What to do About Sales’ Leadership Crisis
Far too many sales reps are still failing to make quota despite all the advances in sales enablement and technology. The precise numbers will vary according to the given study, but it’s still under half. And much of that is down to sales managers and leaders not being effective enough in guiding their organization. That means if you’re in a supervisory capacity, you need to take a long, hard look at what you’re doing and possibly commit to changes.
- Limit yourself to three primary goals.
This might seem counterintuitive, but trying to achieve too many things at once ultimately leads to hitting none or only one or two objectives. Instead, select three primary goals – for example, $X amount of revenue, $Y number of qualified leads, and $Z opportunity to final round conversion rate.
- Select the right KPIs for the goals.
Once you’ve chosen your three primary goals, attune them to the correct KPIs. The rule of three again applies here – no more than three KPIs attached to each goal, and the fewer, the better. Again, it’s about tightly focusing on what’s most important in driving sales success.
What are the right KPIs? The ones that measure activity for each goal. Certain activities lead to revenue, others increase the qualified leads, and still more shift opportunity to the final round. Choosing the right activities is going to depend on your sales process, your industry and target market, etc.
- Hold both yourself and your sales reps accountable to their individual goals and KPIs.
You and your sales reps know the goals and the activity-based KPIs. That’s great. But in order for all but the rare self-motivated reps to accomplish those objectives, you’re going to need to institute a culture of accountability.
That means if a rep or a team is falling down on the benchmarks, you need to call attention to it. But you also need to find out *why* they’re not meeting the expected standard. Is it a knowledge/skill deficit? Is it an error in their sales approach? Do they have phone anxiety? Are buyers simply not receptive to how your organization is selling? Is it something you don’t understand about the market state?
As you can see, some of these possible reasons highlight areas of needed improvement for individual reps or the team and others point to a demand for rethinking things from a higher strategic level. But it’s important to find the root cause and address it.
- Commit to coaching.
None of this framework will accomplish very much without on-going coaching. You can set benchmarks, you can point out when they’re not being met, you can find out what’s gone wrong, but ultimately the engine to sales rep development and better organizational outcomes is coaching.
You’ll have to prioritize time to coach, know what to coach to (likely a combination of behaviors and scenario-specific strategies), and how to coach each individual direct report.
You’ll also need a balance between praise and critique. But here’s the thing: that doesn’t necessarily mean a 50/50 between the two. Know your reps and what motivates them but typically you’ll want to lean more towards the side of praise.
Another factor to consider when coaching – communication styles. There’s a lot of talk about the importance of customer communication preferences in sales. Why then, aren’t more sales leaders invested in matching the communication styles of their employees? Buyers might buy your product or service, but your employees need to buy your coaching and organizational ethos. It’s a buyer/seller framework in the context of a supervisor/report relationship, so it’s worth at least experimenting with aligning to your reps’ preferred communication styles.
- Remember, you’re a sales leader – not a popularity contest participant.
Something we see periodically is a sales manager who believes a harmonious workplace means that they’re well-liked by their sales reps. This is an understandable assumption. It’s also wrong.
The reality is, there’s going to be times when one or more of your team are going to be unhappy with you. Perhaps they think you’re pushing them too much or being too critical. But that’s okay – so long as you’re helping them to develop their skills and become better sales reps.
Demand more. Expect more. Your team will rise or sink to the standards you enforce. And if people are temporarily miffed, but end up more skilled, knowledgeable, and efficient salespeople because of it, all to the good.
- Invest in training – both for yourself and your reps.
55% of all sales professionals lack basic selling skills. 58% of buyers think sales reps are unable to answer questions effectively. 82% of B2B decisionmakers think sales reps are unprepared (Statistics source).
It’s a grim picture, but one that highlights a fact: Sales reps need training. And since your coaching will be a major factor in reinforcing the training so that the benefits translate into long-term behavioral change that positively impacts sales results, you need it, too. (Training in becoming a better coach is worth pursuing as well).
- Seek input from your team.
Whether your organization’s sales structure and culture operate on traditional top-down lines of authority or are collaborative, it’s a good idea to solicit the thoughts and opinions of your reps. You might find the solution to a problem with a buyer or realize an internal adjustment that will benefit your organization by having someone else’s perspective.
- Accept that you’re responsible for your reports’ success.
Remember, you’re in a position of authority and leadership. Whether your team succeeds or fails is ultimately on you. Yes, external conditions can influence the degree of success or not, but in the final accounting, you’re responsible.
Although there’s a shortage of stellar sales leadership overall in the global landscape, much like the act of selling itself, becoming a leader isn’t just a born trait. It’s a skillset that can be learned and mastered. The recommendations we’ve outlined above will put you on the path to improving and becoming the best sales leader you’re capable of.
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