Tag Archives: leadership traits

Sales Managers! Sorry to be the one to tell you, but you’re not perfect.

21 Nov

Do you consider yourself to be an excellent sales manager?  I imagine you do, it’s difficult to imagine that any manager would continue to perform any task in a way that wasn’t working well.

But if you’re ever lucky enough to experience a formal upward feedback process fasten your seatbelt because you’re going to get some shocking results.

In my first sales manager roll I was ready to become that perfect manager.  I tried my hardest to be fair, treat everyone similarly, give clear direction and begin to build a high performance culture.  When I got my first feedback I got a lot of compliments, great scores compared to my peers…but I also read some shocking comments and saw that I had a lot of room for improvement! 

Let me share some of the shock.  “Greg plays favorites”, “he doesn’t make it clear what is expected of me” and “he doesn’t give me the freedom to do my job.”

How is this possible?  Me?  But my overall scores were some of the best in a very large company!  How could I still get these kinds of comments?  Since my upward feedback came from direct reports and from another level down I began to investigate.  But first a little secret.  If you want to know more about what you are doing that will drive people’s impression of your leadership you’re going to have to share some of the information about your feedback.  In other words, you’re going to have to admit that you’re not perfect, but you care enough to want to change.  Once I decided that I was willing to do whatever it took to become a better leader the rest became a little easier.

So I began to call a few of my direct reports.  I shared with them where I was doing well but also shared my lowest scores.  And even though those lowest scores were not a disaster they were still my lowest scores and they needed improvement.  I shared a few of the comments made and asked them what I was doing that was damaging my credibility as a leader.  Once you’ve opened that door get ready for some very interesting information.  I remember asking one of my direct reports, (still a close friend today) what I was doing that would cause people to believe I played favorites.  Bob told me that when he held meetings that people would comment “Greg called me about that subject last week and he said…”  Well after several weeks of hearing this one sales rep nearly broke down and blurted out “Greg never calls me about anything”.  That was really interesting!  I thought it was a very good trait to always be reaching out and getting information about what was going on in the field, but was totally unaware that the way I did it was making some people feel left out.  You can say they’re too sensitive, but what I learned was that my intentions are irrelevant!  People will form opinions about your actions, not your intentions.  Bob gave me another example; he told me that some people commented that I always sat by the same people at meetings or team meals and this may be leading people to believe I had favorites.  From my perspective I was flying around the country nearly every week, sometimes visiting four cities…that’s four meetings, four half days of joint calls and four team dinners.  I was sometimes exhausted and probably did look for a seat near people I knew.  But if you put yourself in a sales reps shoes and think that Greg has come to town four or five times and always sits by the same people you’re probably feeling very left out.  Both of these were pretty easy to fix.  I continued to make calls to reps to get their input, but I kept a roster by the phone and put checks by people I called so that I wasn’t calling the same people all the time.  And I continued to fly around the country attending meetings, making joint sales calls and going to team dinners.  I just made one little change, I looked for a seat next to someone I didn’t know very well.  You know what?  Very small changes, very big changes in my leadership credibility.

So what’s the learning?  For me it was that I do not own my leadership credibility.  My credibility as a leader is owned by the members of my team and they will give me credibility when I earn it, not just because I want it.

So I think that you probably are a good manager…at least in your mind anyway.  Are you brave enough to find out if you’re as good as you think you are?  If you have the courage to open yourself up, then you have the potential to move from a good manager to a great leader.

When Sales Promotions Don’t Work Out

10 Sep

So often you hear of sales people failing to make the grade after being promoted.  Why is this?  Are sales people simply not cut out for more senior positions?  Are the skills that make a sales rep. shine no longer valid as the promotions come?

Over the years I have witnessed sales people struggle mightily after promotions.  Usually they don’t fail, but they are not able to make the same outstanding contributions as a manager as they did as a sole contributor.  To understand this you should first think through how the roles change from sales rep. to field sales manager, to regional Director/VP.

Sales Representatives – The core them of any sales position is making the sale.  While each industry commands different responsibilities and practices, the primary focus is common to all – to successfully complete the sales.  This includes;

  • Making initial contact with prospects, qualifying prospects.
  • Meeting with prospects to identify, understand and seek concurrence of prospect needs AND the implications of not addressing those needs.
  • Maintaining continuous communication with prospects throughout their buying process, while building a coaching network.
  • Continuing to pursue the sale in the face of rigorous resistance.
  • Identifying & communicating the benefits of addressing the prospect’s needs to decision makers and key influencers.
  • Closing the sale.

