Recent research suggests that the average tenure of a chief sales officer is about 24 months. Why the rapid turnover? In today’s tough market, CEOs demand a return to growth and change. If the sales leader can’t manage change, CEOs change management.
I like to think of sales leadership as a steam locomotive. Good sales leaders have fire in the belly. They are able to create enough steam to move the train (their people) forward so they can reach the company’s revenue goals, on time and on budget.
Good sales leaders have vision. They see, think, and plan ahead. They are also dreamers. They dream big and with their eyes open. When others ask, “Why bother?” sales leaders see opportunity. They imagine what could be and ask, “Why not?” Leaders keep their followers on track and on time. They say, “Get moving or get left behind.”
A good economy and business model make all sales leaders look very smart. But with success comes arrogance and reluctance to change. What many sales leaders fail to realize is that, while they run the engine in front of the train, there is a second engine in the back that is pushing the train forward. That second engine is the economy. In good times, the engine pushing in the back makes the leader look and feel good. Arrogant leaders often believe that it is their own steam that creates the forward momentum. When the economy shrinks or when the business model falters, the back engine quits pushing. That is the moment of truth in which the true sales leader will create more steam to move the train forward while poor sales leaders get stuck and get the boot.
When the economy runs out of steam, sales leaders are willing and able to build up more steam, pick up the slack, and keep the train moving ahead at top speed. How?
1. They don’t give up until they’ve found the best way to harness the collective genius of their organization to reach their business objectives.
2. They help their salespeople improve by clearly communicating what they need to do to meet the company’s goals and the expectations of management.
3. They coach salespeople and help them adopt the successful behaviors that lead to results.
4. They give their salespeople the right technology they need to improve their performance, drive up productivity, and cut out the tedious and repetitive tasks that salespeople are not paid for
5. They help create sales processes that reflect how customers want to buy.
6. They associate analytics with every sales process in order to ensure ongoing improvement.
7. They measure their salespeople’s performance objectively and create a level playing field.
8. They set high expectations for each team member and appraise and review results on a regular basis.
9. They praise good performance in public and consistently celebrate high achievement.
10. They help salespeople connect with C-level executives to help increase the chances for closing the sale – without taking over the salesperson’s role.
11. They create effective compensation and incentive programs that are motivating to the sales team.
12. They generate hope and optimism throughout the sales organization and help their team grow and win against an overwhelming tide of adversity.
How can you spot a good sales leader? Just ask one how long he or she has held his or her job. If the answer is for more than three years and with the same company, you know that he or she has already beaten the odds.
Related video: Effective Sales Leadership
Watch this six-minute interview with Dr. Todd Harris, director of research for PI Worldwide. Dr. Harris found that 50 percent of sales leaders seem to suffer from a lack in competence, as judged by the people who work for them. He believes that successful sales leaders have three common attributes: passion, principles, and performance.
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