When I first entered the sales profession, my sales manager provided a data dump of product info for me during onboarding. The next phase of my training was to shadow one of the senior sales reps for a few days. I learned how he did sales, both the good and the bad. Then, before I knew it, I was ready to start calling prospects. After a few weeks, my sales manager asked me, “How are things going?” In hindsight, that first sales position taught me exactly what not to do as a sales leader. In this article, we’ll explore common sales leadership failures and how to fix them to create a high-performing sales team.
The funny thing about sales is that most of us didn’t plan for a career in sales. Once we got good at selling, we liked it. Many of us became sales leaders either by choice, accident, or default and ended up in a sales management role. Now it’s our responsibility to lead a team of sales reps, hit the numbers, and grow the business. As leaders, we all strive to motivate our reps, coach the team, and lead them to success. When we fall short, it’s frustrating and we start questioning our abilities.
In our experience, working with hundreds of companies and thousands of individuals, we’ve identified common mistakes sales leaders make that hinder their team’s performance. Below are the common sales leadership failures to watch out for.
The Sales Leader Problem #1: Denial of Complexity
When we were new and inexperienced, everything was important. The smallest details mattered, and we were cautious of everything we did or said. Remember how you entered data in the new software, worried you’d hit the wrong key and crash the system? As we grew and developed our skills, we forgot how important the fundamentals are. We started discounting the little things. As sales leaders we skip critical details that we assume our sales reps should know. What seems obvious to us is often unfamiliar to a new salesperson.
I’m reminded of UCLA’s famous basketball coach John Wooden. He recruited the best basketball prospects in the country. Players who were picked in the first round of the NBA draft such as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Bill Walton. He didn’t start his coaching with conditioning drills or shooting drills. Instead, he started his coaching the very basics, tying your shoes. This was his mindset:
“If your shoes become untied, I may have to take you out of the game or practice. If you miss practice, you’re going to miss playing time. If you miss playing time, we may lose the game, and not only that, it will irritate me a little too.”
The Fix: Even though tying your shoes was a basic skill all his players knew how to do, Wooden’s philosophy was more detailed. He knew that if you don’t have time to do it right the first time, when will you have time to do it again? You can’t take the little things for granted in sales, because it’s the little things that form the foundation of success. A good sales leader will break down each step, provide examples and explain the why behind the example. Take a lesson from John Wooden and ensure your team understands the fundamentals of selling first.
The Sales Leader Problem #2: Sales Take-Over Syndrome
We’ve all experienced this at one time or another in our sales career. The sales manager jumps on a call and takes over the presentation in front of the prospect. Or maybe as a manager, your president takes over the meeting you had scheduled and dominates the session you had planned with your team. This may give a short-term boost to performance, but the long-term negative impact is that it affects confidence, lowers morale, and negatively impacts skill development. Sales take-over syndrome is a common mistake that can be avoided.
If you do it repeatedly, your sales reps will learn to expect you to close their deals for them. It’s called learned helplessness. Your sales reps will fail to never learn new behaviors. This will negatively impact your team’s growth and limit your leadership ability. It will lead to a downward spiral of working too hard and trying to do everything for everyone.
The Fix: Don’t do your sales rep’s job for them. A good sales manager does not have to be a good salesperson. You want your sales reps to build rapport with prospects, which requires observing and not taking over. A sales manager who shows respect for the salesperson in front of a client builds confidence in all parties. Just like you teach a child to ride a bicycle, you need to take off the training wheels and let them learn through self-discovery. They may get a few bumps and bruises, but they will learn faster and grow their confidence.
The Sales Leader Problem #3: Over Focus on Low-Achievers
The obvious reps to dedicate your limited time with feels like the low performers. Thinking your low performing sales reps are the low-hanging fruit is a mistake. If you can raise the C-player to an A-player level, the thinking goes, you’ll break sales records. But what happens more often than not, is that the C-players will monopolize your time and attention, but barely impact the bottom line. Meanwhile, the B-players may become frustrated because they are ignored and not getting the development they need.
The Fix: Focus on the middle. Use the top performers as an example and allow them to share their skills with the team. This will do two things — empower the top performer and build trust within the team. It will also free up your time to focus on your B performers which have the best likelihood to improve performance.
Time management is a critical component of sales leadership. A good time allocation rule of thumb for sales coaching is:
- 60% of your coaching time with B reps
- 15% of your coaching time with C reps
- 25% of your coaching time with A reps
Many new sales managers make the common mistake of spending an equal amount of time with each sales rep. Be thoughtful about how you spend your time and focus your energy where you will get the best outcomes.
The role of the sales manager is one of the most challenging in any business. For new sales leaders, it can feel like you are swimming against the current. Exhausting. But if you avoid these common mistakes, you can quickly develop momentum that carries your company to new sales records.
Has your organization recently hired a new sales manager? Is low performance affecting your sales culture? Janek Performance Group has helped hundreds of companies build high performing sales teams with culture-building activities, one-on-one sales manager coaching, and train the trainer workshops. If you think your team could benefit from our experience, schedule a call with trainer today.