What makes a great sales leader? There's no single, remarkable secret. In fact, great sales leaders are many things. Depending on the situation, a great sales leader is a time-management supervisor, a meeting planner, a contest coordinator, a talent scout, a coach, a trainer and a psychiatrist. All of those roles put together-and executed well-make for a great leader.
However, there are five key areas in which the best sales leaders excel. Great leaders:
1. Are passionate and enthusiastic. These traits are transferred to the entire sales team. If the leader is negative, everyone else will be pulled down. How do great leaders maintain a realistically positive attitude? Great leaders are great readers; they read everything they can find about their crafts and industries. They seek out mentors whose wisdom and experience can help them achieve their goals, and they encourage their reps to do the same. They surround themselves with high-quality people.
2. Recruit great salespeople. Many managers don't start recruiting until someone leaves, which means they often settle for second best in order to fill the gap. Great leaders, on the other hand, are always on the lookout for talented people. One way they do that is by carrying two-sided business cards to give out to people they meet at other businesses who demonstrate great sales and service skills. One side of the card contains the standard name, address and phone number. On the other side, it might say, "I was very impressed with your service and professionalism. Please call me if you're ever looking for a career." The success of a sales leader is in direct proportion to the success of the team, which is why it's critical to hire the best people.
3. Make their numbers through their salespeople, not for them. The greatest difficulty a sales team can have is a manager who closes for his people. When that happens, the reps don't learn the skills they need to move to the highest level of self-sufficiency. It's instinctive for a manager to want to jump in and save a sale, but the message you send is that you don't trust your reps. Then when the reps are on their own, they won't have the experience of handling difficult situations themselves. Close a deal for a rep and you've made one sale; teach him how to close and you've made a career.
4. Lead by example. Great sales leaders are out in the field with their people 60 to 80 percent of the time. There's an old saying that goes, "Don't expect what you don't inspect." If you don't inspect your reps' performance in the field, you can't expect improvement. Spending a day with your reps not only shows you how they're doing, it also gives you firsthand knowledge of what customers are thinking and what their needs are, based on your products and services. Most important, sales reps respect leaders who know what it's like in the trenches. Surprise your reps occasionally by saying, "I thought I'd travel with you today and see how you're doing." How do they plan their day? How do they do on calls? What methods are they using to prospect?
5. Understand their reps' individual strengths and weaknesses. They're able to ask non-directive questions like "What do you think you could have done differently on that call?" or "What was your objective?" When the reps say it, they own it; when the manager says it, they doubt it. Great leaders are aware of what motivates each rep and know how to get the best from everyone. They expect excellence. If your reps know you think they're capable of reaching greater heights, they'll strive for them.
Your role as a leader is to encourage your people to succeed. There may be substantial monetary rewards in being a great sales leader, but the greatest reward is having helped others reach their goals. Our material possessions won't really matter once we're gone. Our greatest legacy is the people we've helped build, who are left to build others in the same way.