Professional selling has long been viewed as a ‘lone-wolf’ profession in which the most successful salespeople are those who ‘go it alone’ and never accept ‘no’ for an answer. Of course, a willingness to strike out and take risks, while making compelling arguments in favor of a purchase are important skills for a sales professional to develop and build upon.
However, this longstanding view of the salesperson as a standalone ‘army of one’ fails in the face of today’s complex selling environment. In addition to that, it ignores the essential role of the sales manager as a visionary coach and leader, committed to developing his or her team members as well-rounded sales professionals. With that in mind, it’s important to consider the strategies that, in today’s selling environment, we know are important to sales success — and how a sales leader can enable the whole team to achieve growth and new goals.
Keep in mind that some sales leaders may be those assigned to the task as formal managers — sales managers, sales directors, regional territory supervisors and sales executives. In other organizations, the business owner or CEO may serve as the de facto sales leader, through whose example others learn the business and become adept at selling effectively. In still other organizations, the sales leader may be a senior field sales professional or even a recent recruit, whose skills in selling and concern for the team as a whole may position them to become informal but very real sales leaders.
Regardless of the title, position or formal role of a sales leader, there are established strategies that the best sales leaders emulate and draw from in positioning themselves — and their team — for success. Here are three of the most valuable strategies used by successful sales leaders:
1. Create and Commit to a Sales Process
In today’s digital selling environment, two critical facts have emerged that every sales team needs to face. First, your prospects can now find nearly all of the information they need to make a purchase decision, before even reaching out to your company to talk with a sales person. In the past, salespeople often served as the information gatekeepers, but today that is clearly not the case. And second, you can now find nearly all of the information you need to understand your prospects, before you make your first sales call. The availability of data is a two-way street — helping both prospects and sales professionals equally if they are willing to use the information at their disposal.
This is why a process-driven sales team is by far the most successful sales team today. Doing research prior to engaging with a prospect is the first step in a solid sales process. Create a research checklist to learn about your prospect and pre-qualify them. Insights gathered from a digital marketing process can further assist you in learning about your prospect’s needs, pains and goals — so that when you meet you are able to ask highly tailored, insightful questions to qualify them.
Once you’re in the sales cycle, a disciplined commitment to your sales process will help you identify key factors that can drive the sale, or uncover significant pitfalls that could derail it. Process will also help you identify competitive disqualifiers that can help narrow the prospect’s options, and position you for success. Consistently following a thorough sales process will position you and your team to qualify effectively and efficiently.
2. Use Technology to Encourage Collaboration
One priority that is clearly implied in our discussion of the sales process is the role of technology. Long gone are the days when a physical mail-in card (ala Glengarry Glen Ross) constituted a ‘lead’ and when a physical Rolodex or manual tickler file was enough to support your sales efforts. Today, smart sales professionals embrace technology, and that means sales leaders show the way as they lead by example and help their colleagues adapt to the new environment.
Some of the technologies with which you should be conversant include Customer Relationship Management (CRM) applications, prospect research databases (such as SalesGenie or Data.com), marketing automation tools that can provide behavioral and pre-sales insights on your prospects, and of course, LinkedIn and its advanced tools for sales research and social selling. Effective sales leaders today not only embrace technology — they learn how to adapt it to their sales process and make it work for them and for their company.
3. Speak with Strength Outside the Sales Organization
Alongside the myth of the ‘lone wolf’ sales person is the equally erroneous concept that sales is solely the responsibility of the sales department or sales team. Absolutely nothing could be further from the truth. Sales serves as the company’s link to the marketplace, its source of future revenues, and its voice on behalf of the customer as well. Other than the CEO, no one should have a stronger voice in the company than the sales team.
The problem is that in most businesses, sales professionals are busy doing one thing — selling. And that selling activity often happens outside the office, further separating them from the day-to-day culture of the office itself. While this often gives salespeople the benefit of being removed from the pitfalls of office politics, it has the unintended effect of rendering their voice invisible when issues or controversies about strategy and direction arise.
That’s why powerful and committed sales leaders are individuals who work hard to craft updates and insights for the entire management team that reiterate the needs of the sales team and encourage fellow non-sales professionals across the business to put the needs of sales first. This means applying the same strategic and persuasive skills used with prospects and customers every day inside the company as well — to the culture and challenges of your fellow coworkers.
It may seem silly to have to ‘sell’ people inside your own company almost as much as you sell directly to revenue-generating prospects, but successful sales leaders know that internal advocacy is an essential aspect of successful sales leadership.
Sales professionals who commit to these three strategies: Committing to process; embracing technology; and advocating for sales within the entire company — are those who will undoubtedly become recognized as sales leaders for their foresight and overall commitment to their own success, that of their sales colleagues, and that of the entire enterprise. Consider how you can implement these strategies in your own sales role and the impact that doing so can have on the sales success of your business today.