The responsibility that comes with being a Sales Leader is huge. Whether it be overseeing the Strategic Account Plan of one of your key customers, developing an executive meeting brief for a senior executive meeting, or conducting a portfolio review with one of your sales executives, the expectations placed on you can sometimes be overwhelming. And if you have recently made the transition from Sales Executive (individual contributor) to Sales Leader, the expectations can often feel like carrying a massive load on your shoulders, adding extra pressure on you and your team.
This is something that I had to confront a number of years ago when I made the leap to Sales Leader. One day I was an individual contributor, managing a sizeable portfolio, and the next, leading a team of 10 sales executives, each of whom were looking to me to provide them with personalised support and attention. To say that the 1st 90 days as a sales leader was challenging would be a gross understatement – it was hideous! On many occasions I would come home and wonder why I had put myself in that position, that perhaps I had made the wrong choice, that sales leadership was not ‘my cup of tea’ and that I should revert back to being a sales executive. Thankfully I had a tremendous support network around me which enabled me to tap into to get through the difficult first 90-120 days.
Looking back, I realised that much of the role was unfamiliar or different to what I had perceived it would be , and so I would attempt to be ‘all things to all people’. This was simply exhausting and if something didn’t change, I would burn out very quickly, and not be in a position to achieve the aspirations I had set myself. This was a very confronting time and thank goodness for my support network. During a coffee chat with one of my close confidantes, I was asked a very poignant question, which upon answering it, opened up an entirely new perspective and set me on the path towards solidifying my sales leadership career. The question was – “are you majoring in the majors, or in the minors?” At first I had no idea what they were talking about – was this some weird reference to baseball and if so, what did this have to do with leading the sales team?
However when I responded with ‘Huh? What do you mean?’, they explained it in detail and from that day forward, everything changed. What I realised was that I was spending the majority of my time majoring in the minor things – tasks that may well have felt good and delivered a small result, but they were certainly not delivering the big impact or moving the team forward. Then they asked me a series of questions and from those questions, we identified what the majors were, and these became the foundation of sustainable sales leadership success.
Here are 5 areas that we classified as Majors that may be relevant to you on your sales leadership journey:
- Developing a winning sales culture – This was the most important area to focus on first. I needed to not only understand what a winning sales culture looked like, I needed to develop that and then develop strategies to bring the team along for the journey. It is a well known cliché that ‘culture eats strategy for breakfast’ and it is so true. When I moved into the sales leadership role, there was not a clearly defined culture. It was literally a group of sales executives being part of a team, but they were competing against each other. I needed to bring them together, and have everyone on the 1 page. To do this, I focused on what I wanted the team to stand for, what the team’s vision and mission was, and then established a set of standards around behaviour that would become not only non negotiable, they would also be sustainable. This also involved developing clarity around the expectations that the sales executives had of me, of each other and what we as a team expected of key internal & external stakeholders, as well as of customers. Whilst this exercise was challenging and required great effort up front, the payback was immense, as the team were on the same page and everyone was clear on the role they played and the standards of behaviour expected. Definitely a major!
- Coaching & developing of the team – As a sales leader, the expectations can be immense and often you can be at the mercy of other people’s agendas and priorities, especially senior leaders and customers. As such, often what can drop by the wayside is the amount of time allocated to coaching and developing your sales team. And whilst you may feel that responding to a senior executive or customer is important (which it is!), it can often have an adverse effect on the morale and perceptions of your sales team, as they can often feel as though they are a lower priority. When this happens, morale can dip and sales culture can fracture. Therefore it is critical to not only allocate time to coach and develop your team, you must also commit to it. It is through the ongoing coaching and development of your team that incremental improvements can be made, which over time, leads to major transformation and sustainable results. This is a major and is non-negotiable!
- Personal productivity – After making the transition to sales leader I could not believe the volume of emails that would flood my inbox every day, as well as the large number of meeting requests. Looking back, I can’t believe that I once held a principle that I would not go to bed each night until I had zero emails in my inbox. Thankfully that only lasted about 30 days!! What it forced me to do was focus heavily on my personal productivity and where I would get the best return for my investment of time. And this resulted in me structuring my day so that I was not at the mercy of emails constantly coming in – I would schedule personal appointments in my diary to respond to email, I would also prioritise activities and tasks so that it would not eat into my major priorities, being coaching & developing my team. It was during this time that I understood that we are constantly conditioning other people on how to treat us and deal with us, and I needed to get crystal clear on what strategies I would implement and maintain around personal productivity that would enable me to focus on the majors.
- Strategic Account Planning – It sounds obvious, but to generate high value and sustainable sales success, you must plan, and this is not simply a plan on the back of an envelope, although that would certainly be better than no plan at all. In the highly competitive B2B marketplace, it is critical to generate strategic account plans – essentially a blueprint for a customer that will generate mutual value and benefit, over a long period of time. This takes considered thought, often detailed analysis, and certainly strategic thinking, and will often be the difference between winning & not. I discovered that in order to be able to serve a customer and deliver value, we needed to earn the right to do so, and this meant getting to a position where we knew the customer, their environment, their industry and their competitors almost better than they did. This positioned us as trusted advisors and was only achieved through strategic account planning. This is a major. And as tempting as it may be to focus on the tactical and short term easy wins, especially when your senior executives are constantly in your ear, hold firm because a well formed and well executed strategic account plan will deliver you outstanding results, and these results should be sustainable.
- Strategic customer relationships – As a sales leader, you carry huge expectations of not only your team, your business, but also your customers. And in the B2B space in particular, good business comes from strong and strategic customer relationships. This means that as a sales leader you must be constantly investing in building, developing and maintaining relationships with your customers, as well as your potential customers. It is a well worn cliché, however, people do buy from people they like and trust, and if you have a strong & reputable brand and company behind you, it is an added bonus. But here is the thing – if you purely rely on your company’s brand image and reputation to position you, without investing in strategic customer relationships, you will be leaving literally millions of dollars on the table, for your competitors to swoop on. So make it a priority to constantly invest in strategic customer relationships – this is a major and definitely worth it.
When I focused on these 5 key areas, an amazing thing happened – I was still busy, however, I became considerably more productive, and the return on my investment was incredible. It also meant that I was able to delegate more effectively, which meant that I was beginning to create other leaders – my succession plan was taking shape. It was an incredible lesson in getting very clear on the minor versus major things and the results that would flow. It was no longer about returning that ‘urgent’ phone call or email immediately, or completing a trivial internal report. It was about purpose, driving the behaviours and standards of the team, and expending energy into areas that would provide a significant return. So if you find yourself currently majoring in minor things, consider these 5 key areas, invest in them, and watch the results flow.
To your continued sales leadership success.
If you want to know how you can better lead your sales team, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
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Darren specialises in working with Sales Leaders to create, implement & embed a sales leadership game plan that will deliver outstanding and sustainable sales & revenue results. He is also the founder of the Australian Sales Leadership Network, a LinkedIn Group for sales leaders to share insights, strategies, resources and best practices, in order to build high quality, engaged and successful sales teams, delivering profitable and sustainable sales results. To apply to join, please click this link.