So along comes the first promotion…field sales manager.  So the refined skills that made the sales rep. a stand out are a good basis to work from but look how the job changes.

Field Sales Manager – The theme of this position is driving the team to sell.  The sales manager cannot personally ensure goal attainment, they must reach goals through the efforts of others.  The first level sales manager is a player coach.  The best usually invest about 30% of their time helping close the most valuable prospects, and then invest 70% of their efforts ensuring that the team results are maximized.  This job is very complex.  It is most natural for a newly promoted sales person to mismanage their time.  They may very well spend 70% of their time helping close business and only 30% of their time developing the team.  This will most often result in a sales plateau.  So in addition to the skills listed for sales rep the sales manager has additional skills required,

  • Concern for Order – Like Stephen Covey documents in his 7 Habits book it is very easy for the manager to run from task to task trying to meet all due dates while investing what little time is left helping close business.  An effective manager will arrange their calendar to ensure they are spending time with all team members.  Maybe not equally the team results will drive more success than the manager’s personal sales contribution.
  • Coaching and developing others – This is more difficult than it sounds.  Many of the skills that made them successful as a sales rep have moved from conscious efforts to subconscious habits.  It is a difficult transition to move from doing to helping others do.
  • Creating & maintaining effective work teams.  This includes internal team members as well as collaborating with other symbiotic departments.

Okay, let’s say our candidate is an incredibly entrepreneurial and is able to make the transition from rep to sales manager.  What’s next?  Regional Director/VP.

Regional Director/VP – The core theme changes from driving a team to sell, to managing a larger organization.  The job has taken a turn towards analytical thinking, matching resources to potential, creating efficient infrastructures of materials and organizational resources to support the regional sales efforts.  The RVP does not create the sales strategy, but uses their skills to ensure execution of the plan.  The RVP must communicate upwards to clearly and honestly keep senior management appraised on forecasts, product and customer input.  Additionally the entire region looks to this person as the Company’s idea of how they define leadership.

  • Analytical Thinking – The RVP must be able to rise above the level of any one particular customer or prospect.  They must look at the sales pipeline as an aggregate indication of the effectiveness of all teams.  They must be able to translate pipeline analytics into action plans including training, product/service redefinition and as a tool to coach & develop their sales managers.
  • Using Business Expertise – By now the successful incumbent has accumulated enough industry, product and customer experience to understand not only what the sales pipeline looks like…but is able to anticipate what it should look like and is able to formulate tactical plans to guide the regional to sales plan attainment.
  • Enabling the team – The incumbent is accountable to communicate to senior management exactly what is needed in order to make plan.  When sales teams face obstacles they rely on the RVP to identify & acquire resources to help them overcome these roadblocks.
  • Training and developing people – The RVP must make themselves accountable not just to their direct report’s development, but for every member of the regional sales team.  Keeping up routine inspection of individual, team and regional pipelines can help the RVP see trends.

So why do people struggle as they move along this track?  Well, I’ve worked within some very large sales organizations and made it to top sales officer.  From my perspective the failure of people falls on the shoulders of their employer.  Field sales is one of the only departments where you sit miles away from your boss.  You do not get the daily coaching sessions.  The accidental conversations that take place in the hallways simply never occur in field sales.  To make matters worse I have not seen leadership training offered to newly promoted sales managers.  There are not training courses on how to interpret the sales pipeline.  How to create developmental action plans around the analytics of the pipeline.  We do a disservice to the organizations most valuable commodity…people.  Not only do we leave the newly promoted manager swinging in the wind…but we withhold excellent leadership from the sales people who depend upon their manager to help them succeed.

I know this is ending up in a rant…but if you want different results perhaps you need to do things differently.

What Is A Quality Sales Organization?

21 May

When networking with other sales reps early in my career I began to see correlations between the various sales organizations and the type of sales people they attracted & retained.  It was very interesting to hear people describe their sales cultures, compensation plans, management’s leadership style and the employer’s focus on client satisfaction.  Over time I was promoted several levels, each new role required a relocation to another part of the country.  Through networking I continued to accumulate a diverse collection of perspectives from sales managers from a variety of industries.

