Chronicles of a Sales Leader: Tough Times Call for Solid Leadership

Downward revenue and earnings reports dominate business headlines, and it seems impossible to avoid a conversation about the economy with friends and co-workers. Yet despite the economy, sales leaders are likely to see no adjustment to their quota.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> Throughout the years I've felt the effects of challenging external circumstances more times than I can count. But I've yet to receive a voicemail or e-mail informing me my number will be softened to accommodate difficult times. Instead, these situations prompt more frequent forecast calls and increased pressure to drive to the number. <br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> Whether uncertain times are specific to the region you lead, your company, your industry or a broader scenario like today, all sales leaders will need to lead their team through a difficult and challenging economic environment at some point in their careers. And when it's here, you can count on increased pressure to produce top-line results. So regardless of how things are looking for you today, here are some common pitfalls and insights that you’d do well to be aware of.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> <b>1. Abandon the client.</b> As pressure to hit your numbers increases, a tendency to push the sales cycle ahead of the client's buying cycle is a frequent mishap. Salespeople in this situation begin to focus on close dates and fail to solve what the customer is trying to fix, accomplish, or avoid. This leads to clients who don't understand your value proposition because your team is not offering up a solution. Ultimately, those in this situation end up discounting to win or simply losing the sale. <br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> In challenging times it is even more important to make sure there is rigor and diligence to uncover the root of client issues, identify key buying influences and their wins, understand how the decisions will be made, and how it will be funded. Now is the time to make sure your team is more diligent about understanding the buying process and less concerned with trying to slam-dunk the selling process.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> <b>2. "Reportmania."</b> During uncertain times, many sales leaders go into panic mode and become a micromanager. They tell their team they need to see more calls and more appointments, and require them to send in a weekly report showing they made a million calls that week. If you are inflicting this upon your team, stop the madness: It won't work. More is not better here. <br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> In fact, during uncertain times you should hone in on best-fit prospects and clients, and come prepared with sound strategies and valid business reasons to approach key buying influences. Good sales leaders drive activity through one key report&#x2014;their sales funnel. Evaluate yours to ensure your team is spending time on the right prospects and clients. If you find you have too many deals sitting in the middle of the funnel, or the companies in your funnel do not match your value proposition, use this information to coach and set priorities for your team.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> <b>3. Superhero syndrome.</b>Odds are you were a top salesperson in a prior life, and this achievement may well have landed you in the position you hold today. But your job is no longer that of a salesperson; yours is to help salespeople through effective coaching and guidance on deals. You cannot close every deal for your team, and if you did you will have bigger problems once you emerge from whatever battle you are trying to win. Spend time making sure your team has solid plans to pursue key opportunities and the resources they need to win. Get involved in deals where you can add value, but don't swoop in to take over like a superhero.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> <b>4. Fighting the wrong battles.</b> There's nothing like a little pressure inside the walls of a company to bring out the blame game. Don't become a finger-pointer. In fact, curl that index finger and bring key support functions like marketing, customer service, and your peers even closer. Invite them in to the battle you are waging with your competitors instead of waging a battle with them. The best sales leaders recognize reinforcements in a tough battle are much better than creating new battle lines.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> <b>5. Killing candor.</b> This is one of the hardest areas to avoid. As the pressure builds, it is natural to repel bad news. But creating more tension than necessary with your team and your peers has a disastrous side effect: happy talk. In good times and bad alike, you need candor to help make decisions on strategies and tactics. If you make it difficult for your team to share bad news with you, you'll be faced with more surprises&#x2014;like slipped close dates on big deals, unexpected lost deals, and ultimately missed forecasts. Don't kill the candor.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> SMM <i>columnist Bill Golder is executive vice president of sales at Miller Heiman. Available for keynote speaking opportunities, he can be reached at <a href=""></a> or 877-678-0397.</i>