About five years ago, we established a relationship with Larry Williams, one of the principals in the Williams Leslie Group, to help EnerBank improve sales performance.  As a result of ongoing Leveraging Sales Leadership training, we made an important shift in our sales management approach.

In just about every industry, the traditional title of the person in charge of sales is ‘sales manager.’ We now believe that to be most effective, the sales manager job description (and title) must evolve from being a manager to becoming a leader.  

So, what’s the difference between a manager and a leader?

We live in a continually changing business environment across the majority of industries, requiring rapid shifts in operational process, financial management, and sales. Sales managers (as opposed to sales leaders) typically focus too closely on measurable business results and lose perspective on the underlying factors and causes that produce the results.

Focusing on numbers has its place, but the real secret to being successful as an organization is to have a successful sales team—a team that is made of people, not numbers.

As a sales leader, here’s what’s worked for us as we’ve developed successful sales leaders and teams over the years:

  1. Identify the essential skills and tools that are necessary for successful sales, by understanding your salespeople’s knowledge of the buying and selling process and what they need to effectively develop business for their clients.
  2. Look at the factors that impact your team’s sales performance, sales competencies, motivations, and the selling environment.
  3. Assess their competencies, determine how you can help them to improve, and also understand what they’re doing really well both as individuals and within the sales team.
  4. Develop plans to improve their performance, so they are successful.
  5. Understand the communication style of each salesperson so you can effectively communicate when conducting meetings, coaching, or making joint calls. Understanding each employee’s different style of communication helps you provide constructive feedback. You should also take communication styles into account when meeting with current or potential clients.
  6. Plan and conduct coaching sessions based on your observations of sales calls and meetings. You can also role-play sales scenarios to enhance skills and confidence. Proper coaching is a very effective way to help your people become better at sales in your organization.

Sales leaders must focus on managing salespeople by directing and leveraging their efforts. Successful sales leaders know that the only way to be successful is to lead the team to success. Because success doesn’t come without planning, practice, and continual effort.

To facilitate the pathway to success, consider these five actions to help sales leaders develop successful sales teams:

  1. Establish a vision—All team members should have a clear understanding of performance expectations that are based on a shared definition of success for the team and individuals. 
  2. Provide feedback—It isn’t enough to convey what your salespeople need to improve. They need guidance on how to improve. And, they also need to know what they are doing well, so they can build on their strengths.
  3. Communicate and support—Effective sales leaders maintain close contact with their sales teams. They provide information and direction and help salespeople respond to challenges or obstacles.
  4. Recruit the best-qualified people—Hiring and developing a high performing sales team starts with recruiting the best-qualified people. We have found success using a third-party firm to profile potential candidates based on a behavioral survey that compares the individual results to the profile of a high-performing salesperson. So, recruiting and hiring isn’t just an art form— science also backs our process. Hiring the right person is critical. Great companies and great sales leaders will invest time and money in developing salespeople. So, if you make a mistake during the hiring process, you can set your company behind and waste significant time, effort, and money. As part of hiring and developing people, the sales leader must also reinforce successful behavior and remediate behavior that is impeding success or performance.
  5. Create an environment for success—When a sales leader projects a positive attitude, the members of the sales team are much more likely to feel motivated and excited by the opportunities in front of them. By pointing out tasks and activities that lead to achieving goals and positive performance, an environment of success is fostered.

By becoming a sales leader instead of a sales manager, you can ultimately achieve the financial goals of your team and organization. However, the goals themselves don’t create success. Your ability to build an effective sales team, develop the skills of that team, and create an environment for success, will all lead to that success taking place. And, remember that no company succeeds without a successful sales team.

Publication date: 1/9/2019

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