My career journey led me to NYC leading a National Account group.  This was more of a business development role leading a team of 8 people and managing the relationships with a dozen accounts that generated $1.3 Billion in annual sales.  This was the capper to my experience as business development forces you to consider client satisfaction, a strong interaction with operations, client profitability and new sales.  I won’t bore you with the details but we did create a very interesting client service agreement.  Each quarter we contracted four goals with our clients.   Two goals came from the client and usually included one customer service goal and one goal that would help our contact attain their major job objectives.  We also then had one goal that the Account Director was able to set that would help them achieve greater account profitability and one sales goal (like an introduction to a sister division) that would be validated only after the two client goals were met.  This was a great tool that minimize attrition and creating a very positive climate for cross selling & account expansion.  After two years this portfolio grew to $3 Billion annually and we did not lose any clients.

My final career destination was to build a new sales organization within an existing Fortune 500 company.  I poured everything I learned into the culture of that sales organization and it paid off royally.  In four short years we moved from non-existant to an organization acquiring over 5,000 new clients annually, producing an incremental $180MM in sales with each new annual batch of clients.  The NPV of these clients was nearly double that of any other client portfolio.

So here is what I learned about sales cultures and what makes a “Quality Sales Culture”. 

There are three parties (constituencies) that are affected by the culture you build.

  1. Clients – Your focus on making reasonable commitments and then driving over-delivery will payoff in a huge way.  The Net Present Value of your client base is driven by retention rates and gross profitability.  You can easily model the value of high customer satisfaction by raising your client retention rate by 5% and improving gross margins by 1%.  This is the value of ensuring that your culture demands a high customer satisfaction rate.  I dumbed down these numbers.  You can acheive much better benchmarks if drive customer satisfaction into your sales culture.  It will not only make them believers but their closing ratio’s will be dramatically better.
  2. Shareholders – This is the easiest constituency to satisfy or dissatisfy.  If your Business Development Efforts focus on customer service delivery within a cross selling framework, and your sales efforts are highly disciplined around skill, will, execution and leaderhip it is nearly impossible to disappoint investors in your company.  I do believe that investors have now learned that mid term results trump short term returns.
  3. Employees – Why bother?  Because clients and shareholders will never get the best possible outcomes if your employees are distracted.  Sales people and account managers should get all the direction & support they need to create healthy, profitable client relationships.  People who are distracted by poor leadership, non-existent training or poor customer service attitudes will never be able to deliver to their potential.

So what’s the conclusion?  Senior Leaders must balance their focus.  I know that in this economy the shareholder will get more attention than employees but in the end that’s a bad tasting medicine that we know is good for us.  But you still need to balance your focus reasonably.  Focus 80% on shareholders, 10% on clients and 10% on employees is a losing tactic.  When the economy begins to improve you will have a lot of issues to fix and you may miss out in that growth.

Assuming you have some employee goodwill on your asset sheet, in today’s economy I would recommend a focus of 45% on shareholders, 35% clients and 20% employees.  I think you can get through the next 18 months providing you keep the communication level high so employees know they’re valued but investments in them are on the back burner for the short term.

In the longer term my focus would be 40% shareholder, 30% clients and 30% employees.

If you are interested in more discussion on this topic please leave a comment with the specifics of your interest.

Hiring The Right Chief Sales Officer – C.S.O.

10 Apr

Have an opening for your head of sales?  This role is tricky!  Why?  Because very few functional heads need analytical thinking skills balanced with lateral thinking skills.  Because very few leadership positions will have such a rapid, and long lasting impact on your company’s revenue.  Because your company’s credibility with your existing customer base will be dramatically affected, based on the impact that this person has with your account managers.  Because your peak performers will judge the culture of your company based on their impression of your hiring decision.  Because your struggling reps will either improve or hide out, based upon their perception of this person’s leadership style.  Because the other members of your senior leadership team will either focus on their own functional role or pay too much attention to sales effectiveness based on this person’s credibility.  If you’re still with me read on because I’m going to share some competency information with you and suggest some guidelines for your consideration.

