The essential elements of successful sales leadership: Staying ahead of the curve

About Carson Heady

Carson V. Heady is an American author and sales leader, best known for his 2010 sales/leadership book within a business conspiracy novel, "Birth of a Salesman."

Two governing principles

Two governing principles drive sales management success: people and process. The right personnel following the right procedures equal success. The numbers will be there. In Vegas the house always wins because it knows and plays the odds. In the same way, we fail when we don’t play the percentages of tried and true methods. Many managers find inexplicable (for them) failure because of this very reason:

Sales Management Failure

Trying to follow a process with the wrong people OR failing to provide the right process to the right people.

Managers get too caught up chasing numbers, telling the team they need more of [place your metric here] without showing them how. Reps fizzle out for that very reason.

Two vital steps for new leaders

Relationships

The vital first step of your process as sales leader is building the relationships. No team respects someone who shows up and starts barking orders. Why should they? This manager has not established trust, gained respect and earned the right to lead. The manager title is one thing. But two-way communication fosters a winning team. Building relationships  involves:

  • rolling up your sleeves,
  • getting in the trenches,
  • learning from front line employees what actually transpires and needs improvement, and
  • seeing through their eyes what works and what doesn’t.

There is no better way to diagnose the business. You cannot introduce changes to processes without taking these first steps. 

martin_coco_90x135Martin Coco, Director of Ticket Sales and Marketing for the St. Louis Cardinals, shares, “Two of the most important things we need to do as managers is to establish relationship and legitimacy with our staff.” With the Cardinals in particular, Martin says, “It helps that all of our manager-level staff have been promoted internally. They have done the job of the individuals they now lead.”

Although teams can’t always promote from within, Coco points out that it helps when you can. Managers have instant legitimacy with the group they are leading, as Coco points out, because they can say, “I’ve been in your shoes, and I know what challenges you are facing.”

Focus

Once relationships are built, don’t focus on selling more. Focus on what prevents sales. Gain trust by eliminating obstacles to selling.

When obstacles are removed there is nothing left to do but sell.

Sell your team on why process tweaks are beneficial; they fear change just like a customer does.

Understand the sales food chain: your relationship with your team is akin to the rep relationship with a customer.  You must

  • ask questions,
  • learn their existing processes,
  • gain trust,
  • expose gaps they may not have even known about, and
  • convince them to change based on need.

Make the fear of status quo outweigh the fear of change. Reps can make their choices. Either way, they get outside of their comfort zones. Your ability to move them away from comfortable ways of failing or maintaining mediocrity determines your success.

Staying ahead of the curve

trouble with the curveNone of us wants to have trouble with the curve. The key to hitting curve balls is watching the release point to identify the pitch. Then you can adjust the swing. So everyone on the team keeps their eyes on the ball, you must do three things with sales reps so that they can see what’s coming:

  1. Document: where we’ve been, where we are, where we’re going and what steps we are taking to get there.
  2. Hold accountable: did they take the steps to get there? If not, why not?
  3. Recognize: pay with money, pay with promotion, pay with attention.

Strive for personal stretch goals bigger than the commitments you must meet for your organization. Term organization goals as minimum expectations. Then even barely falling short of your stretch goals means you stay ahead of the curve.