Leading A Dynamic Sales Team16 Dec, 2003 By: Joanne Smikle imageSource
Leading A Dynamic Sales Team
Whether you are a single dealership or part of a larger chain of retailers,
leading sales people is a challenge. Between the lackluster performers, the egos
of the star performers, the internal conflicts and the inevitable communication
gaps, it can be a tough job for a leader. Even the strongest among us is faced
with daily challenges from the field. This article addresses three key
leadership strategies. These are the tools that will enable you to move past the
struggles to create enduring success.
Before addressing the strategies, we have to define
leadership. It is simply one's ability to influence, both vertically and
horizontally. How well do you influence peers, subordinates and superiors?
Leadership is exercised on three levels: individual, group and organizational.
On the individual level, leaders are responsible for mentoring, coaching and
motivating. They are responsible for inspiring action, commitment and
dedication. On the group level, they are responsible for building effective
teams and workgroups. Additionally, they are charged with helping team members
resolve conflicts and build strong communication. On the organizational level,
leaders help to build culture. They establish acceptable norms of performance by
modeling the desired behavior and attitude.
So, if we accept that leadership is exercised on these three levels, how do
these impact sales teams? Skillful leaders work diligently on the individual
level to understand the needs, aspirations and interests of each team member.
They tap into these unique motivators to challenge each team member to be their
very best. They give assignments based on both individual capacity and
organizational dictates. These are the sales leaders who recognize the flaws in
the "one size fits all" approach to management. They modify their
approach and style to deal with individuals, their talents and the unusual
situations they inevitably present.
On the group level, wise sales team leaders know that more is accomplished by
teams than individuals. They work hard to build mutually accountable collectives
with shared goals and purposes. Using collaborative processes, they gather
feedback and input so that team members feel respected and included. These
leaders are careful not to promote too much competition, though they recognize
the fact that some competition is healthy and drives the team to higher
performance. These are the leaders who favor interdependence over independence.
They encourage their team members to draw on each other's skills and abilities.
Moving to the organizational level of leadership, this is the true test of a
leader's mettle. The culture of the sales team reflects the strengths and
weaknesses of leadership. If trust is high, leadership typically displays
integrity, honesty and humility. If an entrepreneurial spirit is evident,
leadership is probably unconventional and nonhierarchical. If commitment is
strong, leaders are displaying the same faith in the enterprise. The reverse is
also true. When the culture is defined by paranoia and suspicion, leaders are
probably poor communicators, unable to build bridges with the rank and file.
There are three key strategies for leading an exemplary
sales team. The first is a forward focus. The second is the ability to inspire.
The third is process driven. These three strategies form a triad by which you
can measure your abilities. Before beginning our discussion of the strategies,
let's see how you measure up on each of the categories. There are nine
questions. The range of responses is from 1 to 5. Answer them honestly and then
tally your scores.
Sales Leadership Assessment
1. never 2. seldom 3. occasionally 4. often 5.
|We use a flexible model for business development.|
referral tracking system yields significant new business for the company.
regularly train sales staff on an acceptable selling model.
| I know what drives
the individual players on my team.
| I listen to ideas and incorporate suggestions from team
|I communicate my vision in concrete, easy to understand terms.|
| My goals
reflect larger trends in this industry.
| I revise incentives based on the changing
needs of the team.
| We use flexible long-range planning
So, how did you measure up? If your score was from 36-45, you are already an
exemplary sales leader who regularly uses the practices mentioned throughout
this article. You should be mentoring others in your company. If your score was
from 27-35, you are an above average sales leader who still has room for growth.
Read the article and highlight the areas that you'd like to focus on for your
on-going development. Those of you who scored from 18-26 are about average. You
have lots of room for growth and would be well-served by finding a mentor. You
should also use this article as a developmental guide. Decide which areas you
are going to work on and then plan specific activities to build your abilities.
If you scored between 9-17 you are to be commended for your honesty. You have a
lot of room for growth. The truth is, you may want to consider another
livelihood; sales management may not really be for you.
Using the Strategies
Let's start working on the strategies. The first,
forward focus, means that you have to look beyond today's pressures and plan for
the future. This leader gives people something to strive for. This forward focus
is supported by several smaller goals that create opportunities for successive
little victories. A forward focus implies not just a sense of direction, but
also clarity of purpose. Leaders using this strategy can clearly articulate what
the team will accomplish and why. They also have a sense of the gains the team
will achieve for the organization and the larger industry. This forces the
myopic among us to remove their blinders, see a broader picture and consider
broadly when planning for the future. A forward thinker sets goals that require
all team members to really stretch. A forward focused leader makes decisions
with an eye to the future. While none of us can be soothsayers, we can at least
try to judge the impact of decisions on the future of the team and the company.
The ability to inspire is, in fact, the ability to communicate the vision in
ways that encourage long-term commitment from the troops. This ability is often
seen in charismatic personalities, but it is not reserved for them. While a
healthy dose of charm and charisma are helpful, sincerity is discernable in most
personalities. And, sincerity is the real root of being able to inspire and
motivate; a sincere belief in the company, its products and services. This
translates into being confident and committed to the goals. It translates into
sharing that confidence and commitment in every interaction. Team members sense
this leader's dedication and want to sign on for the long haul, if for no other
reason than the fact that they want to see the dreams become reality.
Inspirational leaders rely heavily on their ability to listen. They listen to
the more senior executives. They listen to their peers. They listen to everyone
else in the organization. Once they have heard, they synthesize the information
and link it to the bigger goals of the company. These leaders share their
insights. They are able to create meaningful linkages between daily activities
and reaching goals.
The last strategy is being process driven. Processes are essential for
enduring success, creating structure for the sales team. They also provide
clear, discernible standards and guidelines. Leaders are responsible for
providing flexible processes to guide all aspects of the sales process, from
prospecting to closing. When processes are nonexistent, so is accountability.
Processes give you the opportunity to put teeth into your goals and objectives.
They also provide a framework that will help the team maximize its productivity.
Moreover, processes level the playing field. They reduce, almost eliminate,
cries of favoritism.
Be sure your processes are flexible enough to meet changing customer demands,
as well as the changing needs of your sales force. Be sure your processes are
flexible enough to allow room for individual creativity. Don't dictate the
little details; trust your people enough to allow them to mold the process to
meet their needs. Evaluate the processes regularly so they stay relevant.
Processes that don't get evaluated become stale and obsolete. They can also
become institutionalized barriers to creativity. Be very careful to monitor,
measure and modify sales processes so that they meet their intended objectives.
Successfully leading sales teams is no small feat. It requires focus, process
and an occasional bit of divine inspiration. Leadership, the ability to
influence, is an evolving process. The assessment will help you see how you
measure up. It will also guide you in starting your developmental activities.
Remember that the strategies cited in this article take time and effort to
implement. Work on them one at a time. When you have mastered one strategy, move
on to the next. This developmental work occurs in successive stages, each
building on the next. These strategies present themselves as a journey. You may
have to return to a previous destination to revisit the learning for you and
your team. You may also find that some skills come naturally to you and require
less effort. Either way, the team and the organization that will benefit from
your committed efforts.
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Joanne L. Smikle provides consulting and training services to leading
organizations across the country. Reach her at 301/596-2822 or www.smiklespeaks.com.