But first let’s agree that this year and 2010 are going to be a challenge.  What is obvious is the changes in the economy.  What is less obvious is the changes that will take place with buyer preferences, attitudes and buying processes.  Your sales organization will have to adapt to these changes rapidly.  Here are a few of the changes that will need to be addressed:

  • Lead generation programs will have to be addressed
  • Sales rep access to information and collateral will need to improve
  • Sales and Marketing will have to better aligned, this must be non-negotiable
  • Sales processes must be revised
  • Sales team communication must be improved
  • Buying process analysis must be rapid yet thorough
  • Field sales structures must be revisited
  • Channel strategies reviewed
  • Sales tools must be reviewed, reworked and sales reps retrained
  • Sales compensation plans will need to be revised

Okay, I admit you’re not going to get to all of these…but if you do none of them you may be up the creek.  So which ones are critically important?  Your new CSO will need to rapidly assess the organization and differentiate between important and critical.  How can you ensure that your candidate will be effective in moving the organization in the right direction?  Getting nervous?  Good, that’s what I wanted.  But let’s simplify the process.  I propose a list of 8 competencies where you can focus your selection process.  Four are technical skills and four are leadership skills.

The core theme of the sales leader role is to create an environment where the needs of customers and clients permeate all endeavors.  The head of sales understands how the effectiveness of their organization drives shareholder, employee and client satisfaction.  They are able to spontaneously and fluently communicate strategies, while continuously using gap analysis to change course.  They apply limited resources where those investments will yield the greatest return for all constituencies. 

Technical Competencies

  • Analytical Thinking – This skill is not solely used to decipher the sales pipeline.  Analytical thinking is also used to understand a situation by breaking it down into smaller pieces, or tracing the implications of a situation in a step by step way.  When the CRM pipeline is ineffective in producing reliable forecasts this person must be able to find the root cause and move to fix it.  Just yelling louder will not help.  They must be able to break down a complex task into manageable parts in a systematic way.
  • Lateral Thinking – Frequently there are more than one cause of a problem and more than one solution to that problem.  Lateral thinking allows a person to juggle more than one root cause and several potential solutions and come up with a strategy that will employ more than one tactical plan.  If the lead generation program is not working there are probably several issues that need to be addressed.  Lateral thinking skills will help you avoid investing all your resources in a one path solution.
  • Ensuring Implementation – Admit it…things don’t always go right.  Someone needs to monitor to ensure that strategies get implemented, that the work is actually getting done and done well.  They need to act decisively to fix problems when they occur.  One of the most overlooked practices is to communicate well with all relevant parties to ensure they understand their role in implementation.
  • Collaboration with Others – If your sales head is truly a CSO then chances are they will serve on your senior management committee.  They will need to work with others in shaping their plans and understand how their decisions will impact other functions.  They need to communicate directly, interact effectively, honestly and persuasively.

Leadership Competencies

  • Using Business Expertise – Not all aspects of managing sales output and velocity are tactical or short term.  The possession and use of professional expertise is critically important for anticipating what the sales results will look like in the future.  The incumbent will be most valuable if they can understand the economic and market conditions as a basis for action in a variety of organizational contexts.  This is where the arguments arise about the importance of company tenure, industry knowledge vs. functional knowledge.  In some cases breadth of knowledge is more important than depth of knowledge.
  • Identifying with the Needs of Customers – There are several sources for customer need information.  Market research, upward feedback from the field and direct interaction are all critically important.  The organization cannot rely on one source for customer intelligence.  The CSO must continuously analyze situations from the customers perspective.  Without this talent the organizational view will become myopic.
  • Coaching & Developing Others – The only way for the top sales officer to effectively lead to organization is for them to continuously gain credibility with their direct reports.  Having ultimate authority will have a short shelf life.  The leader should be adept at recognizing each team members unique strengths and development needs, address and resolve performance issuess directly and rapidly and help identify alternatives to overcome obstacles. 
  • Leadership Credibility – The entire organization is customers of the CSO’s leadership.  Customers have been known to revolt.  The CSO must have a conscious knowledge of the skill and will of their direct reports, and have a purposeful use of various leadership styles they are willing to employ in order to get things done without harm to the company and organizational culture.  This is a difficult and hard to find skill set.  Knowing when to use directing, guiding, supporting or delegating leadership styles is as much an art as a science. 

First, my apologies for the length of this article.  Second this competency model is designed for most business to business sales organizations.  Your company/industry may need a slightly different set of competencies.  But do yourself a favor, for each competency you add, please take one of these off.  Trying to recruit around a competency model with more than 8 desired skills makes the process nearly impossible.

For larger companies – Hiring a top sales officer is a challenge that will have a dramatic impact on the health of your company for years, maybe even decades.  If this article has built up your confidence then I have done my job.  If it has lowered your confidence then don’t get discouraged, there is plenty of help available.  There are plenty of consultants and coaches that can help you through this process.  Once you open that door however you need to ferret through a lot of helpers to find someone who will be of help.  I would highly suggest finding someone who has actually had CSO experience. 

