The Top 10 Mistakes Sales Leaders Make
- Failing to transition from salesperson to sales leader.
- Being reactive instead of proactive.
- Not pivoting to a team first mindset.
- Not analyzing performance regularly.
- Failing to capitalize on power players.
- Focusing too much on development of underperformers.
- Allowing salespeople to get stuck in a rut.
- Inconsistent recruitment practices.
- Mistaking your journey for everyone’s journey.
- Failing to enforce your minimum standards for performance.
Failing to Transition from salesperson to sales leader.
When a salesperson transitions to a sales manager, the biggest mistake that he or she makes is continuing on with the mindset of a salesperson. This mindset is problematic when making all kinds of decisions, including personnel development, team building, reward offers, product decisions, and more.
The Successful Salesperson
Salespeople are really great at certain focus-areas that end up harming their ability to transform into a fantastic leader. When someone is a successful salesperson, he or she is hungrily focused on developing new accounts. They also develop their own personal productivity, independence, popularity, and thrive on instant gratification.
The Successful Manager
Successful managers focus more on developing their team members and building a successful sales team. They are good at working with a team and demand respect from their team members, regardless of their perceived popularity. They are in it for the long haul and are more patient with their employees to achieve long-term results.
Make sure that as you are making your transition from salesperson to sales manager you are reviewing these truths about successful sales managers and learning to shift your mindset to fit your new role.
Being reactive instead of proactive.
Many sales managers spend their time fighting fires each day. They address each day’s most critical issue, without a forward-thinking mindset. Over time it becomes obvious that he or she is consistently solving for the same issues day after day, week after week. This consistent fire fighting mindset prevents long-term productivity for sales teams. Furthermore, reactivity causes a longer to-do list, stressed out salespeople, and creates an endless loop of reactivity.
While reactivity is a major issue for sales teams, responsiveness can build the team up and cause significant growth. How does responsiveness look any different from reactivity? When you respond to a fire, you make note of it, bring it up in a way (and at a time) where it can be most valuable, and address it in such a way to solve the problem long-term.
Managers who resolve issues also empower their employees to tackle issues that they are able to without management interference. To learn more about issues and determine how best to resolve them, ask your employees what has been done to try to resolve the problem previously and what they think the most effective approach will be. These two questions will not only give you immense insights to the history of this issue, but will also encourage your employee’s problem solving skills. In addition your employee will feel that his or her opinions are valued and taken seriously by the leadership team.
Not pivoting to a team first mindset.
Business goals are always top-of-mind for both salespeople and sales managers. With incoming demands and requests pouring in, it can be tempting to drop everything and spend the majority of your time as a sales manager reacting to the business goals and related tasks. However, in a sales manager role it is critical to prioritize your day around development and coaching of your sales staff to insure long-term success.
Coaching can take many different forms and a great coach will implement several of these styles at any given time. Face-to-face coaching includes both frequent one-on-one meetings to analyze and improve sales performance with each individual. This is a great forum to provide feedback to your team members without making them feel scrutinized in front of peers.
Leading by example is another way to coach your team. Breaking down your sales process into individual process components and using those components to demonstrate successful sales techniques can be a very effective way of motivating your team to achieve incremental success over time. Even talking your team through test scenarios and working together to determine a successful solve will encourage your team to watch and learn from your experience.
Not analyzing performance regularly.
Most sales managers are able to list off their sales goals for the month, but truly great sales managers operate from a broader set of key performance indicators. While sales goals are still paramount, you should also have performance standards around behavioral traits. These standards may include things like calls or contacts made, process improvement metrics, skill development metrics, and more.
When it comes to determining these metrics, you may develop a number of sales calls that result in your sales goal or the amount of time saved in process improvement and how much that time is worth. Measuring and socializing these broader goals will help your team members understand how their every day behaviors will eventually lead them to individual and team success. Maintaining measurement of these goals will also help you and your teams understand where you lie in terms of reaching your goals over time, preventing a surprise failure at the end of the quarter.
Use the following template to create your team’s goals:
- Determine your sales goals for the timeframe.
- Determine which measurable behaviors can help you reach these sales goals.
- Measure each person and the team as a whole based on these behaviors.
- Socialize the information with those being measured to encourage behavior and performance enhancements.
You should also use these goals and metrics when hiring new salespeople, to insure that they will fit into your team’s success framework.
