The role of a sales leader is complex and nuanced. Sales leadership is really about having the ability to motivate your people to accomplish set goals by empowering each individual. It requires you to focus on their professional growth, as well as their personal growth. Being an effective leader is about seeing the big picture, without overlooking important details. Great leaders drive results by motivating their team to want to do their job.
So what are the best practices to accomplish this? What does effective sales leadership look like?
We sat down with Austin Peterson, senior consultant at Aflac, to talk about sales leadership – not just in theory, but in practice. Read on for his take on what the top 10% of leaders do to consistently motivate their teams and hit their number.
If you’d prefer to listen to our conversation with Austin on this topic, check out our SALES with ASLAN podcast episode 125:
The 4 Disciplines of High Performing Sales Leaders
Austin brings a unique perspective, having worked with thousands of salespeople and leaders alike, to give us insight on what he thinks are the commonalities among top performing sales leaders.
Especially in the virtual selling space, who are those folks that are still finding a way to win, no matter what environment they’re selling and leading in? What traits are they exhibiting?
Here are some specifics that he outlined among those top performers:
1 – They are Other-Centered leaders.
To use some ASLAN terminology, Austin told us that the top performers he encounters are always very Other-Centered in their approach to leading their teams. Being Other-Centered means deciding to put others first. A magnetic compass always points North. Our internal compass always points to us: “What do I need?” “What do I want?”
To change that, you have to stop and make a conscious decision to put the other person ahead of yourself and your needs. It’s all about your mindset and your motive.
This is what Other-Centered leaders and sellers do: put others first.
What does this look like in practice?
The truth is, no one is motivated by your goals – they’re motivated by theirs. Other-Centered leaders are successful because they acknowledge this truth. They don’t try to motivate their people by leveraging their power and holding salespeople accountable to their own goals; instead, they find out what is important to their team members (what they really want in life) and connect it to their weekly workplace goals.
Motivation isn’t a discipline problem, it’s a desire problem. And taking an Other-Centered approach is the fix.
2 – They are consistent.
Another characteristic among high performers is consistency in their leadership. They get into an execution cadence or rhythm, and don’t compromise it for anything. They provide a strong foundation for their teams to count on and strive for. They create and maintain “a consistent structure for which their people can grow upon or within.”
That culture of consistency can be achieved in many ways. For example, having a place for sales reps to start their week together at a Monday morning meeting – to highlight successes from the past week, to make sure each rep has a plan for the week ahead, to share best practices, etc.
And perhaps bookend the week with a Friday afternoon meeting for coaching sessions or review of the past week. This time functions as a “cool down” session after a busy week of selling – a time to reset, review, and refresh.
The power of the bookend structure is to be able to start and leave the week on a positive note. It’s not about putting restrictions in place or keeping people on a leash, it’s about reserving and structuring time (regularly!) simply for growth, planning, and connection. The time is to help your sellers plan their professional progress, and connect it to their personal goals.
As Austin says, “I want everybody in the organization to have a plan this week [and each week], because that plan is going to get you closer to satisfying the goals that you have.”
It’s about consistently, tangibly investing in your people. Sometimes people need some accountability to achieve their goals. (Yes, even their own). And so that consistency from a leader becomes critically important in regards to team-wide execution, growth, and results.
3 – They coach and develop their people.
High performing sales leaders spend time with their sales reps in action – not just theorizing, speculating, or saying, “Watch how I do it.” Because of their proximity to the action on the “frontlines” of selling, top sales leaders are able to have real and constructive coaching conversations with individuals on their sales team.
One of the challenges that sales leaders and managers sometimes face is differentiating between coaching conversations and management conversations. Coaching is about the development and improvement of a capability or skill. Management is about measuring your rep’s activity/productivity. It’s not a coaching conversation if you say, “Look, Tom, you said you were going to make 60 calls this week and you only made 30.” That’s just metrics and accountability.
The sales leaders who stand out are those who conduct meaningful coaching sessions.
High performing sales leaders, because they observe behaviors and spend time in the field with their team members, are able to get really specific and tactical with the regular coaching sessions they conduct. They’re able to identify the issues and the developmental activities that will help their people improve their selling practice.
Top sales leaders drive change by recognizing that change happens one-to-one.
4 – They know when to lead.
To some, leading, managing, and coaching may all seem to be the same thing. We briefly mentioned the differences between managing and coaching, but what does “leading” actually mean?
First off, it’s important to create and communicate the organizational vision. But beyond that, leading is really about focusing on your team member’s desire to want to do their job. As a sales manager/ leader, you should always have your rep’s desire on your radar. This can be tough to measure and/or manage, but desire is all about attitude and aptitude – and most importantly, willingness to do the work.
It all starts there – or nothing else will be in alignment. It can be as simple as asking, “What do you want?” or “What is important to you?” and plotting a way to reach that goal together.
If you can’t connect your company-wide goals to the rep’s, you’ll be hard pressed to cultivate their desire and motivation to do their job well.
High performing sales leaders really understand that they have to get the “lead” portion of their role right – because it’s all about identifying what’s important to their people and then reverse engineering a plan to get them there that aligns with organizational goals.
*Note: If you’re interested, and want to dive more deeply into the nuances between leading, managing, and coaching, check out our blog on the differences between each “role” and how much time sales leaders should spend on each one.
Summing It Up
We hope this topic has given you lots to think about and some key ideas about sales leadership to incorporate into your own organization.
Again, a huge thank you to Austin Peterson for sharing his insights and expertise with us, and with all of you.
If you found this blog helpful and want to go deeper into the concepts we covered, check out our new book, UnReceptive, at unreceptivebook.com.