Sales managers are the engine room of any sales organisation. The quality of the sales leadership team, and their ability to lead the organisation to sustained revenue growth, means that they are the most vital link in the enterprise chain.
In fact sales management guru Tony Hughes asks “Is sales management the weak link in the revenue chain?”
As we are driven to more and more product and service commoditisation it is the quality of our sales leaders that will determine if we survive. They must lead and coach their people to deliver differentiated value to their customers through their insight based conversations.
In this latest conversation Maria Nordstrom, our expert in high performance cultures, I therefore wanted to explore the first step – how we ensure we hire great sales leaders.
Maria argued that too often we focus on the wring attributes when sourcing sales leaders. We tend to focus on their track record in sales and not on the true attributes of a leader and coach. She went on elaborate and make a number of actionable recommendations.
View or read the full interview to get to learn more. This is likely to be valuable reading for CEO’s, CSO’s and Sales leaders. This is the sixth in a series of 10 interviews with Maria where we explore sales leadership and high performance cultures.
Maria Nordstrom, CEO of Basketball Aust and Managing Director of The Upside Group, is an executive coach, a specialist in sales leadership and a change leader focused on high performance sales cultures.
John: Hello, I’m delighted to have Maria Nordstrom with me again – welcome back!
Maria: Thank you, John!
John: Hey, these discussions have been great, we just had a great one that talked about customer-centricity and how to get that in a high-performing culture, and we talked about sales leadership earlier as well and how it needs to be authentic. I want to talk a little bit about the process of getting the right sales leader in place. It worries me sometimes that we really identify the wrong characteristics of a leader, and sometimes we put that super salesperson definition up as a sales leader. Does that make sense to you?
Maria: Absolutely, I’ve actually been thinking a lot about that. I’ve had some discussions with people that are in recruitment and profiling, as well as people that obviously recruit. I’ve recruited a lot of sales leaders over the years, and I think one of the key things, for me personally, is there is a difference between a super salesperson, and the super salesperson tends to be very driven, very much about individual contribution, focusing on achieving their own individual personal results…
John: Sometimes a very different behavioural profile to what a good, authentic leader is.
Maria: Absolutely. And I think it’s very key as a sales leader, or a super sales leader as we described it for this topic, is that you really need to understand sales. You really need to be able to pull sales apart, understand customer’s buying behaviour to be able to add value to your salespeople, but I also think that the people leadership part is very, very key. You need to be able to lead, you need to be able to coach. You can have coaching sessions, but I also think coaching is a behaviour that you use on the day to day as a conversation. When coaching came in to the workplace, it was more about you need to have a coaching session, and I really truly believe that if you have coaching conversations all the time, people get used to that kind of talk track.
John: We talked about the sport environment before and it’s the same thing. A coach in a sporting environment, it’s not just the one on one with a person or whatever, it’s coaching all the time members of the team, collectively or individually.
Maria: Yes, absolutely. And I think then you get used to the language, because coaching is very much about you helping yourself to actually answer a lot of your own questions…
John: Rather than being told what to do.
Maria: Absolutely, so there’s a very different language used; if you work like that all the time, people get used to it. I think though in the context of recruiting sales leaders, that part is really, really key, and a super salesperson doesn’t necessarily have that. Having said that though, over the years I have brought some super salespeople into sales leadership, but they’ve been in the state of life where they’ve decided that they can add that value but they actually want to lead other people. When you have that mindset, you can actually transition, even though it’s quite hard because it’s very easy to fall back on your old behaviour. “The team is not performing. I’ll go and do the work myself,” which is one of those things that you do as a new sales leader all the time, or “They’re not delivering. I’m going to go and do the work myself.” I think that’s very easy when you’re a super salesperson because you know you can do the work.
John: Very tempting. You start panicking, “We’re not making the numbers. I know I can close that deal, so I’ll go out and help the guy,” and you end up closing it yourself.
Maria: Yes. I’m really curious though, because having had these conversations, mainly because I was just curious myself, I over the years would try to find the right person for the role, and if the attitude and mindset is there, I would certainly consider a super salesperson into that role, but be very cognizant of the fact that that’s a big transition. When I talked to these people though in the recruitment space – and that may not be everybody, that may be only the people that I’ve been in contact with – I’ve found that the profiling they were looking for for a sales leader was generally a super salesperson. To me that’s quite worrisome, because I’d be surprised if organisations are truly looking for that kind of profile.
John: You need not necessarily introverted but much more introverted than the extrovert out there. You need to have good empathy, be a great listener, to be able to coach properly with your people and take them in the direction the organisation needs to go.
Maria: Absolutely, absolutely.
John: Okay. So, the bottom line on this discussion is don’t automatically grab the super salesperson. Look for the behavioural characteristics that you need within a person that really helps them become an authentic leader, and not out there showing people how it should be done by doing it themselves.
Maria: As I said before, you really truly need to understand the customer’s buying behaviour and buying cycle, you really need to understand the process and understand sales, you need to be a good people leader, and there’s a difference between managing process and leading people. And I think the other part is the coaching, and you need to be able to… As you said, you need to be able to listen, you need to be able to translate information, you need to be able to basically take that information, do something with it and deliver it back, and in doing that you need to also then be very congruent with your own beliefs. If you really are I think a super salesperson… Or let’s say that you’re an individual contributor, and you like being an individual contributor because that’s just managing yourself, then you don’t really fit the profile of being a good sales leader.
John: And there’s nothing wrong with being that super salesperson working well within a team context; as a super salesperson you don’t necessarily have to move on into a management career.
John: Okay. Great discussion, I think there’s good value there – thank you very much!
Maria: Thank you, John!
View a previous discussion with Maria here:
- “What is a high performance sales culture”
- “That’s how we do things around here”
- “Authentic leadership for high performance”
- “Role Charters help create a high performance culture”
- “Strategy vs Metrics for high performance”
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