For medium sized companies – You may not be able to find or afford someone with a complete skill set.  Your current stable of talent may be strong but do you have the time for on the job learning?  If you cannot attract or afford a true CSO then I would suggest promoting from within and contracting with a past CSO war horse to help coach your candidate.  This approach should help your high potential candidate accelerate their learning dramtically.

For smaller companies – You will probably not need a true CSO.  I would recommend finding a great sales manager and have them report to the CEO or COO.  But don’t delegate leadership completely to the sales manager.  If you do not have adequate time to manage them perhaps you can find a coach to help them.  If your company is not large enough to warrant a sales manager I would recommend finding a sales management coach to help you run the sales group yourself.  Frequently the skills that made you successful as an entrepreneur will not be the best skills to employ running a group of sales people.

If you made it all the way through this article then you’ll probably make a great hire.  Precisely defining what you are looking for is half the battle in making the right selection.

The One Best Sales Rep Interview Question!

22 Mar

Use the process carefully…choose you final question with care!

Interview questions fall into four categories;

  1. Functional Skills – Those “know how” skills that are necessary to perform tasks that are routine.  There are valuable questions here that can expose the candidates education, and training.  Some deeper questions can help you uncover the interviewee’s perception of their role, and understanding of sales process.  This is a particularly important field of questions for small to medium sized companies that may not offer in-house training.
  2. Product knowledge – Just how important is product knowledge?  Does a communication sales rep need to know what reports a call center system is capable of generating?  Does a cabinet sales person have to know how a compound joint is fastened?  The depth and breadth of product knowledge required is really driven by how your customers make buying decisions.
  3. Industry knowledge – Is it necessary for your sales people to understand your industry, and your customer’s industry?
  4. Leadership skills – This is the most overlooked line of interview questions, yet this competency is the primary driver of the sales person’s success.  Just because a sales rep does not have direct reports does not mean they do not need leadership skills.  Self leadership is the fuel that drives the sales person to utilize all those functional skills.  These are the “soft” skills that are more difficult to train.  Entrepreneurial drive, impact & influence, self-confidence, effective communication and identifying the needs of the prospect come to mind.

There’s no one question that can ensure you make the best hiring decision.  However, your hiring process should be organized enough so that you ensure that all four categories of interviewing focus are covered in the process.  If the last interviewer is asking the same line of questions that the first person asked are you really making the best use of the process?  Think of the interviewing process as a funnel where 100 candidates begin the process and 96 are eliminated.  So perhaps the first step is a 10 minute screening interview where the candidate’s industry knowledge is explored.  The next step may be a 30 minute interview focusing on product knowledge and some fundamental sales skills.  A traditional one hour interview is required to dive deeper into functional skills.  These interviews should always be conducted by a field sales manager.  If the field of candidates is still large I would advise that another field manager conduct a second interview drilling down further into functional skills.

So if your interviewing process is working correctly you now have reduced the number of candidates from 100 down to 4.  And now there is time to change your focus from product, industry and functional knowledge to self leadership skills.  To this point you have narrowed the field to those candidates that are capable of doing the job.  Focusing the final interview on self leadership will help you make the best selection not on capability to succeed, but on the likelihood of that success.  Which is the one candidate that is most likely to succeed and become a peak performer?

Having interviewed thousands of sales candidates, hiring hundreds and seeing those people succeed I would offer this advice.  The one leadership competency that seems to always differentiate average performers & peak performers is entrepreneurial drive.  The only way to determine if a candidate possesses this leadership competency is to ask a situational question, and to listen closely for the behaviors that exemplify this competency.

So what is my favorite all time final interview question?  “Tell me about a time when you were driven to achieve a goal, you faced substantial resistance, and had little internal support.”  This one question should take 30 to 45 minutes to discuss.  And now for the hard part.  You must listen for the candidate’s behaviors.  You must guard against directing them towards an answer, and you can only give them credit for what they did.  Too often “we” slips into the conversation.  No credit for “we” in this interview.  So what behaviors are you listening for?

  • The candidate set their own objectives (probably higher than expected), and competed against a self defined standard of excellence.
  • Tirelessly pursued attainment of that goal, perhaps for years.
  • Showed tenacity by persisting, taking numerous, sustained actions over time in the face of obstacles.
  • Identifies the resources needed to attain the goal, and then takes entrepreneurial action to obtain those resources.
  • Never gave up.

