What are highly evolved sales leaders doing to drive teams, growth and revenue?

- February 4, 2022 6 MIN READ
Happy team high five

Have you ever wondered what business leaders are doing to create a flourishing sales culture and create growth opportunities now and into the future? Is there a certain sales leadership style or approach that has risen to the top during the pandemic, that allows teams to hit sales targets and prosper? KBB takes a deep dive into the world of sales to find the answer.

Sue Barrett, CEO of Barrett Consulting Group works with people and organisations across the private, public, not for profit and government sectors to help them sell better, using human-centred and sustainable sales and business growth strategies, systems, processes and practices. Jo O’Reilly is the Managing Partner at ReillyScott, a specialist sales recruitment agency.

Barrett and O’Reilly discuss the four key areas that set highly effective sales leaders apart. From small business to enterprise, they reveal what leaders are doing with their sales teams to create thriving sales cultures and workplaces that drive sales growth, starting with strategy and the lessons and opportunities brought about by COVID.

4 things that set the most successful sales leaders apart

1. Progressive leaders are flexible and adopt change quickly to seize opportunities

Barrett says with COVID, a lot of people were caught short as they had one strategy and they didn’t have backup plans.

“Your sales and go-to market strategy should be focused and directed but it shouldn’t be rigid. It should have a little bit of slippage to make sure we can read forward what our markets are doing, and what our customers are doing. Having a good go-to market sales strategy involves having a plan A, B and C to ensure you’ve got things covered well.”

She adds that in a crisis, there’s always opportunity. “How are we growing as teams, business, markets? Be open to ideas that weren’t visible pre-COVID. While you want to hold the line of where you’re going, you’ve also got to read the signs of what’s going on currently, as that may precipitate new opportunities. Then take the best course of action that is going to deliver the results and returns that you want.”

O’Reilly echoes the sentiment, saying she saw this with many of her clients. “Last year, we saw many of our clients have a record sales year. Government incentives definitely played a role, but really, it came down to the ability to pivot and adapt.

“Strong leadership was needed to weather the storm, particularly in February to April 2020 when Australia first felt the effects of the pandemic. The true leader quickly shifted their way of operating, set up sustainable remote working environments for their teams, and ensured their people felt supported in a time of extreme uncertainty,” O’Reilly explains.

hybrid work is here to stay

2. Highly evolved leaders adopt trust and transparency while holding their team accountable

Barrett says people are learning how to do things in a hybrid manner and reveals, “What we’re finding is that sales people are doing this really well. We want high levels of transparency about what’s expected and this is where business heads need to become good leaders.”

She says a good sales leader creates an environment where people feel trusted and enabled to do their jobs properly. Effective leaders find the growth opportunities in a crisis and understand the need to regularly coach to standards and technologies, and provide clarity.

“You want someone with gravitas, substance, guidance and stewardship to help people flourish and create flourishing cultures. And that means you trust people to actually step into that space and to be encouraged to do the right thing and to hold them to account as well.”

O’Reilly says the really highly evolved sales leaders create cultures that are built on trust and transparency. “And they encourage open communication where feedback goes both ways. This has a major impact on culture and a sales leader’s ability to prevent staff turnover,” O’Reilly adds.

staff team meeting

3. Effective sales leaders know that success by ‘default not design’ is unsustainable

Sales leadership and management are very different from selling. Barrett says we have to understand those roles distinctly.

“If you end up with a sales leader who’s essentially a super sales person who’s like ‘just be like me’, that will cause a lot of problems in sales teams. They tend to be these super sales people that have performed and done well, but by default and not design. As a sales leader, they expect everyone to be like them, yet we don’t know what they’re doing or how they’re doing it.”

She says about 60-70 per cent of a sales leader’s role is people-centred.

“So sales leaders have to be really effective at being able to relate, engage and work with people; be great stewards and guides and enablers of their people. And also be clear enough to say to people ‘that’s not working, we need to adjust’. You have to be self aware and you also have to be ‘other’ aware and demonstrate emotional literacy.

“You need to be able to read not only your own emotions, but the emotions of others. And sales leaders need to be able demonstrate and articulate what good selling looks like. Which is where having a well structured sales system is important. If sales leaders don’t understand how to present what a good sales system and operation looks like, then everyone’s unaware or ignorant of what’s going on and they will struggle to create healthy sales teams and cultures, and thriving organisations that drive great results,” Barrett says.

O’Reilly seconds this and states that sales leaders need to be able to look at their sales systems and set up proper structures and processes to help their sales people flourish.

“Otherwise, they’re not really managing or leading, and they’re failing to understand nor demonstrate what good leadership looks like.

“Although there is a place for player/coach style leaders within certain organisations, the personal sales element of the leader’s role can’t outweigh the people/leadership piece. Also the hybrid sales/sales leader model is only suited when there are a maximum of three direct reports,” O’Reilly explains.

Supportive boss with hand on employee's shoulder

4. Strong leaders get to the heart of issues quickly to maintain a positive sales culture

When you think you have a positive sales culture, but your team says otherwise – great leaders know what to ask to identify the problem.

If your sales team isn’t performing as you’d like them to, Barrett says there are six layers to assess.

“Firstly, what framework, tools and processes are in place so people can do their jobs properly? Next, define the behaviours that you want to see in terms of good sales performance. Thirdly, what knowledge and skills are required to perform properly?”

Barrett says these are the ‘can do foundations’.

“If your culture’s not working right or your sales team’s not working right, check these.

“The other three layers include identifying what is the right mindset and attitude for the roles and teams. Attitudes are judgments and hard to change – they’ll tell you how your people feel.”

Next is role clarity and role identity. “Have I made it clear for my people so they know what’s expected, and are they aligned to that? If there’s no alignment you’ll have issues.

“Then finally, what’s the purpose of our organisation and our team – the why factor? Why should I be here wanting to sell and do I find meaning in that as a person?”

These are what Barrett calls the ‘want to factors’.

She advises thinking about your sales team across these six layers and assessing each of the people in your team to identify where people need support – or if it’s in fact a systemic challenge, where perhaps everyone doesn’t find any meaning or purpose.

“This allows us to discern what’s actually causing issues in your team’s performance and culture,” Barrett adds.

O’Reilly says they regularly speak to candidates who say that their primary motivator for leaving their current employer is a poor sales culture.

“A sales leader who is not connected to their team will typically only be made aware of this when they are receiving a resignation letter. Encouraging open dialogue and an environment where ideas and feedback are welcomed is the key to a thriving sales culture,” she concludes.

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