3 keys to being a modern sales leader

I was recently asked by Randy Wootton, Chief Revenue Officer of Rocket Fuel, to come speak at their sales management kickoff, which was uniquely named the “Go To Market Reboot.” Randy has a great way of rallying his group around a vision and executing toward that vision.

The purpose of this meeting was to pull together his 75+ person sales leadership team and discuss a go-to-market transformation for their already high growth, publicly traded ad tech firm. The transformation consists of many components, including not only new products and services, but also embracing The Challenger Sale methodology, and Activity Based Selling. All of this requires Rocket Fuel’s sales leaders to learn a new way to manage their teams, so the front lines of their organization, their salespeople, are maximizing the result of their sales efforts.

Randy asked me to join to provide a third-party point of view on the rapidly changing world of sales – the changing buyer, the changing seller and how that affects sales management. The only way to make this transformation work is to get the sales management team on board, as they’re the ones leading the sales team on the front lines.

The sales process has three key elements that can affect a company’s ability to grow quickly: the buyer, the seller and the sales manager. All three have to be in sync, but the profile of each is changing, and that’s causing some conflict. According to research by CSO Insights and the Sales Management Association, 44% of executives think their sales teams are ineffective at managing a sales process, and 42% of salespeople are missing quota. That’s pretty eye-opening.

Here’s what the fault line looks like for these different parts of the sales process:

The Old-School Buyer:

  • Beholden to salespeople for information
  • Needed procurement to help them buy stuff
  • Naturally skeptical of salespeople

The Modern Buyer:

  • Does their own product research online, via social media, etc.
  • In control of the buying process
  • Expects salespeople to help them learn, not sell to them

The Old-School Salesperson:

  • Trained how to persuade and spin, bordering on manipulation
  • Lone wolf mentality (“Just leave me alone to hit my number.”)
  • Resistant to change and hyper-competitive with peers

The Modern Salesperson:

  • Wants real-time feedback & coaching
  • Embraces technology – often pushes managers to use more
  • Knows that competition is about collaboration
  • Challenges, teaches and advises customers

The Old-School Sales Manager:

  • Racked up frequent flyer miles and steak dinners
  • Closing meetings
  • Only focused on what’s closing this month

The Modern Sales Manager:

That’s a lot of changing parts. And the reality is that the buyer and seller are changing, and there’s nothing you can do about it. However, you can control — and need to control — what the sales manager is doing within this new world. So how can a sales manager thrive in this new environment?

How you sell > What you sell.

Activity Based Selling lets sales managers motivate what matters. The same research above found salespeople spend only 37% of their time actually selling, so understanding and directing how your group uses its time is hugely important today.

Here are three keys to modern sales leadership:

1. Own your sales metrics.

Define and embrace the metrics that matter for your business. Follow controllable and leading indicators (here’s a review) as opposed to interesting and lagging ones, and limit yourself to watching three or four at a time. Make them outcome-based (e.g., conversations as opposed to calls), and be aware that they’re likely unique by segment (e.g., field sales versus inside sales). If your group knows that you value this as part of the culture, they’ll value it too.

2. Know your people.

The top-performing 20% of your salesforce can clearly handle itself (though you still need to make sure they’re paid well and praised often), and the bottom 20% often has a way of showing itself the door if you let it. The middle 60% is where you can get the maximum return on your effort. Your role is to encourage and coach them with real-time visibility into personal and team performance. Enable top performers to share their keys to success weekly. When you hold everyone accountable to the numbers – not just sales numbers, but everything along the way – across-the-board growth is possible.

3. Keep your pulse on the buyer.

Engage yourself in the sales process – be involved, but don’t take over. Open your own line of communication to the buyer so you can remain connected and keep teaching and learning from them. This gives you the context to speak about the buyer’s process with your salespeople. Add a quarterly win/loss analysis with the full team. For example, you can discuss what triggered the purchase for a certain buyer, or if they walked away, what you could have done differently to win.

What do you think? What are the key traits of a modern sales leader?

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