In the end you’re looking for that special person with the attitude of Gene Kranz…remember him?  Ed Harris played Gene Kranz in the movie “Apollo 13.”  Gene’s most remembered quote was “failure is not an option.”  I believe that in every great sales person there’s a common theme.

Effective One-On-One Sales Coaching Sessions

4 Mar

Recently I have read posts on this subject on a several popular blogs.  My most recent “snooping around” session revealed on one of those blogs that an “effective One-On-One coaching session should be planned six months ahead of time”.  My curiousity ended, as did my snooping session.  If you are holding your coaching session every six months you should be fired as a sales manager!  You sales people are customers of your leadership, and they need service from you more often than every six months. 

There are four types of coaching sessions:

  1. Behavioral – something has come to your attention that must/should be shared.  Though we think of these sessions as addressing negative behaviors you should use them to recognize positive behaviors also.
  2. Discovery – As a manager you have uncovered a developmental issues that should be addressed.  This is the first session of a field training program that should end with a bi-lateral contract between you and the sales person.
  3. Follow Up – These are frequent mini-sessions to check up, and exchange feedback.
  4. Bottoms Up – If you are a great leader this should happen often.  Instead of you discovering a developmental issue one of your team members seeks out your help.  Why?  Because you are trustworthy and they know you are there to serve them.

First a note about tone.  Attitude is everything.  If this is a behavior coaching session do not send mixed messages.  If a negative behavior issue is serious enough to warrant exploration and coaching, don’t mince in other topics.  The outcome of behavioral coaching sessions are usually uni-lateral next step contracts.  If you have discovered a specific sales skill that needs improvement you do want to recognize those other skill areas that are best in class.  If this session is a follow up you should summarize previous discussions, recognize progress and discuss next steps.  The key to follow up coaching sessions is that this is a bi-lateral agreement to next steps. 

Coaching sessions should be orderly.  You should control some parts of the discussion and you should let your team member control others.  However, this is not a free flowing, never ending conversation.  You may end up being friends with some of you sales people but remember, friendship is the outcome of effective leadership, leadership is never the outcome of friendship.

The coaching session outline;

  1. Warm Up – I guess you could just hit them over the head, but why?  This is a team member.  The only reason to minimize this part of the discussion is if you have uncovered a negative behavioral issue that if not addressed could result in the termination of this team member.  Initiating a serious conversation with frivolous small talk is disingenuous.
  2. Orientation – If this is the first coaching session to reveal something you have discovered, particularly if the team members overall contributions are satisfactory, this part of the discussion is crucial.  For instance, if you are concerned with this team members prospecting skills you should discuss what lead to this discovery.  “Jim, thanks for your first quarter results.  It helped show the others that the goals are achievable even with this difficult economy.  But I was exploring our CRM system and think I discovered something.  I noticed that you not only made your goals, but had the highest proposal to contract closing ratio!  In fact, you also had one of the highest closing ratios in moving prospects from the needs analysis to the proposal, congratulations!  But that led me to think, are you motivated to dramatically increase your earnings?  Because if you are I think I discovered something that is holding you back…”  Now the stage is nearly set for you to focus the conversation.
  3. Focus – This is the meat of the conversation and two-thirds of your time should be spent here.  But step back a little.  Dust off those sales skills from your past life.  If you sold like I did, you’re best sales pitches were not about what you told a prospect right?  First you need to sell the need.  Continuing our conversation with Jim…”Since you have world class skills at the end of the sales cycle, I did a little arithmetic.  You may already know this but if you were able to put 3 more prospects into your pipeline every quarter your earnings would increase by 10%!”  My best sales presentations came about because of the questions I asked!  You need to use your open ended probes, your directional probes and confirming probes.  You need to find out if the lack of prospecting is a skill gap, or a will gap (see seperate articles on each subject on blog).  If Jim agrees he has a need to increase the number of prospects in his pipeline, you’re halfway home!  You now have to come to agreement on how to satisfy that need.
  4. Contract – Every coaching session should end with a contract.  Simply put this is the agreement going forward, which defines each person’s action plan and roles.  In my Sales Excellence Process there is a form which defines each person’s commitment.  The contract (unilateral or bilateral) should be driven by what you determined to be the cause of the problem.  If the issue is skill then you as the leader will have an obligation to the sales person to deliver the training.  If the issue is one of will to do the task then the sales person will have more obligations to the contract while your role will be inspecting what you expect.

