There’s a lot of talk about leadership and how much it affects what we do and how we do it. We expect leaders to be supreme beings with all the answers and we love to blame them when it all goes wrong.
In business, especially sales, the Sales Leader or Sales Manager is under constant pressure to lead by example, motivate the troops, report to the senior leadership team, achieve sales targets and often create the sales strategy. To fulfil all these requirements involves an incredibly diverse range of skills. I wonder how many of us have the full set of strategic, diplomatic, sales and people skills needed.
Statistics indicate that sales leaders take 9-10 months to become effective in a new role and, on average, stay in a position for less than two years. This is not financially healthy for either the sales leader or the company who employs them. It could be that sales attracts people who thrive on a new challenge and need the change of scene, or perhaps the job is nearly impossible, due to the range of diverse skills required.
Winston Churchill summed it up perfectly when he said: ‘Continuous effort, not strength or intelligence, is the key to unlocking our potential.’
The one thing a sales manager should have in abundance is the ability to sell. That’s why they were promoted. The problem is that when we get a promotion we’re pumped because we’ve been recognised, rewarded and we’ve made it, yeh! Celebrating is good but it’s vital to know that promotion isn’t the end of the journey to success, it’s just the beginning. Everything that went before was simple compared to what’s to come.
Being part of a sales team is easy. You’re primarily responsible for yourself and your target. Sure, you answer to the sales manager, but you can focus on what you need for success.
To lead the sales team is a whole new ball game. When you face your people for the first time they’ll expect you to have all the answers and it’s very likely you won’t have them. Yet.
Although there is no substitute for experience, there are a few things that will make your transition to leadership easier while you’re riding the huge learning curve and getting experience under your belt.
- Recognise early that success isn’t only about knowledge or position, it’s about being consistent and continuing to grow as you apply your knowledge.
- A good leader needs to be able to influence their team to ensure their success. Make it simple by finding out what they need to be successful and make sure they have it.
- Be clear about your definition of success and make sure your team knows it.
- Control your own destiny, have the courage to face issues and challenges and don’t be afraid to ask for input from your team. The best teams are those that feel valued for their contribution.
- Lead with a light hand. Don’t hamper the natural ability of your sales people and make them feel micromanaged but do ensure they know what to do, how to do it and set them up for success with a clear and sustainable sales system. Remember how you felt when you were in their position. What did you respond to?
- Don’t put off making tough decisions. Consider your options, make sure you’ve done all you can do and then make the decision in a timely way.
- Learn how to communicate with all your key stakeholders: your team, senior management and customers. It may seem like spinning plates but communication is the key to leadership and success.
- When you feel you’re getting the hang of it, keep going. Never think you’re the best you can be. Continue to learn and continue to improve.
- Be confident and remember that it’s not a sign of weakness to admit you’re wrong or don’t know something. Encourage your team to share their knowledge with you and with each other. Everyone will benefit.
We all have a definition of a good leader and there isn’t a one size fits all because we’re all very different. You might have natural leadership ability and take it easily in your stride or you might struggle with it every day. There’s no right or wrong way to go about the business of leadership. It can be complex, rewarding, thankless, frustrating, and impossible but when your team starts to be consistently successful, and you realise that you’re no longer flying by the seat of your pants, you can start to enjoy it. Ultimately, enjoying being a leader is the thing that matters. Confidence and enjoyment are contagious. When we enjoy what we do, we are truly successful.