How has your sales leadership style changed this year? As companies are facing uncertainty with their ability to operate and sell their products, effective leadership may have a whole new set of requirements. If you’re still leading the same way you have been for years, now is the perfect time to adapt your leadership style to better meet the needs of your organization during challenging times.
HubSpot recently surveyed over 500 sales leaders and found 40% of them have missed revenue targets this year — a significant trend that can’t continue if their businesses are going to survive. While navigating a global pandemic and economic uncertainty that has impacted the way buyers engage with sales processes, sales leaders must remain nimble in how they approach leading their teams.
It’s time to rewrite the sales leadership rulebook. The events of 2020 have fundamentally changed the way sales leaders need to engage with, manage, and empower their teams. To keep their businesses growing and operating, sales leaders must be able to address the factors preventing them from reaching their revenue targets in today’s market.
Our team sat down with Suzie Andrews, President and CEO of Stark and Associates Sandler Training to learn more about how sales leaders need to prepare for success in 2021 and beyond.
Andrews and her team work with company Presidents, CEOs, and sales executives who are frustrated with stalled revenue, and lack of company growth. According to Andrews, "Many leaders are motivated to grow their business, but they don’t realize what gaps they need to overcome in order to get there."
Andrews shared valuable insight on how sales and business leaders can overcome these gaps to effectively lead their teams through continued periods of uncertainty. Continue reading to learn what sales leaders should prioritize in 2021.
Sales Leader Priorities for 2023
1. Transparency and involvement from company leadership.
According to Andrews, the responsibility to bring in revenue can’t solely lie with the sales team. She says, "The ultimate leader of a sales organization is the President, CEO or owner of the company. They should be out in the field with their salespeople, because it shows they care."
She continues, "If the President, CEO or the director is actually out in the field interacting with their salespeople, they can provide necessary support, reinforcement, and additional coaching and training."
In many scenarios, senior leadership only becomes involved with sales matters when an issue arises or when sales are below target. When leaders are engaged at every stage, there are fewer surprises, and sales reps and managers feel more supported throughout the sales cycle.
Additionally, Andrews points out the importance of alignment between sales and company leaders. She says,
"When working with sales leaders, I'm always going to bring in the President and CEO. They all have to work together and be aligned on their approach. They have to clearly define where their business is today, and what they are currently tracking and measuring.
From there, we ask a series of important questions, such as: Are those the right elements that should be measured? Are these focus areas moving your business forward?
Once you have your company priorities and targets set, sales and business leaders should get clear on what is expected from your salespeople day in and day out. It’s the Sandler concept of a cookbook – how do you build your recipe for success?
Define what success looks like for your organization, set clear expectations, and track and measure progress from the top down."
2. Model a positive mindset.
Mindset is a top asset for any sales employee, and sales leaders have the power to greatly influence their organization with their attitude.
According to Andrews, "Before a sales leader does anything else, they have to decide what their mindset is going to be. It’s their job to create a strong foundation for their organization, and they should get really clear about what’s required of them, and of their employees."
The mindset of a sales leader can set the tone for the working habits of the entire organization. When leaders are managing from a place of scarcity, this can permeate throughout their team, hindering growth.
3. Support your sales managers.
Sales managers experience a great deal of pressure from all sides. Not only are they accountable to their reps, and are often tasked with supporting and coaching them through their daily work, but they are also accountable to leadership who looks to them to deliver on their targets.
In many organizations, the relationship between a sales manager and sales director or VP revolves around reporting on performance, leaving little room for development.
Instead of having conversations between sales leaders and managers only revolve around metrics, Andrews recommends having this information easily available on a dashboard where leaders can quickly access the information they need. Having the data sales leaders need when they need it and where they need it frees up necessary time and space to provide necessary support to sales managers.
When sales leaders provide consistent support to their sales managers through clear expectations and constant communication, the entire team benefits.
4. Use remote work to your advantage.
The transition to remote selling has been a big adjustment for many organizations in 2020. While those who worked in inside sales may have had a smoother transition, there is plenty of opportunity for those who worked in the field to successfully sell remotely as well. Sales leaders should look for opportunities to connect with their remote salesforce in ways they couldn’t when reps were constantly out in the field.
Andrews says sales leaders have the opportunity to be more involved in the sales process, providing coaching to their reps. She says:
"With so many people working remotely, sales leaders don’t have to ride along with their reps in the field, they can ride along on Zoom. I have clients whose organizations are doing so much better because they’re able to get on a Zoom call with their reps which is easier than trying to connect when reps were out in the field.
This makes things like one-on-ones, pre-call strategies, post-call debriefing, ad-hoc coaching, and territory plan reviews much easier to conduct. In fact, that information should be housed on a dashboard that the President, CEO, sales leader, and sales manager all have access to for accountability."
In a recent survey conducted by HubSpot, 63% of the respondents who were sales leaders said that virtual meetings were just as or more effective than in-person meetings they were a part of. The ability to connect virtually can create unique opportunities to establish more synergy between sales leaders and their workforce.
