How Sales Leaders Can Rise to the Occasion

Leadership is on our minds lately. And it seems we’re not alone. 

In times of turmoil and disruptive change, leaders are more valuable than ever. They provide guidance, confidence, and stability for teams facing uncertainty. They chart new roadmaps for scenarios where none currently exist. Strong leaders are indispensable at any time, but especially in this moment.

But leaders are also facing a steep uphill climb. We’ve written that it’s hard to be in sales right now, and it is especially hard to be in sales leadership. Teams look to you for answers you might not have. Many employees are nervous about their futures, and that weight is felt by their managers. As Art Petty wrote recently at SmartBrief, leadership can feel isolating and awkward at times like these, and as he notes, it’s not always something that’s regularly discussed in the workplace (or virtual workplace, as it may be).

“It’s more of a quiet problem,” he writes, “and something slightly ironic given the constant involvement anyone in management has with team members and peers.”

Let’s shed some light on this quiet problem. Like we said, we’re not alone in thinking about leadership, as there’s been quite a bit of helpful content published around the topic recently. Here’s a roundup of resources and content from peers, experts, and researchers.

Rising to the Occasion with Sales Leadership

This week’s trending content includes a new sales leadership report, team-building advice, video tips on strengthening trust, and more.

Excerpts from Leadership Experts

Mr. Petty, who wrote the aforementioned article for SmartBrief, runs the Art Petty Group, which specializes in emerging leader development. After addressing the challenges faced by today’s leaders, he offers some helpful tips, such as:

  • Accept it’s not all bad operating as a misfit. You’re in a unique position to effect change; embrace it!
  • Reframe your sense of mission and purpose. “Accept that your job is less about belonging and more about creating that sense of belonging and purpose for those on your team.”
  • Create a “kitchen cabinet.” Petty describes this as an informal group of trusted advisors within your organization with whom you can collaborate and share ideas. You don’t need to go it alone.
  • Focus on leading with curiosity. Escape from the restraints of “how we’ve always done it” and start to ask “what if” more.
  • Create structured listening sessions to help you refocus. Petty recommends quarterly one-on-ones framed around three questions: What’s working? What’s not working? What do you need from me to help you succeed?

Additionally, management consultant Liz Kislik wrote an article for Forbes last week on how to be an aligned leader who keeps the team together. Her advice, at a high level:

  • Clarify and communicate who you want to be.
  • Work to understand your team.
  • Take actions that match up with your values.Create safety for team members.
  • Integrate other voices as a source for your own feedback. 

New Report on the State of Sales Leadership

The folks at Brooks Group recently released their Sales Leadership Report 2020, which touches on trends and insights across four cornerstones of high-performing sales organizations: Talent; Training & Development; Leading, Managing & Coaching; Standards of Work & Processes.

The entire report is worth reading to get a handle on where things stand. A few tidbits that stood out to me:

  • Only 29% of respondents strongly agreed that the sales leaders in their organizations are well-equipped to succeed in their roles.
  • 73% reported a moderate or substantial decline in sales pipeline due to Coronavirus.
  • The No. 1 skill gap that leaders would like to close on their team is prospecting for new accounts. (We shared some guidance on this subject in last week’s Big Deal column.)

Tips on Building a Strong Sales Team

A leader is only as good as their team. Getting the right people in place is essential, and requires a different set of criteria than it did even a few years ago. To that end, Michael Maximoff offers guidance on how to build a successful B2B sales team on the Belkins blog. He lays out a three-step process that involves identifying the right team structure (The Assembly Line vs. The Pod vs. The Island), defining a growth strategy, and empowering through technology.

Breaking Down Sales Leadership Stereotypes

In his usual no-nonsense fashion, Anthony Iannarino targets and dismantles stereotypes about sales and its leadership. As one example, there is the notion that sales managers are tyrannical, which he views as largely inaccurate.

“If you spend time with sales leaders and sales managers, you’ll find that they know the people in their charge exceptionally well,” Anthony says. “They know their spouse’s names, as well as their children. They know about their past, how they grew up, where they went to school, and what they care about most. They know their strengths, weaknesses, and liabilities. They also know what they need from them as their sales manager. In short, they care about the salespeople that make up their team.”

With caring as a core foundation, any sales leader will be equipped to succeed.

Sales Leaders Speak on Building Trust

Speaking of stereotypes, the standard, sleazy “used car salesman” caricature was one that our collection of sales leaders addressed when they went on camera to talk about building trust in sales. These five videos feature sharp insights from experienced pros who discuss key focuses like maximizing the sales discovery call, cultivating consistency across the organization, and embracing new technologies to drive stronger connections.

Sales Leaders Are Never Alone

It’s true that being a leader can feel isolating at times, but know that you can always lean on the experience and guidance of your colleagues and peers. Follow the advice above and you can confidently lead your team into whatever lies ahead. 

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