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Selling Power Magazine Article
5 (better) Ways to Lead a Sales Team
But for sales management, it’s a balancing act. Change too much and you may wind up frustrating sales reps and negatively impacting their performance. Change too little or too late and your competitors will eat for lunch the sales you were counting on. It’s a tough call for any sales leader: when do you step in to exert leadership and change your team’s direction? And what’s the best way to do it?
We put those questions to five sales-leadership experts, each of whom offered a different opinion on the best “when” or “how” to step forward and move a sales team in a new direction. If you’re thinking about a change in direction, first think about the following recommendations so you can lead the change effectively and get the results you want. Find what works for you and go for it.
Time It Right
When it comes to change, timing is crucial. “The bigger the change, the more carefully you have to think about the timing,” cautions Terry Bacon, a scholar in residence at the Korn/Ferry Institute and author of The Elements of Power: Lessons on Leadership and Influence (AMACOM, 2011). “Never come at people out of the blue, because it’s too disruptive.”
Bacon says there are some “natural moments” to step in and exert leadership to move your team in a new direction. One of the best times to do this is when there’s an external event that would make a change of direction both acceptable and expected. For instance, a change in leadership at either the top of the company or the top of the sales organization would lead to an expectation of change further down the ranks. A major strategic planning event that results in a new corporate direction is another example. “There’s got to be some event that coincides with the change so it’s expected,” says Bacon.
“An abrupt shift in direction that doesn’t coincide with an external change can be jarring,” he warns. “When something like a change in leadership occurs, that’s a good time to say, ‘Let’s look at what’s going on.’ Then it feels inevitable that there might be a change in direction or policy.”
Look Forward, Not Back
“If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.” Lewis Carroll’s Cheshire cat first purred those words in 1865, but they remain applicable to sales organizations today: if you don’t know where you want your team to be in the next three to five years, you can’t know the direction in which your sales team needs to be led.
Philippe Lavie, president of Chicago-based KeyRoad Enterprises, says a sales leader seeking to effect change must first understand the strategic direction of his or her company as a whole. Next, that sales leader needs to establish a long-range strategic direction for the sales organization that complements the organizational goals. Only then, says Lavie, can he or she evaluate the tactical-level changes that must be made to accomplish those strategic objectives.
Lavie was once approached by an accounting firm that asked him to conduct sales training; however, when Lavie asked where the firm wanted to be in three years, no one knew. Those he asked didn’t know the firm’s strengths or how it should be perceived in the market. They didn’t know what differentiated the firm from its competition.
“The company wanted us to train its sales force, but without a strategic plan, what were we going to train the sales team to do?” he recalls. Without that long-term plan, there’s no way to know, for instance, whether your sales structure is right or sales compensation is structured correctly or your coverage model is optimal.
Many sales organizations, such as the one at that accounting firm, manage by looking in the rearview mirror, rather than looking forward. They focus on backward-looking questions: Are we selling the right product mix? Can we deliver on time? Is our quality better than the competition’s? But that’s a recipe for disaster.
“When you look behind you, the only thing that will allow you to differentiate is price,” Lavie warns. “That’s not a strategy for three to five years out.”
To make a real impact on your sales team, focus on helping reps overcome self-preservation, says Jeremie Kubicek, CEO of GiANT Impact and author of Leadership Is Dead: How Influence Is Reviving It (Howard Books, 2011). “Self-preservation is like a cancer, especially on sales teams,” says Kubicek. “If I were a leader wanting to change direction and create a new culture, I would spend most of my time focusing on overcoming that issue.”
Self-preservation is about overprotecting what you are afraid of losing. It creates a myopic or narcissistic mind-set that, in turn, creates selfish, off-putting behaviors. If not addressed, it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. For instance, reps who are highly fearful of not hitting quota can become so transactional and defensive, they turn people away from them – which in turn leads to the very thing they were afraid of: not hitting quota.
Kubicek remembers a sales leader on his team who was so afraid of losing his job when the recession hit that it was (continued on page 2)
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