Ian Helps

Think Time

Ian Helps / 28 January 2013

The Foundation for Sales Leaders to Realise Their True Potential

"As a sales leader, how much time do you spend thinking?"

This challenge was offered to a group of business and sales leaders by Sir Graeme Lamb, KBE, CMG, DSO, former Lieutenant General in the British Army at Global Sales Transformation event held recently by Consalia. You will have your own unique response. Sir Graeme stunned our audience by stating that he routinely spent 1/3 of his time reflecting, or “white wall staring” as he called it. This blog sets-out why thinking time matters for sales leaders.

Sales is faced with unprecedented change in the ways that customers buy. The first major trend was the professionalisation of procurement. The second trend was the empowerment of all purchasers through ubiquitous availability of information on the internet. The third and current trend is the desire of customers to enter genuine co-creating partnerships with suppliers that “get it”.

The third trend is particularly problematic for most of today’s corporations, as it challenges the very foundations on which sales organisations have been constructed, namely the quarterly-driven sales machine, launching a stream of new products onto the marketplace. Consalia’s research is that successful sales people need to exhibit unique mindsets to win. Other notable commentators e.g. the Sales Executive Council have coined the term The Challenger Sale.

So what does this mean for sales managers and leaders? In general, it means that sales leaders in turn have to profoundly transform their habits to support their best sales people or risk becoming obsolete and replaced by those that are unencumbered by old ways. To fully make the transition from salesperson to leader, an individual needs to substantially adjust their “mindset”; the way they think, that in turn shapes their behaviour. The mindset shift is dramatic and non-obvious; it requires a precious commodity in short supply, namely time.

- Time to think, reflect and choose priorities, not simply “last year + 20%”
- Time to construct a compelling course of action that inspires your team, your customers and stakeholders.
-’ Time to step-up and be a true leader.

Our research shows that too few managers ever make this time, with the result that many find themselves constantly under extreme pressure, reactive, and unsatisfied with their role. At the Global Sales Transformation event referred to earlier, we asked what type of thinking the senior business and sales leaders present do most of:

…. Was it before action? / Reflection-FOR-action - 38%
…. During action? / Reflection-IN-action - 49%
…. After action? / Reflection-ON-action - 14%

Only 14% of our audience replied ‘reflection ON action’.

This represents a major missed opportunity to improve. If we think about the process and importance of learning in a business context, we could certainly learn a lot from past events, such as deals won/ lost and why, in order to help guide our future actions.

A clue to why sales leaders generally dedicate so little time to reflection on action is given by the data showing that only 41% of participants felt that that their organisation had a reflective practice culture: it is just not in most company’s DNA.

Consalia finds that sales managers take a leadership journey when they are promoted from a front line sales role. The willingness to think and reflect on the role connects directly to the speed with which they can climb the leadership ladder and the seniority that they are able to reach.

- So, do you need to create more think time to be the winning sales leader that you want to be?

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