In sales no one is perfect. I’m certainly not. In fact, over my 35 years in this wonderful profession (more than 20 of them in executive sales leadership) there probably isn’t a mistake that I haven’t made. What helped me to be successful was my discipline to learn from them, to continually educate myself on best practices and to evolve my abilities according to my industry and marketplace.

I’m also a great believer in the need to differentiate, not only my company and proposition but also myself with colleagues not just customers. I never wanted to be a typical sales leader, sales is a team sport which requires good cooperation, collaboration and communication between individuals, teams and departments. The more you do this internally the better positioned you are to be a better sales leader.

The 5 common failures of sales leaders below are an accumulation of personal experiences as well as observations of sales leaders that worked for me, those I worked with or those I have coached or trained.

Assume not know

It’s easy for sales leaders to assume. They juggle so many balls at one time that often they don’t always take the time to understand enough about what their sales people know. I’m not referring to product or service knowledge or marketplace context for their proposition, this is knowledge about the who, why, what when and how of the companies they’re trying to sell to.

Many businesses invest in proven sales training methodologies, the basics of most are similar in many ways in that they rely on the sales professional asking good business questions that enable them to understand the problems, needs and outcomes to help them build rapport and trust with prospects. Having invested in training there is rarely follow up checking and coaching to monitor what has been implemented. Sales leaders are so busy being busy that they assume that the logical process of understanding the prospect has been carried out correctly.

There is damning research information that shows that the majority of B2B sales people don’t know what they need to know. Sales leaders perpetuate this problem by not knowing that their sales people don’t know this. The devil is in the detail and all too often it’s bypassed.

Focus on the numbers not the actions

OK don’t start screaming that we’re in numbers based roles. Numbers make the sales world go around we all know that, but, it’s what you do that determines if you achieve them. Numbers are the outcome of the actions that sales people complete, no actions, or the wrong ones, can have a devastating effect on performance.

This failing is inextricably linked to the previous one, if you don’t know what you need to know then how can you do what you need to do. Think about this for a moment. It’s probably safe to say that around 90% of everything that the average sales person does is ineffective in that it doesn’t generate a result. This may sound harsh but when you consider the number of lost deals or no decision deals then you’ll see why it’s so high. Even when a deal is won there will have been activities completed that had no bearing on the final outcome.

One of the most valuable things in sales is time, so how sales people use it is vital.

Make sure that your team understands what’s important to the prospects business as well as the individual members of their buyer team as well as how they will run their buying process (you may find they don’t have a fixed buying process and will need your guidance and advice to help them). Then build your action plans around their buying process not your internal sales process.

If you have well thought out, scheduled and executed actions there’s more chance that the numbers will take care of themselves.

Command not coach

The very best sales leaders understand that they can positively impact their sales team by effectively coaching and developing them. Unfortunately, most sales leaders command their sales team on what they have to do and subsequently what they did wrong, and in sales commanding is considerably less effective than coaching.

All too often companies invest in training their sales teams but not their sales leaders as there’s an assumption that they’re good sales people so it’s logical that they can spread that ability to others. Wrong.

When you command you don’t build trust you build fear of failure and the repercussions. Great sales leaders coach team members by being non-judgmental and allowing individuals to be open in discussions of behaviours and performance challenges.

Sales people don’t like being told what to do, successful sales leaders achieve agreement on the “what” and use effective questions on the “how.”  They let the sales person own the solution which leads to better execution and better people development.

In opportunity debriefs don’t be too quick to offer feedback, let sales people self-evaluate what they did well and what they can improve upon.

When it comes to self-development encourage them to choose which areas they need to improve upon as it creates a greater desire to improve as they are the one making the commitment.

Great questioning with your sales people is as vital as it is with your prospects. Use open questions to help them build their plan of action and then hold them accountable for following through on their commitments with regular follow ups and reviews.

A great sales leader will bring the brilliance out of each individual, not try and impose their brilliance on them.

Manage not lead

This is not about doing one and not the other it’s about doing both. Management is a fundamental part of being a sales leader, I tend to think of management as all the process stuff, the day to day responsibility that forms a large chunk of a sales leaders’ activities. Sales leadership is more strategic and comes as a result of setting the vision and strategy, devising a sales process and sales effectiveness plans, as well as about defining the culture of the sales organisation. Whilst good management can improve things, good leadership inspires a sales team to want to follow the leader to success.

The sales team follows them because they want to and because they know that this will bring about a positive change. There are many organisations that have good sales managers, not enough have good sales leadership.

The sales leader empowers sales team to succeed. As a result, the sales leader is the person who must lead the sales organisation to generate predictable and repeatable revenue for the company.

Here are a few pearls of wisdom that sum up the role of a leader beautifully

“A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way” – John Maxwell

“A good leader is a person who takes a little more than his share of the blame and a little less than his share of the credit” – John Maxwell

“Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because THEY want to do it.” Dwight D. Eisenhower

There is one last critical point, today’s top sales leader are now data-driven. For the sales strategy to be effective and for the sales leader to lead the sales team in the right direction, they must be analytical and make decisions based on real data, not just on gut instinct.

Indecisive not decisive

Nothing spreads negativity faster than being indecisive and sales people sometimes feed on indecisive situations as contributors to their own failings.

Uumming and aarghhing in sales people impacts their individual performance, in sales leaders the impact can spread across the entire team’s performance. Delays on decisions create knock-on effects that can be far reaching. Some leaders postpone tough decisions with the rationale that they aren’t hurting their team if they wait until things look clearer and an obvious decision can be made, but it couldn’t be further from the truth.

Making decisions is one of the riskiest part of a sales leader’s role, but it’s also one of the most important. When decisions need to be made, gather the facts, analyse the situation, consider alternatives, and decide on the best course of action, and do it quickly and positively!

Once a decision is made, get on with it, it’s time for all members of the team to get behind the decision with 100 percent buy-in, even if it differs to their recommendations. Business is not a democracy, someone has to make decisions for the greater good of everyone in the sales team and company.

Decisive managers understand that their decisions may not be perfect and some adjustments may be needed. They don’t hesitate to modify or alter their decisions when it becomes clear that the original decision isn’t working as planned.

The best sales leaders know that making a decision and taking action is almost always better than taking no action at all.

Excuse not Enforce

Why is it that sales leaders enforce rules with new or under performing sales people and excuse experienced or high performing sales people? I’m talking about following sales processes and utilising sales tools that underpin and support the sales organisations strategy and vision.

How does it look to the wider team when some do and some don’t, it pisses them off and why wouldn’t it? This inconsistency negatively impacts the stability of the successful team culture you should be striving to achieve.

Don’t excuse team members who want to cut corners or bypass processes or tools because of the old chestnut that they’re too busy closing business. If what you’re asking them to do isn’t a ‘jobsworth’ task that has no importance then enforce it.

When sales processes are designed and sales tools implemented it’s important that they’re explained and understood, sales people are tough judges and if they don’t buy in to how it will help them, then they’ll be resistance. By doing this early you’ll minimise excuses and reduce the need to enforce.

So, in conclusion I’m sure there are plenty of other failings that we could be accused of and I’d like to go back to my opening statement, no one is perfect so perfection cannot be achieved. But each of these 5 failings significantly impact your ability to be a good sales manager and leader, so take a moment to consider which ones apply to you and spend time working on your leadership improvement plan.

Check out my blog ‘Don’t Know Syndrome’ is the curse of B2B sales


Share with your network