Remember that as you begin creating your goals together with your team you should be selecting SMART goals. These goals will be specific, measureable, attainable, relevant, and time bound. If you structure your goals in this way, you can revisit them at the end of the month, quarter, and year and easily measure success or failure to accomplish goals.
Failing to capitalize on power players.
If your sales team is like most, it probably holds a small host of power players and many more followers. These power players and the example they set can play a great advantage into your hand as a leader. To prioritize these power players, coach them during one-on-one time to let them know that they are a leader on the team. Encourage them to use this leadership stage to be a team player, share the strengths that they embody with other team members, and to encourage an environment where others can learn from and implement the same skills and energy that power players embody.
If you don’t feel you have a power player on your team, it is critical that you begin developing them. Any team members who show energy and initiative may be a good pick for development. Begin showing him or her the ropes from your experience and one day a power player will develop and begin coaching your team as a result. These developing players are the perfect candidates for participation in industry conferences and networking events to hone their skills and gain confidence as a leader in your sales organization.
Focusing too much on development of under performers.
The time that you are able to devote to coaching as a sales manager is precious. While it may be tempting to spend a large amount of time and energy trying to get bottom performers to improve, this effort rarely impacts your bottom line. Even if these low hanging fruit are able to improve individual performance by 5%, that won’t even be a blip on your radar when it comes to measure overall team performance. Your time would be much better spent developing your top performers, as a 5% increase in their already productive performance would have an impact of the team’s overall bottom line.
Just because you aren’t spending one-on-one time with these under performers to improve their results doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t take a strategic approach to developing and coaching these team members. There are two strategies we recommend for developing under performers on your team.
First, utilize your power players strengths to coach these low performance team members. Encourage your best performing team members to take an under-performer under his or her wing to help show them the ropes. They can instill some of the high performing work ethic, drive, and energy into these low performers to try to bring their sales up to an acceptable level within the team.
Second, these low performers can still benefit from your leadership and guidance during group time. Use this time to coach on the skills of top producers and point out the strengths on the team. This style will not only benefit the low performers, but will also help to elevate the performance of the entire team at the same time. Empowering your top performers to take charge will give them more confidence over time and will also help form bonds of camaraderie between two people on the team who likely don’t spend much time learning from each other.
Allowing salespeople to get stuck in a rut.
It’s well known in the sales profession that there can be a good deal of “burnout” and demotivation in top salespeople. When an individual is working so intensely it is not uncommon to see a performance plateau or even a decline, as he or she seems to have lost sight of goals or lost their core drive.
The first step to re-energizing your sales team is to do some introspection. As a sales manager, you cannot afford to experience any burnout. Your energy needs to be at 100% every single day to keep your team engaged and motivated.
Use this energy to build an individual engagement plan for each player on your team. There is never a one-size-fits-all approach to keeping employees motivated and excited about the work that they do. Each individual has his or her own individual motivations and driving ambitions. You can also use this time to ask your salespeople some individual questions to get to know them better:
- What are the barriers preventing you from working at peak effectiveness?
- Why do you believe a career in sales is the right choice for you?
- How can I help you achieve your goals and dreams for your career?
Depending on how your sales team answers these questions individually, you may choose to implement a motivational competition, recognize individual achievement, create “lunch and learn” meetings with speakers and topics of interest, engage members in a career development plan, or another course that suits the individual needs of your group.
Inconsistent recruitment practices.
Recruitment and hiring are two of the most critical processes in a sales organization. Finding, recruiting, and hiring rock stars can make the difference between winning and losing in the sales game. A few recommendations include:
Trial & Error
If you’re new to the management game, this may be what you turn to first. If you take one piece of advice away from this section it is that this should be called “Test & Learn” instead. Be sure that you take away learnings from every single trial to insure a better process moving forward.
Define Your Must-Haves
Heading into a recruitment or interview process without a clear vision for what your must-have qualities are is a major misstep. Have a detailed list of three to five qualifications that you cannot live without for your “must-haves”; the rest should be relegated to the “nice to have” list.
Write Down Your Questions
As a sales manager your time is valuable. You may feel too busy to prep adequately for an interview, however having a list of questions written down will insure that you don’t forget anything. As a pro tip, we recommend that you are careful with your question selection to insure you’re asking questions that will reveal successful characteristics that align with your must-have list.
Ask questions such as:
- Our #1 priority is new revenue. How would you make certain that you stay focused on achieving our revenue objectives?
- Tell me about how you create and manage your pipeline?