Coaching sessions are the most important duty of a sales manager.  How you go about delivering a coaching session will define your leadership.  Get your mind right!  Are you there to help, or are you there to catch someone doing something wrong?  Remember “Cool Hand Luke”?

Boss: Sorry, Luke. I’m just doing my job. You gotta appreciate that.

Luke: Nah – calling it your job don’t make it right, Boss.

Why Leaders Get Followed – Pointers From 297 People Who Chose To Follow

20 Feb

Does every manager lead, inspire and motivate their team to new heights?  Of course not, but some are remembered for years…even decades by members of their team.  People have told me they have fond, warm memories when I ask them to tell me about the best leader they ever worked for.  So instead of writing an article about the dynamics of leadership, I though it may be more useful to view leadership from the eyes of those that follow.

I wanted to know what people thought about the best leader they ever worked for.  I had asked the question numerous times in leadership training classes, but the people attending were speaking out amongst peers so I wasn’t sure they were speaking from the heart.  So I posed the question on LinkedIn, a business oriented social media site.  In LinkedIn there are groups where you can post a discussion/question and members of that group are free to comment.  I posted the question on two sales groups, a CFO group, two HR groups and a general executive group.  297 people responded, offering 495 words and 132 phrases.

The results were both confirming to some of what I have seen before, but at the same time I read words I had never hear in a classroom environment.  Words like “servant” were offered more than once.  I followed up with some people to ensure I understood their meaning as many comments came from around the world.

Visionary was the word most commonly mentioned 1st, and was the most common word offered overall.  Integrity and inspiration came in tied for 2nd.  I won’t bore you by listing all the words, but the longer I thought about them, the more clearly I saw what people thought differentiated this leader from all the others.  When I began to bundle these words under 5 traits it became clear what people value most from leaders vs. everyday managers.  The traits I identified were; technical competency, leadership competency, character, composure, and care for people. 

Competency/Functional – I was surprised that this trait was not more highly valued.  Comments from around the world with many submissions from the technology world still barely registered.  The two most commonly offered words, knowledgeable and competent, only appeared 9 times out of 495 words.

Competency/Leadership – This trait had double the offering of the next most valued trait (of course leadership was part of the question).  The most common submissions were visionary, inspirational, empowering and mentoring.  Of interest to me was that when I sent an email to thank people for commenting in the discussion they offered more information about these traits but rarely mentioned the leader.  I only note this because I found it very different from those who wrote back about character and care for people.

Character – This was the 2nd most commonly valued trait, and easily the most common word used was integrity.  Honesty, humility and trusting were all mentioned often but integrity was offered more often then the other 3 combined.  The tone of follow up discussions was interesting.  This trait was definately highly valued but again, they spoke more about the trait than the person.  My inference was that this trait was the entrance ticket, not the main attraction.

Care for people – This is the 3rd place trait but don’t dismiss this if you aspire to be someone’s best leader!  The words most commonly offered were; Trustworthy, caring, supporting and compassionate.  Now for the most interesting part…this is the trait that naturally evokes the most emotion.  I got unsolicited emails from several respondents thanking me for posing a question that reminded them of a particular person.  More than one told me how warm the memories were.  This was inspirational to me because it seemed that even though this was the third place trait in my survey it may be the trait that many good leaders do not have, or at least do not display.  Statistically this may be in third place, but those that experienced it absolutely loved it.

Composure – This is an interesting trait because people seem to appreciate behavior in a leader that is opposite to those that are following!  In a time of dramatic change, they speak of being calm under pressure.  When the environment is calm and sleepy, they appreciate passion over any overlooked principle.  The top two words were passionate and listens.

This was a very interesting excercise for me and I hope enlightening for you.  If you are inspired to become that one leader that someone will remember…maybe even decades after they worked for you then I would suggest you focus on the following.

Leadership competency – the most high valued trait.  Driven by perceptions of vision, inspiration and empowerment.

Character – the second most valued trait.  Warning!  If anyone spots ANY lack of integrity then move on.  Always do the right thing even when no one is watching.

Care for people – maybe 3rd place in people’s mind but 1st place in their heart.  Perception will be driven by your trustworthiness, compassion and support.

Composure – 4th place BUT a lack of composure will always ruin all the hard work you put in the other traits.  People appreciate calm under pressure and passion over principal.