By Marty D. Blake, Chief Operating Officer, Optimé International Inc.
The Law of the Lid, the first lesson of John C. Maxwell’s “The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership”, states that the capability of an organization’s leadership is a lid on the organization’s overall performance. Incremental increases in an organization’s leadership ability can generate exponential returns, and vice versa, poor leadership can crush productivity.
This is particularly relevant in Sales. As studied by Steve W. Martin in the Harvard Business review, 69% of salespeople who exceeded their annual quota, rated their sales manager as being excellent or above average. In addition, the quality of the sales organization is directly associated to the quality of sales leadership. 56% of salespeople who rated their sales organization as excellent, also rated their sales manager as excellent—compared to only 3% who rated their team as average.
I am often asked by clients to identify the traits that I believe makes a great sales leader – and when they do – three things come quickly to mind.
1. HAVE A VISION
My first observation is that great sales leaders have a vision. A really well thought out vision. Not just for the business, but for the people within their business with a well-documented plan for how they and their team will deliver on it.
There are many examples throughout history, of leaders who had a strong vision which lead to their ultimate success. For example think for a moment of how Winston Churchill’s impassioned speech “We Shall Fight on the Beaches” inspired an alliance of countries to victory in World War II.
There are four things that are required from a great leader’s vision:
- It must be future focused.
- It must be challenging but attainable.
- It must acknowledge the current situation and provide a clear portrait of what success will look like.
- Most of all – it must align with organizational goals.
A great sales leader must be an extraordinary communicator. They must be able to clearly articulate both their vision and the accountabilities their team will have in achieving them – in a way that is both motivating, and powerful. It’s critical to ensure they are not being ambiguous because people need to understand and act on what is being communicated to them. The audience needs to be able to act on the input, direction and insight they are being provided. If this clarity is missing, and the message is ambiguous, their teams will be left to their own devices to decide what’s important and what they are accountable for. The need to be a clear, unambiguous communicator is not restricted to sales leaders – but is a broad leadership asset, right across all organizations.
Being consistent in your communication is just as important. Of course, there are times when you will have different discussions with individuals and your team, but if you are not consistent in your fundamental goals, objectives and vision, then you are going to lose people’s attention span. Consistency is key. In addition to that – there is a cadence that people will come to expect and it is your role to meet that.
Above all, strong sales leaders need to be empathetic to the person or situation. There are some that feel that empathy is seen as a weakness, it is the opposite. It is a strength. It means that you are able to put yourself in the position of others, to understand the issue from their point of view. It does not mean you are soft and lower your expectations – it just means that you hear them and are able to adjust as necessary. Just because someone is having a rough day or week, doesn’t mean that they can walk away from the goals and objectives for which they are held accountable. Your empathy can be channelled into applying the right help to enable them to be the best at what they do, in that moment.
Great sales leaders are able to communicate with clarity, no ambiguity, they are consistent about how and when they communicate and they are able to employ empathy in the right way. These leaders will be at the top of their game. Consistently.
In a Quantum Leadership Group survey of 195 leaders in 15 countries over 30 global organizations, the ability to communicate with precision was critical to six of the top 10 leadership competencies. Unfortunately, in a recent study by Clear Company, 86% of employees and executives cited a “lack of collaboration” or “ineffective communication” as the source of most workplace failures.
3. CRITICAL THINKING
Sales leaders today simply can’t solely rely on what they are told. They must ask the right questions to get enough information to formulate their own ideas and opinions. That is essentially how critical thinking works. Taking a variety of viewpoints and determining the best decision. This also means that you aren’t making decisions emotionally, which is particularly important when looking at performance issues. One could simply look at the numbers and make a conclusion – but a great leader will ask the right questions and assess the entire situation to dive deep and determine why the numbers are not up to par. And they might discover a multitude of different things based on that approach, which might help to move that person or team forward, or even out of the organization, if needed.
As a sales leader, you are going to have a barrage of questions coming at you, and people looking for you to provide input. These questions are not only coming from your staff, but they will be coming from your peers and business partners across the organization, from clients and your executive as well. Your ability to use critical thinking skills, leveraging available data in an efficient and timely way (avoid ‘analysis paralysis’), will be of a great benefit to your success.
According to an AMA and Canadian Management Centre Survey, “Critical Thinking” ranks highest when respondents were asked, “What are the most important skills required of leaders to successfully lead your organization over the next 5 years?” Not only did those executives and managers surveyed identify critical thinking as the single most important leader skill, but three quarters of them also believe that critical thinking will escalate in importance this year, next year and in the years to come. The two top reasons underscoring that belief are the pace of change in business today and global expansion and competitiveness.
Ensuring that your sale leaders have the hard and soft skills that make them outstanding, is the best investment you can make towards reaching top performance. Organizations which take on the challenge to develop and support their sales management group will always have a better chance at exceeding expectations.
Check out www.optime.com to find more tools and tips to take your sales organization from good to outstanding.
Good luck and good selling!