- Tell me about your daily cadence? The right answer includes what they do to maximize selling time and face time with the customer. For example, the perfect answer is that they use non selling time taking care of non selling tasks. An example of that is that he or she answers non selling emails between 7:00 – 8:30 am or in the evening.
- What is the value proposition of the company you work for now.
- Based on what you understand about our company, what is our value proposition? (The perfect answer would include how the product or service is):
- enabling the customer to improve their competitive advantage in some way or
- lowering cycle times or costs for the customer or the customer’s customer …or
- providing benefits to the customer’s customer.
Most people will miss the mark on this, but their answer will still be very revealing. Are your current sales people using scripts that cover these areas?
- What are the three key attributes that make you a sales leader?
- Describe your prospecting system.
- Describe your top techniques in closing a new sale.
- How do you respond when a prospect says, “your price is too high”?
- Why do you like to sell?
- Describe your daily time management system.
- What do you want to earn during the next 12 months?
- What are the three biggest mistakes that most salespeople make?
- Describe your greatest weaknesses and your greatest strengths.
- What business or sales books have you read in the last year?
- Human beings don’t like to be “sold” … they like to buy. Do you think this is true, and do how do you implement this concept into your process?
- What makes you a good team player?
- Great salespeople and great entrepreneurs have similar qualities…explain.
Give a Realistic View
Be sure that when you’re “selling” a potential candidate on a job, you’re also serving them up with a realistic description of the job duties and responsibilities. Candidates who are very realistic about the position going in will be more likely to be happy with the job and stay on as long-term employees.
Identify Success Indicators
Ask each candidate to tell you about past performance in a specific, measurable way. This will be a good indicator of goal setting, performance management, and ability to provide success in the future.
Listen More Than You Talk
As salespeople, we love to talk. However, talking your way through an interview with a potential candidate can be detrimental to the success of the interview. If you play your thoughts a little closer to the vest and let the candidate talk more, you’ll often learn all you need to know about their personality and likelihood of being a good fit for the role.
Get a 2nd Opinion
And a third – and maybe a fourth. Polling others in the organization about a candidate can often lead to different points of view that had not previously been considered. Learning how a candidate comes across to your peers can also be a great indicator of how they will fit into the culture of your team and organization.
Take Your Time
The old adage “hire slow, fire fast” is especially true when it comes to hiring new candidates for your team. It is critical that you take your time during the hiring process and check all the boxes. A phone screening, phone interview, and an in-person interview are all good ideas because they give you time to get to know your candidate. A candidate who is very polished during a first interview may relax and show you a different side of themselves during a third interview. Never let your daily to-do list get in the way of making a measured personnel choice.
Mistaking your journey for everyone’s journey.
Although one of the best ways that a sales manager can coach the sales team is by being relatable to them and sharing valuable experiences, it is a major mistake to assume that everyone’s experiences and priorities are the exact same.
For example, many sales managers remember what it was like to do it all on their own. It’s often difficult to remember all the coaching and support received when you are a salesperson and working independently. It’s important to remember that everyone needs coaching and assistance sometimes, so offering it up to salespeople on the team freely and without judgment is one of the most proactive steps toward creating a more productive team. Avoiding the temptation to leave people alone to do their work can often help sales managers to kick off this process of open communication and support.
Failing to enforce the minimum standards for performance.
Now that sales goals have been set, as well as other incremental goals that your team is working toward, it’s time to take a look at the individual performance indicators that we discussed earlier. Make note of how each individual’s performance has been impacting the teams successes and shortcomings. After all, if your team’s goals have been circulated with all of the players, it’s time for the rubber to meet the road for the salespeople.
This is the perfect time to implement an action plan for the underperformers on your team. The first step may be meeting with these individuals to let them know where their shortcomings are. This will likely happen during your frequent one-on-one coaching sessions. If several sessions go by and he or she does not address these shortcomings, it may be time for more in-depth measures.
After a salesperson has made it clear that he or she is not going to improve performance with your coaching and guidance, you will need to step in and provide the salesperson with two options. The first option would be to continue down the poor performance path that he or she has been following. This path will lead to dismissal from his or her role and ultimately with the company. The second option is to accept the commitment that he or she has made to the organization, as well as the attitudes and activities required by that commitment.
If your employee chooses method two: to stay with the company and improve his or her performance, you should lay out a foolproof goal sheet and measurement system for him or her to adhere to during an informal probationary period. If he or she does not improve to the standards of these goals by the end of the predetermined period, immediate dismissal from the company is likely the best course of action.