils down to a handful of abilities, much like golf. In golf, driving the ball, hitting long irons, chipping, and putting are four elements required to succeed. You don’t have to know anything about the game to tell if the ball lands in the fairway, hits the green, or falls in the cup. The core elements of selling (e.g., discovery) should be measured the same way. High-performing sales leaders don’t argue about stance, swing, and the hundreds of behaviors that result in success; they first focus on where the ball lands. This approach ensures the student and teacher are aligned on what must happen to achieve the best result. Once the team member understands how poor “putting” is effecting overall results, they embrace the need to examine how they are “putting” and work on the specific skills required to improve.
They Are Strategic
Who owns the number? Who owns the plan to hit the number? Successful leaders invest in reps who have a goal and a plan to meet it. They know that all effort is wasted until the rep is striving for something. Because, when people have a desire to achieve, they will have a desire to change.
Leaders simply don’t have the time to invest in reps who aren’t willing to change. They learned a long time ago that you can’t force someone to learn a new skill. “If you don’t want to improve your game, I’m not going to the driving range and wasting time while you pretend to practice. When you really want to get better, call me.” This approach ensures the responsibility to improve lands squarely on the rep’s shoulders.
They See People
There is a South African Zulu greeting that starts with Sikhona, “I am here to be seen.” The other person responds by saying, Sawubona – “I see you.”
We all want to be seen. We all want to be uniquely valued. We may not articulate that, but it’s true.
The best leaders see each team member – not as a number but as an individual. They believe the relationship isn’t dependent on performance. Poor performance may affect the team member’s role or job, but not the relationship.
The best leaders know how their reps take their coffee, how they learn, and what they are passionate about – not as some technique to leverage performance, but because they genuinely care. They are Other-Centered® leaders.
Somewhere in life, they learned a simple truth: if you are for them, they will follow you.
Tom Stanfill is co-founder and CEO of ASLAN Training & Development. Tom has more than 20 years of experience consulting and developing training programs for the sales organizations for some of the largest and most respected companies in the world.