In today’s environment, sales metrics are everything! No longer are sales assessed quarterly or annually. Somebody – in sales operations, senior leadership, and even regional or divisional leadership – is looking at the numbers daily, weekly, monthly, etc.
Through all of this, it’s not just the sales team’s performance that will be assessed. Those numbers also reflect our leadership effectiveness. Questions abound: What is affecting our sales performance? Is it the competition, market, inadequate sales ability, or incompetent leadership?
One key to unraveling that mystery is understanding what we, as sales leaders, can and cannot control – and where our time and effort are best spent. Here are two common mistakes that can hinder your success as a sales leader.
Mistake #1: Trying to bridge selling skills gaps with coaching.
Organizations currently spend more than $66 billion dollars annually on sales enablement tools, with marketing automation alone expected to surpass $25 billion within five years. Salesforce has projected its growth to $60 billion in annual revenue by 2034.
In reality, the most sophisticated sales/marketing enablement tools and the most brilliant leadership and coaching cannot compensate for a lack of selling skills, ability, or tenacity. Sales professionals must have communication skills to build relationships and foster trust, credibility, and rapport. According to a Salesforce survey, over 51 percent of organizations are focusing on the customer experience – and 79 percent of business buyers want to buy from a “trusted advisor.” Software will accomplish neither.
How can sales teams create exceptional customer experiences and transition to a trusted advisor role without the skills and specific processes for diagnosing customer needs, handling objections and resistance, and building collaborative teams? Without these foundational skills and methodologies, sales professionals are doomed to fail. If sales leaders don’t recognize that reality, they risk pouring endless hours and capital into “black hole” sales representatives who will never get it!
You can’t afford to be the sales leader who spends significant time working with unproductive sales reps via product training and monitoring of sales metrics – essentially doing the under-performing sales professional’s job at the expense of time spent with higher-potential team members.
We also need to be aware of the nature-versus-nurture aspect to sales excellence. The majority of sales professionals will realize dramatic performance improvement with proper training and reinforcement. Pareto Analysis is alive and well in most sales organizations, where approximately 20 percent of sales teams are significantly underperforming – or, worse, in a state I call “quit in place.” This population does not have the ability or nature to connect with customers, cultivate a relationship, move to that trusted advisor role, or create a collaborative environment. These individuals represent the anchor on your sales metrics.
Sales leaders must be able to diagnose whether sub-standard sales performance is a lack of selling skills (which can be learned), or a lack of reinforcement of skills. The “baptism effect” of dunking the sales team in sales training (and expecting results on training alone) has proven over 40 years to be ineffective.
Then there is sales ability (which sometimes cannot be learned). Some individuals just don’t have a high likability factor and really cannot connect with their customers and their own teams. We have all experienced the uncomfortable reality that certain people just cannot connect the dots. As leaders, we know it when we see it. We sometimes struggle to address it.
Ultimately, we must understand that neither is a situation that can be remedied by coaching alone or that will go away if ignored. As leaders, we must be willing to face reality and take action to remedy the situation – be it skill development or a personnel change.
Mistake #2: Overmanaging top-performing sales professionals.
The flip-side of investing time and energy in sales professionals with no real potential is overmanaging sales professionals who don’t need it. The reality is people do not leave companies; they leave their managers. Sales metrics conversations can lead us to relatively unproductive interactions with our best performers. In a recent interview with Selling Power magazine, I compared effective sales leadership with the dynamic of a great jazz band, in which the talented musicians are given a great deal of latitude and work off of one another to achieve their best performance. The most effective leaders understand that great talent needs to be facilitated, supported, enabled, and optimized – not controlled or micromanaged.
This is becoming more relevant as our sales teams become younger. Collaboration is the number one leadership skill needed for our top talent. With this segment of your sales team, the perspective should not be one of, “Are they doing things the right way?” It should be, “What can I do to help them be more successful?”
Sales leaders should be focused on how to make the best use of top reps’ time and talent, what barriers they are encountering, and how to remove them. They should be considering what internal resources are needed to drive value creation for customers – particularly the 79 percent of customers who want and need to buy from a “trusted advisor.”
And trusted advisors are exactly who our top sales team members need to become to facilitate continued growth and success, so let’s not get in their way. If we want to achieve excellence as sales leaders, knowing what, when, and how to work with our team members is more critical today than coaching skills themselves.