For most organizations, an effective sales team is required for survival. If you have no sales or poor sales … the company literally goes away.
During the past year, we’ve worked with several organizations developing and implementing various forms of change or transformational leadership programs. These programs covered 30 to 50 current and future leaders of the organization usually from diverse organizational functions. Almost all of the participants in the programs thrive without any additional support. However, the sales leaders — either current or prospective – tend to struggle more than others.
This interesting phenomenon prompted me to ask the question: Why do sales leaders have a harder time with a development program than others?
I believe that there may be several explanations:
- 1. A sales team is managed as a more transactional-focused group, and has more pressure on ensuring the metrics are met, than any other function in the organization. Sales people must make their numbers today or lots of bad things happen. It is the “today” part that causes the problem. Most of the sales people in the program treat everything else, including their own development, as a lower priority.
- 2. Sales people are presumed to be financially motivated so linking the metrics to immediate compensation is what is expected to drive their behaviors. While some lip service is paid to being skilled, the presumption is that putting enough money behind the metrics will take care of all motivation and performance issues.
- 3. While there is an expectation of minimal product and sales skills knowledge, a sales team is rarely thought of as a learning organization. The job of the sales team is to get sales. Their job is not really to improve since getting better takes time and besides, if your compensation is at stake you will do what it takes to get better.
Not surprisingly, when people mature as sales people in these environments and then move into leadership roles, they bring the same values and focus. We’ve found that this challenge surfaces in our program very specifically as “I can’t do the learning exercises or attend the meeting this week because I have a meeting with a customer.” And this happens every week.
Earlier today, after a sales person seemingly for the 500th time made that statement to me, I asked him: “Is there is ever a time when you could actually develop yourself?” He laughed and said, while he theoretically valued his own development, he never actually had time for that development.
Unfortunately, this is a problem that is created by an underlying poor leadership issue in which current leaders create a poor environment for growth. Because they are keeping up the pressure for short-term focus, they are also squeezing out development of longer term capability. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
We work with many sales organizations, building best practices based on the top performing sales people and sales leaders. We’ve proven that the best way to boost sales performance is not to focus on sales performance, which is completely counter-intuitive for most sales leaders. In fact, the best way is to focus on being transformational leaders of the relationship with the client. The best sales people focus on transforming the quality of life of their customers for the long-term.
Ironically, this approach doesn’t take any longer – it is just a difference in how you approach the sales environment. It is about the attitude you bring…not the products you “pitch” (which is a dreadful transactional word). The problem we encounter is that traditional sales cultures are so entrenched that people literally can’t take the time to learn to be better, purpose-driven sales leaders.
Think about these questions:
Would you want to buy from an organization that doesn’t support the learning of their sales people?
How confident – or more correctly – skeptical should you be of the promises made by a sales organization that has enshrined ignorance?