5. Use the B-A-T triangle.
The B-A-T triangle (also known as the success triangle) is a Sandler tool sales leaders can use to gauge their leadership effectiveness. Andrews breaks down how to use the B-A-T triangle:
"It's three areas that have to be managed and executed on day in and day out. The ‘B’ stands for behavior, which is what either the manager or the leader needs to do to be effective in their job. These behaviors should be very specific and very measurable.
The ‘A’ stands for attitude – that's the mindset piece. With everything going on, it can be easy to have a lousy or negative attitude. If my attitude leaves me feeling unmotivated or I start making excuses for why I can't get it done, I’m not going to execute.
Or if I believe prospects aren't buying right now, that belief system is going to undermine my willingness to act.
And the ‘T’ stands for technique. This involves training our reps on the sales techniques and tools they need to be successful. Many organizations don’t spend enough time training their sales organizations, so they don’t have what they need during steady times, or during tough times like we are experiencing now."
If as a leader, you can identify the specific behaviors, attitudes, and techniques your salesforce needs to succeed, and you can model those factors for them, your team will be at an advantage in 2021.
6. Have a structured hiring plan.
According to Andrews, many sales organizations lack a structured approach to hiring, which is detrimental to their success.
"I’ve seen organizations repeatedly mishire, which is extremely expensive. When teams don’t know how to effectively interview candidates, or don’t have assessments in place to pre-screen, they run the risk of hiring the wrong candidates," she says.
As your sales team prepares to hire new talent in 2021, make sure your managers have the tools they need to make good hiring decisions.
This can include working with them to build out hiring profiles, creating a structured interview process, and revamping onboarding materials as needed. Hiring decisions can make or break a sales organization, especially in a competitive business environment.
7. Understand your salespeople.
"You can’t motivate someone unless you understand them. Everybody thinks they dangle the carrot, the money, the incentives, and that's gonna motivate. It's not most sales, people aren't money motivated, but they're driven somehow, internally," says Andrews.
Taking the time to connect with and get to know the reps in your organization is time well spent. When you understand what their personal goals are, you can do a better job coaching and leading them to reach those goals.
Andrews recommends leaders have regular office hours or skip-level meetings where they can connect with their team members. She says:
"For these one-on-one meetings, our recommendation is that a rep comes to that meeting, prepared to talk about how last week went, and then share their plan for the next two weeks.
They could say, ‘So here's what I did, boss. I met these behaviors, I have room for improvement in these areas, and here's what the next two weeks will look like.’ They come in self accountable. That gives them time to have a dialogue and get on the same page about what's happening moving forward."
In addition to connecting with team members individually, Andrews recommends leaders use the "pick one, fix one" method for supporting employee development.
First, ask your reps what they are struggling with – an area of opportunity for their professional development. As an example, let’s say a rep has a healthy pipeline, but is struggling with closing.
From there, you can help the rep create a game plan to address or "fix" this particular skill. That could include sharing materials such as a podcast, or videos that share closing techniques, or more structured training related to the skill they want to build.
This particular skill would then be their development area of focus until they achieve noticeable improvement. Then, they can pick another skill to develop.
8. Strengthen your communication skills.
Communication is critical for healthy sales organizations. When Andrews’s team is evaluating sales leaders and creating improvement plans for them, one of the first things they look for are the leader’s communication style.
"We evaluate their communication style so they understand where they’re missing things as it relates to communicating and aligning with the people they’re managing, and the other leaders they work with. In addition to understanding their communication style, we also seek to understand what gaps lie in their competencies.
We’ve seen leaders who manage behind their desk and through email, and it’s difficult to be successful that way. Leaders can’t manage from spreadsheets, data, and CRM. Those are great tools to have, but you have to be effective in the actual management of people, not tools."
This is a great time to get feedback from your team on the overall communication flow of your organization to identify gaps you may have missed.
Andrews says, "Leaders have to understand how they stack up in that area in order to know what they need to change and improve."
9. Have a structured development and promotion plan in place.
In many organizations, high-performing individual contributors are promoted to the roles of manager and leader because of their ability to execute. If that is your company’s sole promotion strategy, you could be doing your team a disservice.
That’s not to say individual contributors don’t make good leaders — they absolutely can — it does mean in order to develop the next generation of strong sales leaders, you have to take a more intentional approach. Here’s what Andrews recommends looking for when promoting sales leaders:
"First, those you’re looking to promote have to be motivated to hit their goals. They have to show and prove success. You have to have a clear defined profile of where you would see them moving so they can determine if that’s where they want to go.
We help companies build their hiring profiles to support these decisions. When you have candidates who would make a good fit for leadership, evaluate their skills to see where they’re starting from.
Then what you do is you evaluate them, you take those assessments to see, do they have what it takes? And if so, you put them into training."
Essentially, instead of gauging an individual’s ability to lead based on their performance in the job they currently have, consider the skills and attributes they will need to be successful in future roles, and help them develop those skills to meet the needs of your organization.
By taking a structured, skills-based approach to leadership development and promotion, you’re positioning future leaders for success, which will inevitably help your company continue to grow.
As we approach a new year, now is the perfect time to revisit your sales leadership strategy to set your team up for success. By taking into account the advice in this piece, and the unique areas of opportunity for your organization, your team can be well-positioned for success in 2021.