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7 Principles for Successful Sales Leadership

by Donal Daly

One of the perks of my job is the interaction I am privileged to have with so many great sales leaders. During the beta phase for a new solution we just launched (to help sales managers understand the potential vulnerabilities in the sales performance of their teams), I had more intensive interaction than usual with a number of sales leaders. Going beyond the challenges of the front-line sales manager, which is really the problem that Dealmaker Sales Performance Insight helps with, I was struck by some common principles that seem to be consistently applied by those sales leaders who are at the top of their game. Here is my synthesis of those conversations.

1. Lead with Purpose: Your team cares less about what you are telling them to do, but more about why you are asking them to do it. With a shared understanding of where you are headed together, you can more easily collaborate and communicate. If you can articulate a higher purpose than just hitting the targets – they know they have to do that without you telling them – they will understand the ‘why’ you are taking the direction you are taking, and that is always more powerful than the ‘what’. When ‘why’ is understood, the team has a better chance of figuring out the ‘how’.

2. Set High Standards – Hold Everyone Accountable: Inspire your team to execute to the best of their ability – every time. Every single internal and external interaction matters. It reflects on your values if you let poor practices develop without instant intervention. Slow response to a customer, casual email communication, bad manners to internal colleagues, poor quality proposals to customers, or arriving late or unprepared to a meeting, all let you (and the whole team) down.

3. Write the Plays – and then Play them Right: Sales strategy is relatively easy. Constant execution and sales discipline is harder, and separate the great from the mediocre. From business development through follow-up after the sale, the overall sales process (or go-to-market strategy) will contain milestones, trigger points, best practices, disciplines, and specific recommended tactics. Writes the plays, and then ensure that they are rigorously adopted, every day.

4. Be the Role Model: As a sales leader you will undoubtedly have other things on your plate distracting from your core task. De-prioritize these time thieves. Spend your time on exhibiting to your team how you are holding yourself accountable to the high standards that you have set. Lead from the front. Execute your plays. Remember, you are in charge.

5. Be Prepared to Rebuild: If you don't have the team you need, you must be prepared to re-build. Always be recruiting and building a bench. Just like nurturing prospects for future business, the sales people that you want to hire are probably not immediately available the first time you connect with them. Start the conversation early.

6. Prepare to Win: Winning doesn’t happen by accident. It usually happens when you are better prepared than your competitor. Methodology helps, but systematic planning will equip you to deal with situations that arise without warning. Deal reviews, account plans, sales process refinement, smart sales software, are tools you might use. Once the game starts they are usually on their own and it is then too late to help your team. You need to prepare them in advance to win.

7. Embrace Change Methodically: The business world continues to evolve. Buyers change. New competitors emerge. Economic stability fluctuates. Responding to change is never easy – particularly when things are already going well. When things are going badly you might feel the need to press the restart button. In either case you must accept two constants; (1) you need to make this quarter’s number working with what you have today and (2) what you have today will need to change just in time to serve your needs tomorrow.


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