Sales leadership in the modern age: Be an asset, not an administrator

Eighty percent of sales leaders seem to fall into one of three buckets of ineffectiveness: Hands-off administrators, micro-managing tyrants or good-buddy coworkers. Let’s look at what the other 20 percent do.

Not only do sales leaders have the right to expect their salespeople to do things in a certain way, they have an obligation to do so. It is a central part of their job description as sales leaders; they are leaders, not administrators! Letting salespeople operate simply by applying their own personal approach borders on malpractice. Great sales leaders know what works. They don’t leave the essence of the job – what happens inside the customer interaction – to mere chance.
You’d be surprised at the number of sales leaders who virtually never travel with their salespeople.
Great sales leaders travel with their teams. And when they do, they’re careful not to neuter their salesperson by allowing themselves to be positioned as “Mr. Big.” They coach their salespeople on how to position them when they are with customers. And they never, ever simply observe the salesperson in action. For the purposes of joint calls, they are the rep’s equal; and an active participant in the call.
Words are to selling what numbers are to accounting: the building blocks of the discipline. Great leaders become irreplaceable to their salespeople by giving them the words to say for their most difficult customer interactions.
Sales leaders often attempt to hire “well” instead of wisely. Hiring well simply means following traditional hiring practices in the world of sales. In other words, too many sales leaders place way too much stock in a candidate’s claimed track record and WAY too much stock in a candidate’s claims of the number of customers and contacts that he or she will bring along to the new job. These claims virtually never pan out.
Great sales leaders hire integrity, energy, passion, optimism, business savvy, and a sense of curiosity.
Great leaders use CRM as a vehicle for capturing contact information and activity summaries. Their first priority is to make CRM salesperson-friendly, not executive-friendly … and they are ready to take the political flack that will result from doing so.
Great leaders know they walk a very fine line on this one as either extreme can be problematic. They understand that establishing no activity expectations is bordering on irresponsible leadership. Yet they also know that mandating unrealistic activity requirements will, in a sense, give them the desired outcome: activities!
This is the argument posed by salespeople that takes the form of, “What do you want me to do: (fill-in-the-blank) or close sales?” Great leaders see this for the raw insubordination that it is and they take a very hard line on it. In fact, salespeople who work for great leaders learn that they don’t get a second chance on this one.
Great leaders empower salespeople to say no to chasing bad business. They also make sure their salespeople aren’t soaking up resources of others in the organization on various sales-related activities such as demos, design, engineering, proposal development and whatnot. Great leaders know that if salespeople aren’t accountable for company resources, they are naturally inclined to spend them freely.
Great sales leaders know how easy it is to unwittingly evolve into an administrator. When they’re having a pipeline discussion with their salespeople, for example, they don’t just ask them about expected close dates, they help them develop the strategy on the account and even help them develop the language they need to position a particular interaction. They’re part of the process of helping their team win, not just counting their wins and losses at the end of each month.
If you’re a sales leader, or aspire to be one, these nine traits will go a long way to helping endear yourself with your team and your own company’s leadership. And that is no small feat!
Jerry Stapleton is the founder of Delafield-based Stapleton Resources LLC ( He is also the author of the book, “From Vendor to Business Resource.”

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