The sales department is colloquially known as the “boiler room,” and for good reason. It’s pressure-filled, numbers-driven, sweat-inducing and there’s nowhere to hide when you’re in it. Nowhere else is the risk/reward proposition in such sharp relief within a company. Customers buy or they don’t buy, period. Whatever their reasons–and there are many–salespeople are often left with a heavy burden of perceived failure when they fail to meet their targets.
For those who choose sales, effective leadership is particularly important. Strong leadership is essential to achieve employee retention–no small task in the era of the Great Resignation. But being in a position of seniority does not automatically make one a leader or a mentor. Experience of what motivates both themselves and others to deliver their best work is far more essential than time served.
But what, exactly, are the attributes of successful sales leaders?
The Big Idea
It may be a cliche, but leaders are big-picture individuals. They tend to deal in ideas and human nature rather than tasks and to-do lists. When it comes to sales, where numbers matter above all else, leaders have a dual role of keeping the goal top of mind at all times, while also leading employees to think about the bigger picture and working on their development as individuals. This last element is extremely important because sales can be highly personality-driven–or “high-touch” to use the vernacular. Sales reps are drawn more to leaders who can drive them towards success. While a manager can help define roles and responsibilities, a leader will provide a bridge to the next step.
An old African proverb states that if you want to go fast, go alone; but if you want to go far, go together. Managers may do well by focusing on getting tasks finished quickly, but leaders set goals to ensure that everyone on the team goes as far as possible. Metaphorically speaking, leaders are the captain of the ship. They’re not only responsible for getting everyone to the destination–and not hitting any fatal icebergs along the way!–but it’s also up to them to ensure that no member of the crew is left behind, or given a task that’s too far beyond their skills or experience level.
A great leader will know when a member of his or her “crew” needs guidance and encouragement. Many times, even managers don’t know what they’re capable of and hold themselves back from realizing their full potential. It takes the belief and support of a leader to get them to thrive in a new role.
Over the past several years, everly large employer has increased their diversity goals, which has probably resonated in sales divisions more than any other. Even the most cohesive of sales teams these days are composed of different personality types, backgrounds, cultures and working styles–just like the communities and companies they serve. Leadership can no longer work with the one-size-fits-all approach that companies like IBM and EDS popularized decades ago.
Today’s leaders engage and work to understand what motivates people beyond commissions and perks. Is management giving them a voice? A pat on the back? Flexible hours? Remote work? A leader identifies the driving factors and then comes up with strategies that motivate the entire team. The Great Resignation has shown that any sales manager who thinks that their team will perform well out of love for their job alone is not being realistic. For most employees, a sales job is a great way to pay the bills. Leaders help these folks find a deeper, more fulfilling purpose that inspires them to perform at their best.
Not everyone walks into a job with all the skills needed to succeed. Sales skills, like knowing how to interact with others and gain their trust, are not certified or degreed. Leaders can unlock everyone’s inner salesperson by working side-by-side and coaching individuals on how to grow. Leaders will acknowledge small “wins” that create the momentum for large successes.
In other words, the best sales leaders are just like the best salespeople. They’re win/win individuals. They want the best for their people; in return they will get the best out of their people.
Mike MacPherson is the Director of Sales and Marketing for VBO Tickets, a global provider of a Total Ticketing Engagement Solution. VBO helps organizations boost ticket sales with integrated customer relationship management, ticketing, fundraising, merchandise sales, virtual engagement, and marketing solutions.