With nearly ten years of management experience, eight in my current organization, I have learned much along the way that I am passing onto others. This includes members of my own team who are embarking on the initial chapters of their own sales management/leadership careers. There has been a lot of testing, learning, struggles and even some failures along the way.
Importantly, there were also a lot of opportunities to learn and grow. Here’s some of what I’ve learned and what I’m passing onto my team as they advance their careers.
1. Partnership & Individualization: The success of a sales team starts – and ends – with each individual. A good leader invests in each individual’s success. Work side-by-side with your team as their partner. This way, each individual feels supported and confident that you care about them, that you’re in this journey together, and that their individual contribution is valued. Working side by side can mean rolling up your sleeves and living alongside them in their day-to-day, so you can understand their highs and lows, wins and losses, and barriers to business. It also means working with each team member differently: we all have unique needs, strengths and areas of growth. Most of us are at our best when leaders understand this and offer an individualized approach.
2. Focus on Strengths: Everyone has natural skills and talents, advantages that they lean on in their jobs, day in and day out. This natural “comfort zone” is always a great place to start when helping your team members grow their business and their overall skill sets. What are they doing that’s working and driving their success? Help each team member discover their strengths, and show them when, where and how they can use that to their advantage.
3. Embrace Failure: Someone once said that every failure is an opportunity. This is completely true – and it’s the best way to view a loss: as an opportunity to learn. There are no failures on my team, but there are obstacles and challenges that allow us to improve, grow and win the next time.
4. Get Comfortable Being Uncomfortable: Growing through adversity or challenges is not a new concept, but it can apply to sales leadership. All those natural strengths form the foundation of our comfort zones. They make us feel safe, but as they say, real growth lives outside the comfort zone. These “outside-the-zone” skills aren’t weaknesses; they are skills that are ready to be honed, then shifted inside the comfort zone.
Recognizing and understanding those emerging skills for each individual team member is important for a leader. How can you inspire each member of the team to push their boundaries and grow? If presentation skills are outside that zone, how can you partner with a team member to develop those skills, working on them frequently enough to get comfortable? Most managers know which skills can be strengthened. Creating a dialogue and action steps around those developing skills can start the change and build an even stronger, more well-rounded team.
5. Learning Together: Any good leader invested in the success of their team will want to have answers to every question and every situation. Discovering that’s not possible, new leaders may be convinced they’re failing at their job – especially if others on their team find out they don’t know something. In any business, depending on the role or position, no one can be working the floor while simultaneously contributing to the 10,000-foot view. It’s just impossible to do both at the same time.
6. Brewing the Team Kool-Aid: Every team needs a rallying cry and a means of building success together. Focusing on each individual is important, but the team as a whole needs value from a leader to unite toward the common goal of success for the clients and the company. If one individual is successful, the natural mathematics increase the odds of success for everyone else on the team. Healthy competition forms bonds, unites the team, and leads to greater progress and growth for the organization. Too much competition can impede teamwork, sharing and learning. Finding the balance between healthy and unhealthy competition and working around it is key.
7. Ownership & Accountability: The measurement of success of any sales team is generally all in the numbers. I work with several highly successful sales reps who reach and exceed their numbers on a regular basis. The common choice they make is to own their successes and their losses. They own their accomplishments and all the hard work and perseverance it took to achieve them; they also own their defeats – and they choose to learn from both scenarios. You can’t always coach or encourage an individual to emulate certain character traits, but you can offer the choice of choice. Your team members should choose to own and be accountable for their work, and so should you.
8. Foster Trust: Of course, one of the most important aspects of the relationship between a sales leader and their team is trust. My team knows I don’t have all the answers, but what we don’t know, we’ll learn together for the benefit of the organization. My team knows that I trust them, and as a result, I give them the space to do their own learning, growing and selling. I have confidence in their skills, talents and their belief that we’re working together to build something great. Hopefully, they’ll take that trust and confidence with them as they progress in their careers. I’d like that to be my legacy.