Sales Leadership

Building Great Culture Takes Courage

I am fortunate to be on a great sales team right now.  I’ve had the privilege to build a sales team from the ground up and the kind of team you would want to be a part of.  It wasn’t easy.  Three years ago the team was performing poorly, dependent on one successful account manager and generally disconnected from each other.  We’ve been through very difficult challenges to progress to where we are now.

More than any other reason, courage has been the driving force in developing our team culture.  Sales is a demanding, high pressure profession.  Most seasoned sales people have worked for sales leaders that are demanding, critical and condescending especially when a sales person falls short of the number.

In my opinion, this style doesn’t work (at least over the long run) and is the leading cause for toxic culture on a sales team.  I believe this style is based on that leader’s inability to do their jobs more than it has to do with the performance of anyone on the team.

Here is some advice for those who want to build great culture for their sales team:

  1. Put Your People First – I see a lot of sales leaders that are great at managing up but when it comes to really engaging with the team, they fall short.  It’s critical that your sales people feel you’re committed to their success.  This is a function of showing them, on a daily basis, that their success is your number one priority, not your success.
  2. Build Trust First, Accountability Will Follow – When I first joined this team, everyone was cautious about the “new manager.”  The first several quarters were difficult to get the team to feel comfortable that I wasn’t going to blast them at the first sign of trouble.  I had to show them that I included myself in the results of falling short.  Eventually they came to trust that I was committed to their success.  Now, they are as committed to me hitting my number as I’ve ever seen a team be.  They are driving their own accountability.
  3. Have a System – One of the best ways to build trust with the team is to build a system that makes sense to the team and shows them a path to success.  This takes time but is important.  It also shows the team that you’re serious about doing your job well, not just babysitting the numbers.
  4. Avoid Criticism, Focus on Coaching – As a sales leader, resist the urge just to criticize the poor performance.  On July 19th I wrote about What Drives Bad Sales Management Behavior, it’s really about a lack of control.  So as a sales leader, apply your energies to coaching and that will allow you to avoid criticism and focus on coaching the behavior and execution that will drive success.
  5. Always Do the Right Thing – This is the most important advice I can give.  In all situations, do the right thing.   This goes for all team members, including you.  I see sales teams all the time bend the rules, manipulate facts and generally act selfishly to get a deal done or to get paid just a little bit more.  This begins and ends with you.  Make sure your team sees that you are committed to taking the high ground and always doing what’s right.

Remember, it takes courage to do things the right way and overcome the day-to-day frustrations of a sales leader.  Your courage will set the tone for a great sales culture that people will want to be a part of.

What Drives Bad Sales Management Behavior?

The Need to Control!

Several years ago, I was asked to interview someone that would be a peer to me.  They were an internal candidate and this role would be a promotion for them.  They had been a successful account manager and felt that sales management was the next step in their career. 

I went through the interview process with my questions and the candidate kept over-simplifying their answers.  I would ask "how would you inspect forecasted opportunities with your sales reps?"  They became frustrated with my questions and responded by saying, “I’ll just call the customer directly and get the deal done.”  When I debriefed with the hiring manager I asked him “Is this person a controlling person?”  the hiring manager said, “Oh yeah, they want to do everything themselves.”  I told him to reconsider the candidate and look for someone new.  The hiring manager didn’t listen and a couple of years later, that person was struggling badly as a manager, rarely hit their numbers and their team members kept leaving the company.

The fact is, being a sales manager is difficult because you have to create a process for the team, inspect the business and get out of the way.  Micro-managing good sales people rarely works, at least not for the good sales people..

The secret to being successful as a sales leader is to hire great sales people, be organized, inspect the business and GET OUT OF THE WAY!

Here is a simple formula to go from a controlling to an enabling Sales Leader:

1.     Build your Metrics – Every sales teams has metrics that are unique to their business but we all have common metrics inherent to sales. I call them the Leading and Lagging Indicators.  Your Leading indicators are typically your pipeline numbers.  Whether you track straight open pipeline or factored pipeline, they are all leading indicators that determine the likelihood of future success for your team’s performance.  Lagging indicators are the revenue (or bookings) and things like average sale, sales cycle times, and net new customers.  But lagging indicators are always a measurement of things that have already happened.  In my experience, the leading indicators tend to be the ones sales teams struggle with the most.

2.     Create a Process and Cadence – So many managers are reactive and say “I don’t have time to be organized!”  Don’t ever say that around me.  I have no patience for that statement.  An Ounce of Prevention is Worth a Pound of Cure.  Just sit down and design your meetings, review sessions and metrics.  There is no excuse for not doing this other than you may be a controlling sales manager.  It literally would take (at the most) one day a year, if you stay focused.

3.     Coach and Inspire – Once you have your metrics defined and your cadence in place, your job is to focus on coaching.  Mainly situational coaching, where your experience and ideas can actually impact the sale.  Focus on providing your team with inspiration.  They all really want to be motivated and inspired.  Being a controlling manager will be de-motivating and drives them further away from trusting you.

Take the time to get organized.  Your team will appreciate it and respect you for being a true leader vs. a controlling manager.