Ian Helps

Sales Leadership, what level are you at?

Ian Helps / 14 February 2013

Sales Leadership Levels: Becoming a true Sales Leader

In a previous blog "Think Time" I outlined how critical it is for a sales leader to take time to think. I now look at the consequences of this in more detail.

Our research has shown that there are 3 distinct archetypes of sales manager, with increasing levels of impact. We start with the lowest performers.

Super Salesperson – someone who has yet to make the transition to manager, whatever their job title may say. Has probably not received mentoring or leadership development to enable them to build a new vocabulary and self-image as a leader. Still relying on the art of sales and attempting to impose themselves into as many sales cycles as they can, as "the best sales person on their team". A directive management style, focused largely on revenue forecasting for the quarter. They rely little on the science of sales and crucially, are often unable to communicate a compelling vision for their team, either to internal stakeholders or to prospective customers. Consequently, they are unable to communicate priorities beyond reacting to the latest corporate messaging.

Many sales managers do not make it past this level, which usually has a major negative effect on their career.

Sales Enabler –  a higher leadership performer. This manager has recognised the need to adopt the mindsets of a leader and has considered where they add value. A starting point for the transition is to better enable their team to succeed through empowerment and helping them achieve their potential. Coaching is a core skill for a sales manager to learn. Developing the listening and guiding skills, the "how" of coaching are essential yet not sufficient. In sales, perhaps to a unique extent, "how" must be allied to "what" to focus the coaching on, as part of their desire to be the best. Whether it is the few key metrics that will make the difference to a team member's performance e.g. better demand management or deal qualification, or support in finding a way to creatively unstick deals, this enablement needs a framework against which to coach and improve. Sales Enablers recognise the need to develop their mindsets in building a team vision. Those that do so are well placed to make the transition to the highest levels of sales leadership.

Sales Leader – the highest performers are able to balance their time approximately 1/3 in current quarter (CQ), 1/3 outside CQ and 1/3 on people development. They can do so because they have empowered and developed their peoples' potential to think and carry out much of the sales process for themselves. The true sales leader is then able to focus on building additional value for the team and the wider organisation by being a clear beacon of transformation. They do so through carefully reflecting and developing a compelling point of view for their team and building the behaviours and sales machine that builds this desire to be the best into practical action. The resultant choices enable the team to succeed exceptionally well. Such sales leaders are the potential sales top management for the future, able to attract the best talent and quickly re-orient the business to the changing demands of customers.

Consalia's experience is that making time for reflection ON action and using that time to apply the leadership mindsets to one's own development as a sales leader is the key to becoming a high performance leader is sales.

The Sales Executive Council (SEC) has found that higher performing sales coaches ie Sales Enablers or Sales Leaders in Consalia terminology, not only achieve higher sales performance in general, they also attract the best sales talent, who see opportunities to be coached and mentored in winning ways and thereby achieve their own potential. This virtuous circle is great news for some. The leaders of such teams are therefore often able to secure the best sales leadership positions and to advance through the organisation.

We do not seek to understate how hard it can be to find thinking time in a hectic corporate life. As a leader, it is up to you to find the time for the sake of your career and those of your team. How and where you find it is a personal choice. For example, some leaders block-out early morning time in their diary for thinking, some devote travel time to it, rather than routine tasks like catching up on email. However you do it, if you use thinking time judiciously, it may be the best investment you make in allowing you to be a winner, with countless more possibilities to develop your career.

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