Leadership is More Than Just a Sales Function Imperative – Part 1

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How do you know when the cause of top line issues is deeper than poor sales team execution?

The work I do is focused on top line turn-arounds and building high performance sales operations and teams. Having done this in some form for 30 years now, and having amassed multiple employer W2s plus nine years of advising and hands-on consulting, I have yet to be brought into an organization where sales operations and leadership were both present and running smoothly.

To be fair to my former colleagues and be clear on how my brain works: I seek and solve sales problems that hinder consistent growth. That’s what I am designed to do, so it’s difficult for me to NOT see what needs to be improved. Some folks look at a company and see underutilized financial assets or unrecognized risks, others see the same in human capital, brand, production capacity or technology utilization … I see those issues in the sales function.

Of the hundreds of cases I’ve seen, leadership issues are present about 25% of the time. By that I mean, in every firm I engage that has a revenue problem, there are typically more than two instances of individuals with leadership gaps. And those gaps make it difficult for even the best salespeople to perform consistently.

There, I said it. Out loud and in print, and I’ll restate it to make sure we’re all clear.

Sales execution is rarely the only reason revenue is lagging. 

How can I make this claim?  Consider this: unless you are a sole proprietor, someone or some group in your organization has allowed the revenue issues in sales to develop into a problem that is holding back the rest of the team – emphasis here on the word team.

Patrick Lencioni has done a great job describing how this happens in his book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. Let’s use this as a blueprint for how overall leadership can impact sales performance:

Does your operations team trust that sales is gathering all the information they need to deliver on client expectations? Does the sales team trust that operations will deliver on what is being sold? Can you trust the forecasts and commitments you receive from both teams?

Trust among teams comes from having clear, mutually understood expectations of what other teams and team members will do, and is earned when others experience these things actually getting done.

The root issue:  Many sales teams lack clear goals, defined processes and information gathering requirements, and direction on how those are to be accomplished.

The other root issue: Blind faith in “what those sales people do” is not trust. Many sales leaders lack direction and insight on what the rest of the organization needs, and so they set goals and expectations for sales in an isolated silo.

Take away: All leaders, not just sales, need to collaborate to establish and integrate sales goals and processes with those in the rest of the organization.

Constructive Conflict
To restate the obvious: human beings are all different. The often overlooked or avoided result of this is that different perspectives cause conflict.

Conflict doesn’t have to carry a negative overtone when we recognize the obvious and stop avoiding the result. Success in sales is all about effective human interaction. Behaving in ways that are conflict adverse hides the issues that prospective clients, team members and organizations need to solve. Constructive conflict requires seeking out the different ideas, opinions and perspectives so that the best solution can be discovered and implemented.

The root issue: People don’t know what they don’t know, and we can’t help them fill that gap if we fear engaging in constructive conflict.

Take Away: Organization leadership needs to get comfortable with being uncomfortable more often, especially when discussing client-facing issues. Having your ideas challenged is uncomfortable. Having your ideas contribute to a great solution is exhilarating. Rise to the challenge!

In part two, we’ll look at how Commitment, Accountability and Results play into leadership. To get a jump start on effective leadership and sales, take our free Sales Agility Assessment today. Learn where you’re falling behind and how you can steer your team in the right direction!