The higher you go in a company, the more important it is that you take your role as a leader seriously, especially when that role is that of sales leader. A sales leader does not only heavily impact the results of the team, they influence the development of young sales leaders (the future talent of the organization), and ultimately the experience your clients have when they interact with your company. As a sales leader, you need to understand that how you coach, handle, confront and develop your sales leaders (or choose not to) has a far bigger impact than you even realize.
One of my favorite coaching clients is a rising star in a Fortune 500 company. She has lofty career goals, and she is more than willing to do what it takes to achieve them. She works hard, volunteers for any assignment and in the last two years she has relocated, at her company’s request, three times. A hard-working sales person, she is one of the team members her leaders count on to help challenged properties turn things around.
This most recent move has been her most challenging yet, both in terms of the position, and the leader to whom she now reports. The position, that of sales professional, is with a property that is in a highly competitive market and her job is to not only increase sales and bookings but to focus on industries who have been strong clients in the past, but who have been hard hit by this economy. While all of that is less than ideal, she is good at what she does; creative, resourceful and a hard worker. Despite all the challenges, she is exceeding her goals. The one challenge she just could not get past was with that of her leader; a strong and smart woman, who is very good at her job, but who struggles in the area of sales leadership.
Right from the start, my client has found her boss difficult to communicate with, learn from and turn to with challenges or problems. In addition, she feels she may be great at numbers, but she is lousy at sales and client relationships. Now, as a coach, I see this as a great opportunity and a terrific chance for my young client to grow and develop and learn to thrive in a tough situation. Everybody, after all, at some point in their career, will have to report to and work with at least one challenging boss. So our work together focused there, beginning with self-awareness to learn how she was adding to the challenges between them, then improvement of her communication skills to learn how to connect and adapt to her leaders style, and lastly to learn to ask for and be clear about what she wants and she needs to be successful.
In less than six months, she made great progress. While her situation was far from perfect, it was on the path to improvement. She was no longer wasting time wrapped up in drama or emotion, and she even began taking responsibility for being more of a leader with other associates who had the same challenges with this particular boss. Yes, in six months she had made great progress.
Then she called with the greatest news, her boss was interviewing and being considered for two promotions with the company. My client was so excited, as she saw this as a chance to get out from under what she still felt was suppressive leadership. Yes, she had learned to manage it, but she still wanted an opportunity to work for and report to a leader she could truly learn from and develop with. However, while she saw this as a great opportunity for her boss and herself, she was struggling with how and why this company, that she felt passionate about, could promote someone who clearly lacked sales leadership ability.
Well, her faith was restored when her boss was denied both promotions due to her lack of ability to effectively lead a sales team. Among the reasons for denying this promotion were her inability to effectively communicate with, get along with and motivate both her peers and her sales team. Unfortunately, the company’s decision to deny this promotion left my client, and her team, still being managed and directed by a leader who was lacking skills needed to develop them. In addition, now they were dealing with a leader who was hurt and embarrassed, as her denial was the first time she had learned that her leaders saw her as having any challenges at all.
When my client shared the news with me, the news that her boss had not gotten either promotion, the first question I asked was what was her boss’ development plan? That certainly if she was denied not one, but two promotions, for such strong reasons as lack of ability to communicate with and promote a sales team, they would be putting a personal development plan in place for her – right? If her challenges were around people development and sales leadership, then what better way for her to learn than from the example and/or role model her leaders were setting for her.
Well, unfortunately, that is probably why she was so ineffective. Not only had her leaders denied her two promotions and had been strong with their reasons, they left her to her own devices to figure out how to fix the problem. Is that irony for you? To be denied a promotion for your lack of sales leadership, by people who are providing you with no sales leadership.
Why? All because the leaders of this company didn’t do their job; instead they chose to delegate their role of sales leadership. They may have been pointing out what is wrong, but not “leading” the effort to make it right. They are willing to do half the job, point out that there is an issue, but not stepping into finish what they started. The role of a sales leader includes helping a struggling leader understand why they are struggling, and then supporting them in their efforts to turn things around. No instead, they delegated that responsibility, they left that job to the young talent that this leader is responsible for leading. A group of young leaders that most likely do not have the skills to develop their leader, nor the authority or the feeling that they can do so.
Understand that delegating sales leadership is costly to company and can have long term and devastating effects.
1. First, it just takes longer to fix the problem. This leader who is struggling will either figure out her issues and how to fix them or she won’t. Either way it is going to take a while for a solution to be found. Best case scenario, she limits the time she takes to lick her wounds, and she turns to her team to support her and she puts her ego in check and finds a mentor. Worst case scenario, she doesn’t and she is left alone to make a bad situation worse, and eventually they end up letting or go or demoting her. Long after the damage has been done.
2. Second, it punishes the young talent coming along in the organization. Think about it: she has just been told due to her lack of leadership ability she will not receive either promotion, and with no support or plan in place to build the very skill she needs, she is told to simply go back and do her old job. Problem is her old job is sales leadership. Maybe not at the higher level she was going for, but she still is responsible for shaping and developing the future talent of the organization. Not a good plan; no wonder so many organizations suffer from lack of bench strength.
3. Third, it negatively impacts the bottom line. Face it, in this economy, what we sell is a commodity, and how we sell it is our competitive advantage. In an overly competitive and crowded market, our people are really all we have to differentiate us from our competition. Sales leaders are more important in today’s business world than they have ever been. Putting, or in this case, simply leaving bad sales leadership in place, not only sends the wrong message; it will impact client relationships, future business, and ultimately the bottom line revenues.
4. Fourth, you hurt your future opportunities to attract the best talent. No matter the industry, word gets around, and today’s best and brightest want to work for the best and brightest. Your best sales professionals will leave your organization due to lack of sales leadership and not only your clients will take notice, but so will other talented sales professionals.
Yes, in todays market your role as a sales leader is vital to the health and growth of your organization. You need to take your role seriously, think about the impact you can have, and the consequences your team will suffer if you choose to delegate sales leadership.