I have seen three types of people who get promoted into a position where they have the opportunity to influence others:
- The super salesperson who has been promoted to manager and instantly expects all of their salespeople to start to behave exactly the way the super salesperson behaves
- The person who has front line experience without ever achieving any real success who opts for and is given a central/head office role that allows them to exert influence on the front line
- The person who has front line sales experience and has demonstrated some form of success but also has either a track record of leading effectively or a desire to develop the ability to lead effectively.
Let’s analyse them in turn.
The super salesperson’s team will either be instantly successful or they won’t. If they are successful it will be because they had some or all of the skills they needed to be successful but were missing the spark they needed to harness those skills. The super salesperson is able to inspire them which translates into results very quickly.
While this is great, the risk is that the inspiration will wane and the team will revert to their less than inspired mindset. If the super salesperson isn’t able to employ other leadership capabilities, there is every chance that they will get frustrated with the perceived slide in performance. This can lead to performance managing good people out of the business due to an inability to develop them.
I meet people who have opted for and been given central roles either because they want to get away from the front line or because they have been using their front line experience to open head office doors. All head office teams need people with front line experience but in a sales business, I think people should be rotated into roles and not posted to head office on a permanent basis. The reason I believe this is because while the underlying principles of sales don’t change, being promoted out of the field doesn’t guarantee that the skills that this person used in the field were the right skills. We also know that you don’t have to be away from a sales environment for very long to lose currency which in turn allows people to challenge your credibility. I have attended meetings that would have benefitted from front line representation but for some reason, the leaders prefer to impose their perceptions of the challenges being faced rather than confronting the reality.
The final group are people who’ve been successful in the field but who have a genuine desire to lead people. How do you spot them?
In my experience, their results are the starting point. Let’s define what I mean by results.
These people must have delivered in the key results areas the business deems to be relevant. Why is this? I think it demonstrates a desire to operate in the way the business deems appropriate. The bottom line sales number isn’t the only evidence I would look at. In an environment where there are a number of key results areas, the bottom line can mask a number of potential pitfalls.
The second think I’d look for is a willingness to take the lead in developing others. Sounds obvious but super salespeople tend to be too selfish (or focused) to support others. In my experience, sales people want to get better but they need to be supported in the right way. I would look very closely for evidence of people going the extra mile for no specific reward because I think that is one trait that embodies a leader.
On balance I think finding potential sales leaders is relatively easy, it’s how you develop them that really matters!
By Bryan Dunlop, Sales and Sales Leadership expert.