Organizations need good management — no argument there. But high-performing sales teams are not a result of mere management. They are fueled by transformational leadership.
Think about it: Sales leaders either take their teams up the mountain — or into a ditch. Where do you want your team to go?
Check out Psychology Today’s take on the basics of great leadership. I have found that top sales leaders share six key characteristics:
- Live for work, work to live. Leaders are excited about being leaders. Whereas sales superstars thrive when they’re in the trenches selling, top sales executives excel in vision, coaching, and providing tools for their reps to exceed quota.Just be careful when you’re looking for a new sales leader — almost 85% of sales superstars who are promoted to sales management fail. When you promote a top performing sales rep, look for leadership and management potential. Some sales reps are best at being sales reps.
- Leaders lead well when they coach well. Legendary leaders aren’t necessarily great salespeople, but they are superior coaches. They use sales coaching to help members of their team continually improve. When a sales rep needs help, they don’t just take over for a quick resolution. They resist the quick fix and take the time to teach. They know individual sales are important but that long-term sales performance is what counts. That’s why the best leaders coach on skills, not just outcomes.
- What ivory tower? Sales execs get out from behind their desks, riding with field reps and working side-by-side with inside reps. How close is that major deal to closing? What about that strategic partner — what needs to be done to make them renew? Sales leaders always know what’s going on in the sales pipeline. They also know each sales rep personally. (Want to coach more effectively? Watch “Coaching for Sales Managers,” a Selling Power interview with our very own Linda Richardson.)
- Voice of an advocate. Will a new suite of CRM tools significantly improve reps’ productivity and effectiveness? Does a particular sales rep deserve special recognition for exemplary effort and performance? Stellar sales executives are the voice of their teams to senior management. Because they are engaged (see #3) with their teams, they know what’s going on. And when they say, “I’ve got your back,” the sales reps trust that and work harder.
- Sales leaders don’t need LASIK — they already see where they want to go and how they’ll get there. Execs must communicate a clear, meaningful vision and empower their sales reps to achieve it. Top leaders make sure sales reps have no doubts about their goals and aspirations as individuals, a team, and a company. Read Salesopedia’s “Vision Without a Cause” to strategically convert your vision into a cause everyone can embrace.
- Shoulder responsibility and distribute credit. There’s no arguing that the bottom line is the bottom line. Sales leaders hold their sales reps accountable to sales quota, but they do all they can to help accelerate the pipeline and convert leads. Did a huge deal close? The best executives point the spotlight at their team, not themselves.
Some of these leadership characteristics are intuitive. Some are learned. All can be cultivated. But, most importantly — they all go beyond management.
Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.
— Peter Drucker
Sales management focuses on the numbers — win/loss ratios, forecasts, spreadsheets, etc. Leaders go beyond the WHAT to the WHY and HOW.
World-class sales teams have world-class leaders. Want to improve your sales reps’ performance? Start with developing your own leadership skills.