Turn Yourself Into a Star Sales Leader

You are a star salesperson. And after years of exceptional performance, you've just become the sales leader. How can you translate star sales performance into star sales leadership?

If you are like many sales leaders I've worked with your first impulse will be to try to clone yourself — that is to inject some of your star power into as many sales calls as you can.

Soon (if you're lucky) and rather a bit too late if you're not, you'll see this for the micromanagement it is (or at the least admit that you simply don't have the time to go on every sales call yourself).

It's time to set some rules of engagement — not for your team but for yourself.

Don't go for the sake of going. One of my clients talks about the considerable cost of the "four- and six-legged sales calls" in which everybody and their brother and sister tags along, including you. But you should confine yourself to going on only those calls in which you are essential — where only you can gain access to the right people, owing to your position, your special industry expertise, your extensive product knowledge, or some useful connections. Sure, you probably could always make a difference on every call — you were not a star for nothing. But your job now is to open doors for, back up, and develop your future stars; not to outshine them (or do their work for them).

Don't go it alone. And while we're on that subject, an easy rule of thumb is this: Never get involved with a client unless you are accompanied by the salesperson. There are few things more de-credentialing, for both you and your sales team, than to do an end-run around your own staff (what, you don't believe in them?) and step into an account without their involvement. At the very least, you'll waste time having to relay all the relevant information from the meeting to the rep who should have been there to begin with. Worse, it starts a vicious, time-sucking cycle in which that initial direct connection leads to your presence on follow-up calls and your responding to minor customer issues that should be handled by the rep. The only possible exception here is in interim periods when you're making a change in your representation, because then there's no salesperson to undermine. Otherwise, as we are taught at the beach, use the buddy system.

Have an exit strategy. Who wouldn't want to deal with the top guy? When clients have the opportunity to work with leaders from an organization, they understandably want to keep on working with them. This might be necessary in certain short-term instances (recovering from a service mishap, correcting a serious problem, launching a new initiative). But stay involved too long, and you just become a third wheel, doing the same job as your rep. To avoid that, you need to have an exit strategy at the outset. By all means, help with the problem at hand. But make sure the salesperson is the one actually making things happen for the client, so that when the crisis is over, the rep remains the main point of contact.

Do your homework. All that being said, I will admit that joint calls can be incredibly valuable for both client and sellers. But they require coordinated effort. Planning too often consists of "Where are we meeting and at what time?" But in addition, you should both be clear beforehand about who is going to cover what topics, what questions each one of you will ask the client, and what you are doing here — are you playing a coaching or selling role? This is critical because it's almost impossible to sell and coach at the same time, since coaching requires observation and not participation. If you are going to be there in a selling role, you both need to be clear about who will be leading at any point on the call.

Don't be a closer. I'm guessing that this will be the hardest rule to follow. What, after all, made you a star, if not your ability to close business? This is one of the most frequent mistakes I've seen sales leaders make — focusing too much time on closing opportunities. But by the end of the sales cycle, it's getting too late for sales leaders make a profound difference in the outcome. At that point you should be putting your effort on the front end of the next sales cycle, focusing on expanding opportunities, helping clients to see additional needs, and offering solutions not previously considered.

These are tough criteria to be objective about because most sales leaders have been great salespeople and are still inexorably drawn to making as many sales calls as possible. The best leaders carefully consider these criteria for getting involved in sales cycles and, as a result, make the most significant impact when they do.

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