In most organizations, sales leaders develop from the ranks but, unlike the other managers who receive business training, there is a dearth of training on the sales side. Sales leaders face different challenges, and the complexity of the task is increasing.
What does a sales leader have to do that’s different than other managers?
Steve Gregory, a facilitator for the Schulich Executive Education Centre, says, “one would expect sales leaders would be effective at inspiring their performers to achieve more than they ever thought they could.” At the same time however, Gregory says the complexity of the sales leader function is undervalued.
One of the most underappreciated skills for a sales leader is management of activity. Part of inspiring a sales team is to put them in a position to succeed. “Most people learn to be effective by observation, they watch other people,” says Gregory. “Now the truth is most of us who work in unstructured environments (like sales) succeed if we organize ourselves and we apply what we call high performance for teams. But that’s not all of us, in fact it’s a fairly small percentage that are actually successful in fixing those routines.”
The sales leader’s responsibility, says Gregory, is to put into place processes, systems and tools that help people set their goals, manage their selling activity and pipelines, forecast their results and if there’s a gap, close the gap. “That’s a very sophisticated set of skills and we see very unsuccessful and unsophisticated systems applied where it’s ‘how many calls are you going to make per day’. That’s not really serious management of activity. It’s just not effective. The sales leader has to come up with more intuitive strategies and tools. It’s a big job but it’s where all the money is.”
Covid has driven us all to these technologies – virtual conferencing and others, and they have huge advantages. Salespeople are now saving time and money because they’re not travelling. On the other hand, networking activity is being reduced to nothing. “It is more challenging; we can’t count on spontaneous events to expand or deepen our relationships,” Gregory explains. “They have to be planned. More disciplined outreach is critical. It is a big deal.”
More time is being spent nurturing relationships using email, texting and voicemails or video. One of the most important tools salespeople use is Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software.
“Wherever salespeople work in teams, CRM has become even more important, so we have to capture and share what we’re doing with others,” Gregory says. “I think these systems are still underused because of what I would call the very natural overhead [of time spent on them]”.
CRM systems have many functions, and they aren’t as well understood as they need to be understood.
Identifying top prospects is a function that is underused in a CRM. It should be the primary use, says Gregory. In order to be more effective, salespeople need to learn which clients they need to speak to at the frequency that is acceptable to the client.
The next highest value is in tracking pipeline – future potential sales – and in maintaining updated forecasts. This is not always well understood, says Gregory. “The truth is that probability and the stage of the sales cycle are often unrelated, which means my pipeline is often wrong. Helping salespeople understand how to use the pipeline more effectively is a source of huge potential.”
Sales leaders have to help determine what’s really in the pipeline, says Gregory. “When forecasting is bad, over managing hurts performance.”
“If the system is working, your sales are growing significantly, if not, you’ve got the wrong system,|” says Gregory. “It’s where all the money is – inspire them and make sure they have systems in place to win.”
Steve Gregory is a facilitator in SEEC’s Master Certificate in Sales Leadership (starting June 15, 2021) who specializes in helping sales leaders use technology more effectively. For more information and to register, visit the program web page.