Most leaders spend most of their time in the ‘managing zone’ rather than the ‘leading zone’.
When we look at the critical role that sales leaders play in delivering tangible outcomes for the business, 75%* of the contribution comes from the sales leaders behaviour and how they communicate (* based on research by Human Synergistics). This drives the sales environment and dynamics (i.e.culture) and hence leads to how motivated and driven the sales team is, what specific action they take, and hence what outcomes they achieve. So the responsibility that sits on the shoulders of the sales leaders is huge, and when you then analyse as part of the behaviour and communication of the sales leader, leadership versus management, this can have a huge bearing on the outcome and therefore the sales and revenue results.
The responsibility of the sales leaders is to drive consistent performance, and whether you are building a team from scratch, or have inherited a team, you will start with potential – potential of the people. The challenge is to convert that potential into performance and this is achieved through leading and managing. It is important to understand that a sales leader must both lead and manage in order to drive this performance – the key is whether the majority of time is spent leading or managing. When I asked this question to the sales leaders, not surprisingly, the realisation was that around 80% of their time was being invested in managing, due largely to the demands being placed upon them by their leaders and the business pressures. The challenge for them, and for many sales leaders, is to flip this on its head and focus 80% of their time on leading and only around 20% managing.
This change can be achieved through focusing on high quality activities versus low quality activities. Here are 5 high quality activities we explored to drive higher sales leadership competency:
- Investing Time In Visibility – one of the biggest challenges these sales leaders face on a regular basis is the constant internal requests for reporting and strategy updates that absorb significant amounts of time, resulting in reduced access to and interaction with their team. They all agreed that some reporting is required and important, however, when it starts to significantly impede their ability to be with their people, productivity and effectiveness can drop. One of the attributes of great sales leaders is their relentless commitment and focus on visibility, of being with their people. Investing time with people is critical and it will pay huge dividends. It enables you to observe your people in their natural environment, build high quality relationships, and increase your influence either 1:1 or in a group setting. Often just being ‘visible’ and available is enough to increase performance, because your team know you are there to back them. So, as a sales leader, analyse your diary and determine the amount of time you spend on internal, inwardly focused activities, versus activities that are focused on developing relationships and progressing opportunities.
- Investing Time In 1:1 Coaching – another challenge many sales leaders share is the lack of available time (or the perception of lack of time!) available to get things done. Many of them are ‘time poor’ meaning that areas that will deliver higher return on their time investment, such as coaching, are placed either in the ‘nice to do’ basket, or sometimes the ‘too hard’ basket. When quizzed on this, many leaders advised that there were simply too many immediate or short term demands being placed on them by the business, forcing them to re-prioritise. The outcome? Their team were not experiencing the benefits of coaching. In reality, this is simply an excuse. What the leaders are really saying is that coaching is not a priority, and to their credit, some even confirm that they avoid coaching because they don’t know how to do it effectively, or find it really uncomfortable to do. The fact is, great sales leaders make coaching their team non-negotiable. It is either #1 or #2 on their priority list and they recognise that quality coaching time with a sales person can not only help fast track that sales person’s development and performance, it can also help unlock some time in the sales leaders calendar, because they are able to potentially delegate more, or the sales person is able to develop and implement strategies with a higher level of independence. So as a sales leader, look over your diary for the last 45 days and count up the number of hours you invested in coaching your team. Now look 45 days into the future and count how many sessions you have diarised. If the ‘cupboard is bare’, you know what must be done. This activity alone will fundamentally change your sales leadership influence in a huge way.
- Creating An Empowering Environment – logically the sales leaders understood that creating a great team culture was critical in the ability of the team to deliver on the performance objectives of the company. However, when asked how they go about creating that environment, for some, it was difficult to articulate. At a high level, a great sales leader will focus on creating an environment that people want to be part of. The team becomes a ‘destination’ and when working well, people from outside the team and outside the organisation are asking “how can I become part of that?” A key component of this environment is the standards of behaviour that are implemented and benchmarked. These standards are consistent and they are non-negotiable, and each member of the team, including the leader, will be measured against them. This drives consistency and accountability. There will also be a set of expectations put in place, for example around decision making – a great sales leader will expect his team to make decisions based on a set of agreed guiding principles and know, that if a decision is incorrect, there will be no reprisal or repercussions for making a mistake. The environment created in one where calculated risks are expected, and the leader will fully support the team in the decision making process. What environment are you creating for your sales team?
- Ensuring Feedback Is Compulsory – linked to the environment is an uncompromising focus on feedback. Great sales leaders understand that feedback is the breakfast of champions, so they quickly become feedback seeking machines. They also instil in their team a focus on self feedback and hence spend a lot of time asking the team to self reflect and provide themselves with feedback. This focus promotes constant and never ending improvement and when a team has developed a positive habit around feedback, there is less ‘heavy lifting’ required from the leader, because the capability and competency level of the entire team has been lifted. Another key aspect around feedback is that a great sales leader will never deliver feedback to the team or an individual without first asking for permission to do so. It is not in their DNA. When a sales leader has developed the empowering environment and built the muscle around feedback, very rarely, if ever, will they have an individual reject the opportunity for feedback. As a sales leader, what is your competency level around feedback? Do you constantly seek feedback? Do you ask your team to provide themselves with feedback? If not, start developing this muscle. It is critical.
- Commitment to Training & Development – leaders are learners. It may be a cliché, but it is 100% true. Great sales leaders have a commitment to continuous learning, whether it be formalised learning, small workshops, or seeking new knowledge through books, audio programs or podcasts. These sales leaders understand that you never ‘arrive’ and that there is always another level to climb to, constantly focusing on improvement. The key point to understand here is that whilst the leaders will seek new knowledge, they know that this knowledge is only powerful when it is utilised. As such, they have an uncompromising focus on training and development of their team, and will make this a priority, irrespective of what distractions may be obvious within the business. This also comes back to culture and the expectations of the sales people. When training and development is a priority and most importantly, the sales leader ‘practices what they preach’, by not only attending the training, but also implementing and embedding the outcomes of the training, high quality success habits are created within the team that will further drive performance. How committed are you towards training and development for yourself and your people? Make this a priority.
We know that sales leadership success requires both leadership and management in order to drive high performance. Through focusing on these 5 high quality activities, you will be able to put yourself in a very strong position to invest 80% of your time leading and 20% managing, and this will deliver outstanding performance.
To your continued sales leadership success.