leadership skills

Career Advice

Do you have the right stuff?

Leadership skillsI recently observed one of my first time Sales Managers in the age-old ritual of pulling her hair out. Why? Because she, like thousands of first time supervisors before her, thought that all she had to do was to simply communicate her instructions and plan to her team, and they would immediately scramble to ‘make it so’…..yeah, right.
I watched, wanting to intervene, but holding back so that she could feel…I mean really feel that sense of being on a runaway train that we’ve all had when we stepped into our first leadership role. I think it’s particularly difficult to manage a sales team because you want there to be friendly competition amongst them, but it is also crucial that they are truly able to function as a team in terms of having a common understanding of the company’s goals, the team’s goals, and their manager’s understanding of their personal goals.
Have no fear, I don’t enjoy watching people flounder and our junior manager has since gotten a hold of the reigns; but it took some training, lots of informal discussion, and a scheduled weekly sit-down with yours truly just to make sure she was staying on track, was able to keep her team motivated and performing, and was given tools to help find her own sense of leadership.
What have I shared with her? Okay, here is my list of the key components to being a successful Sales Team leader;

  • Clear communication- Clearly and repeatedly articulating your expectations to your team is absolutely essential. It’s not only the numbers and goals that need to be understood by the team, but also the lay of the land, the financial climate in your market, and the company’s current strategy, which can be subtly dynamic. You can’t just assume that everyone on your team is picking up the vibes, or overhearing the information that’s shared at the Marketing team meetings. You must tell them these things, and tell them in a group so they’re walking away with a common message. Creating an environment that is focused on sales may sound like a no-brainer, but it takes conscious effort and verbal reinforcement. Don’t just tell your team ‘what’, they also need to understand ‘why’. This in turn gives your sales talent the ability to speak more knowledgeably and broadly with their clients, thereby giving the whole operation a more professional image…see, it’s that ripple effect thing.
  • Compassion- Not exactly the easiest trait to train, but gaining an understanding of one’s subordinates as individuals makes for a more solid working relationship. The line to walk here is balancing genuine interest and care for their lives outside of work, while still being clear that you expect them to do their jobs well.
  • An eye on the future- The strongest leaders are those that are always thinking and working 3-6 months into the future, then reverse-engineering the milestones and objectives that will get their team there. A Sales Manager with an eye on the future will be strategizing with his team not for this month’s goals, because the plan for this month was put in place months ago, but on next quarter’s goals. The manager with this skill honed will always be truly leading their team, not trying to push them forward.
  • Consistency in word and action- It’s a simple matter of human nature; people like to know exactly what’s expected of them, and they like to hear it repeated and reinforced. Make sure that, with the exception of spending more coaching time with your junior talent, you are dividing your time and attention amongst your team in an even and fair manner. Have weekly team meetings. No, I mean really, hold those meetings come hell or high water! Team meetings are the most efficient way to take the pulse of the team, check on morale, review new information on channels, competition, goals, corporate communications…the list of positives is endless- and by working in a team meeting environment, you are again ensuring that each individual walks away with a common message.
  • Ability to pick the winners- You could be a brilliant and visionary leader…but it doesn’t mean diddly if you hire the wrong people. With the litigious nature of employment laws these days, it pays to take your time in hiring sales talent. Probationary periods are a strong and legitimate tool for seeing if your choice of talent can walk the walk. Before hiring, bring your top candidates back for second and third interviews with different managers each time. Get buy-in from multiple interviewers. We all know conducting multiple interviews is a drag, but it is more efficient and more cost effective than trying to weed out employees you probably should not have hired.

So, if you are a first time Sales Manager, fear not, you will get a handle on your rowdy bunch by gaining their respect with a healthy dose of presence, a bit of coaxing, and lots and lots of communication (that means both talking AND listening!).
If you are managing a first-timer, invest some time, don’t short change them, and let them come and vent to you…it will pay off in spades.