Failure in sales is no joke and it’s never been more important to set yourself up for the future.

I ran a sales management masterclass for a global client and here are the key points I made to 30 sales managers about the way we all need to lead and inspire teams.

1. Purpose.

No sense of mission or purpose for the difference you’re making in the lives of others.Intent is everything… potential customers can smell it. There is nothing more repelling than having ‘sales breath’ where you’re all about yourself and making your sale rather than being all about them and the outcomes they need to achieve while managing risk. What difference do you make in the lives of your customers… personally and professionally? Be clear about the answer and ensure all of your salespeople are too. As a sales manager, make sure you’re all about your people rather than yourself and that you act in the best interests of your people, your customers, and your company.

2. Strategy. 

Every organization is political in nature and this means that there are competing priorities and hidden agendas. You need a strategy for managing relationships and engineering best value for the customer while creating a comparative bias toward the strengths of your team, your company, and your solution. Strategy need not be complicated but you must know how you can change the rules on the competition, kill the customer’s apathy, and embed yourself in a compelling business case where there is an inbuilt bias toward what you do best in the market.

3. Technology and Data.

Failure to be data-driven and leverage technologies. Average deal size is shrinking, the number of people to cover in an account is increasing, sales cycles are taking longer, and there is increased competition. All of this means that you and your salespeople must apply effort where it will be most productive. Treasure time, fully embrace your CRM system, leverage LinkedIn’s, harness data intelligence tools that provide direct dials and the insights that create context and ‘warm’ engagement. Leverage the strengths of weak ties to never make cold calls yet go get punch drunk on the phone while your competition has slipped into ‘snoozer mode’ of passive social selling. Combinations of technology and driving concurrent channels of outreach are how the best are crushing quota.

4. The right conversations. 

No-one is interested in what you do and how it works until they first see you as someone who can help them achieve the important outcomes they are accountable for in their role. Lead with why conversations matter and be specific about the opportunities you see for them to improve revenue, reduce costs, increase profitability and have a positive impact on the metrics by which they are measured and personally that matter to them. Have a ‘hypothesis of value’ about how they could improve their business based on what you’re seeing with other customers who have a similar profile. Make your narrative all about them rather than yourself!

5. Sense of urgency. 

Time kills deals. Momentum is difficult to create and so very easy to lose. Treasure every opportunity and constantly think about how you can create progression every day with each stakeholder in every opportunity. What’s the next step? What are the key milestones and dates? Who needs to be on board to achieve consensus and in order for a decision to be made? Hope and prayer is not a strategy… success is earned. Between the opening and the close is the middle… the middle is the place where many deals die. Your biggest risk is usually complacency. Constantly ask why it matters and what happens if it slips. If there is a not a ‘compelling event’ then there had better be a compelling business case.

6. Discipline. 

We must do what needs to be done, when it needs to be done, and regardless of how we feel. Beyond going through the motions, we need to also execute masterfully. The discipline of training and repetitive correct execution is the hallmark of the very best in their field.

“Everybody wants to be a bodybuilder, but don’t nobody want to lift no heavy-ass weights. But I Do”

Ronnie Coleman

7. Execution. 

Having a rubbish narrative and not executing the fundamentals is the most common reason for sales failure. If you can’t secure meaningful conversations with the people of power and set the right agenda, then you’re working with someone else’s agenda. The customer forms an opinion of us quickly and we need to earn their trust and respect at every stage and through every interaction. Many deals are lost by the seller tripping over their own shoelaces. Can we write professionally and do we proof-read? Do we turn up on time? Have we done our research? Do we have insight? Is our demo relevant? Are our slides on point and all about them not us? Do we ask the right open questions? The list goes on… make every post a winner. You and your team need to all do the basics well.

8. Managing Expectations. 

Let’s face it… your boss is a lunatic who has an insatiable appetite for ever-increasing performance results and no regard for your personal life. They are happy to burn you out, throw you under the bus or melt you with their blow torch. You must manage their expectations. Customers are also crazy as they bark orders for you to jump through hoops and dance to their discord. They adopt ill-conceived strategies for managing their risks and often unwittingly work against themselves. It’s essential to positively influence their process, set the right agenda, then ‘culturally’ align. Ensure you have alignment with their process and reasonable goals and achievable time-frames. Be proactive early and know that yes-people are not respected.

9. Humility and the willingness to learn. 

Lifelong learning is the hallmark of the smartest humble people on the planet. Conversely, salespeople must be the worst readers on the planet. So many sellers think they know it all and have no need of improvement. Curiosity and a willingness to learn is what transforms a sales career. The best sales managers have their people on a reading program and they test whether they actually read or listen to the books, watch the videos, do the research. They turn sales meeting into sessions that actually provide value for the salespeople rather than cadence forecast meetings.

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Tony Hughes
Tony Hughes has 35 years of corporate and sales leadership experience having generated record-breaking results as a salesperson, head of sales, and CEO leading the Asia-pacific region for multi-nationals. He is a best-selling author, consultant, trainer and keynote speaker. Tony is Co-founder and Sales Innovation Director at Sales IQ Global. He serves on advisory boards and has been published by The American Management Association. Tony has also taught sales for Sydney University, University of New South Wales, and within the MBA program at the University of Technology, Sydney. He has been ranked #1 sales blogger globally by both Top Sales Magazine and Best Sales Blogger Awards. Tony is ranked a top 3 sales expert and thought leader globally by LinkedIn and the most read person on the topic of B2B selling within their platform. He has more than 500,000 blog followers and has been rated the most influential person in professional selling within Asia-Pacific three years in a row. His first book, The Joshua Principle – Leadership Secrets of Selling, is in its 10th printing and his most recent books, COMBO Prospecting and Tech-Powered Sales are published by HarperCollins Leadership New York. Tony speaks at conferences internationally and his clients are some of the best-known brands in the world including Salesforce, Grant Thornton, SAP, IBM, Flight Centre Travel Group, Adobe, Siemens, Docusign and other market leaders.