Sales leadership is not for the faint of heart. Only 63% of sales reps make their quota, and statistics today show the average tenure of a sales leader in their position is declining. This happens because sales organizations are simply not equipped with the right systems and processes that allow their people to perform.
Recent XANT Labs research shows that the top 3 challenges of sales leaders today that relate to their people are all about recruiting and hiring, building the sales organization culture, and compensation:
- Recruiting and hiring (40.8% of sales leaders identify this as a top challenge)
- Culture (37.5% of sales leaders identify this as a top challenge)
- Compensation (21.1% of sales leaders identify this as a top challenge)
I’ve rounded up some of the most influential sales professionals (as recognized by AA-ISP), and asked them to give us their top tips on sales leadership. What resulted was a collection of very inspiring stories on the role that sales leaders have in building high performing sales teams, motivating reps and helping them grow in their careers.
See below what they had to say about sales leadership.
Make Sure Your Team is Prepared
“One of my favorite quotes on building leaders comes from coach Bear Bryant: ‘It’s not the will to win that matters–everyone has that. It’s the will to prepare to win that matters.’ What I think makes a good leader is that he or she prepares their team to be successful. In sales, this means providing the right talk tracks or scripts so sales reps can successfully navigate the sales process. Preparation is truly the key to winning.” — Mike Brooks, Mr. InsideSales
Your Team Needs to Have Your Back
“M.J. Shutte, my mentor a decade ago, would say: ‘You know you are a great leader when your team would walk through fire for you’. After ten years, I would still walk through fire for MJ Shutte, and several people I know would do the same for me!’ — Chad Burmeister, CO-founder and CEO at ScaleX.ai
It’s Not About You
An inspiring leader is someone that understands, at his or her core, that it is no longer about them, told us John Healy, VP of Sales at Factor 8. Your success is measured in the growth and performance of your team, he added.
“Check your ego at the door and serve your team. As a student of servant leadership, I keep these words from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. close to my heart – ‘Everybody can be great, because everybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. Or make your subject and your verb agree to serve…You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love’.” — John Healy, VP of Sales, Factor 8
Find Your Strengths
“In all my interactions with leaders and through a lot of self-learning, I’ve come up with five characteristics of great leaders: domain expertise, hiring and recruiting skills, mentoring, knowing how to run the numbers and building relationships. I’ve never met a leader who has mastered all five characteristics. I find some leaders have breadth, meaning they have a balance of 3-4 of the characteristics, others develop only one or two with great depth. You’ll find that some of these will come more naturally for you, while others you’ll need to really focus on.
Don’t forget there is no such thing as a well-rounded leader (someone who is amazing at all of them). Great leaders know what they are good at and where they are weak and they find ways to manage around their weaknesses.” — Dave Elkington, CEO and Founder of XANT
Leadership Is A Constant State of Growth
“Sales leadership is a different set of skills. When we transition from rep to manager and manager to leader, each move will require us to ‘unlearn’ some of the strengths we relied on in the past. As managers we can’t just take the phone and close the deal ourselves anymore, right? As leaders we don’t always get to assign, we have to influence people around us. The sooner we can identify the new competencies, the sooner we can get out of struggle and into the power of personal development. Leadership is a constant state of growth for ourselves and our teams. And frankly if it doesn’t hurt a little bit, we’re probably doing it wrong.” – Lauren Bailey, President of Factor 8
Lead By Example
“An inspiring and helpful sales leader is one who leads by example- you do it, not just talk about it. A sales leader treats his/her sales reps as human beings; they are an important part of our company’s success- we can’t do it without them. A sales leader has high emotional intelligence. He knows who their reps are, what motivates them, and can inspire everyone (despite the different personality profiles). They are also an ambassador and builder of great company culture- so people want to show up, and want to overachieve. Be the change, set the example by being the example, motivate and inspire, and build a culture to change lives!” — Thomas Parbs, Inside Sales Manager at TZA
Have Tough Conversations
The most inspiring leaders truly care about people, but make decisions without emotion, told me Phil Keene, from Costello. They are able to have tough conversations when they need to.
“Looking back at my career so far, there were leaders that have had the biggest impact in where I am today. They were the ones that sat me down and were honest about where I needed to improve. Before they did that, they invested the time in me as a person. They could tell you about my family, where I grew up, important moments in my life, or where I wanted to take my career,” said Phil, Director of Sales at Costello.
“It was because I knew they cared about me, I was able to take that feedback knowing they only had my best interest in mind. It hurt sometimes in the moment, but ultimately it made me better at what I do.” — Phil Keene, Director of Sales at Costello
Coach, Mentor and Develop People
The most important thing a sales leader can do is coach, mentor and develop the people on their team, added Scott Leese, SVP of Sales at Qualia.
“Whether is sales skills, business acumen, management skills or leadership in general, the critical thing is they feel value and invested in. My job is to get them to where they want to go next, and remove obstacles from their path along the way.” — Scott Leese, SVP of Sales at Qualia
Develop the Skill, Don’t Change the Will
Ed Porter, at Guest Supply, said he had to learn his motto the hard way as he started out in a leadership role. And that is, ‘you can’t teach people to care; either they do or they don’t.’
“As a leader your role is to develop ‘skill’ and not to change the ‘will.’ I can only help people who want to be helped. Have you ever tried to get someone to stop smoking? No, they need to want to stop or it won’t happen. As a leader, this is critical toward coaching and growing our sales teams. Deciphering the differences is difficult. But the reward and fulfillment is worth it when people succeed and it always starts with them, not with you. Sounds much like the buyer/seller relationship! Similar structure between employee and manager, in my opinion.” — Ed Porter, Director of Inside Sales at Guest Supply
Observe, Learn, Then Share
“I have one word: consistency. You need to learn something new from an inside sales organization every week. It’s tough to influence when you are inwardly focused on your own company only. To learn best practices you need to consistently get out in the field and spend time with real inside sales organizations. Then you need to document what you observed and share it with the world.”– Steve Richard, Vorsight founder.
Be In the Front When Arrows Are Flying
“To lead from the front, you need to step in the back when the accolades happen and be in front when the arrows are flying.’ ‘Serve your team with empathy, passion and discipline’.” — Paula White, Director of Inside Sales at Bound Tree Medical
Teach Them How to Fish
A leader’s job is not to make you successful, said Blair Smith, head of Business Development at Kyriba. Their job is to create an opportunity for you to become successful.’ This is done with coaching and training.
“Growing up in California and doing a lot of ocean fishing, my grandfather would always tell me: ‘I’m not going to catch a fish for you, I’m going to teach you how to fish.’ That’s exactly how I think about with my team. I’m not going to make the dials for them. But I am going to give them every opportunity to hit their numbers and become the best they can with effort and coachability,” said Blair. — Blair Smith, Head of North America Business Development at Kyriba
Join the Sales Leadership Conference – April 18
If you’re looking to learn from sales leaders what strategies work today to increase revenue and reach quotas, take the time to register for the XANT Sales Leadership Conference.
This is a one-day online event that takes place on April 18.
You will get the chance to learn from leaders of Fortune 500 companies what works for their bottom line today.