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How to Overcome the Three Key Leadership Challenges to Your Sales Force’s Success


Last updated 8/5/2010

When was the last time you:
  • Received an account update full of glaring generalities?

  • Gave into a salesperson, lowered the price, and still lost the business?

  • Counted on the “superstar” to hit a home run and found out he struck out?

Most of us have experienced these frustrating situations and have had to deal with the consequences. In today’s marketplace of increased complexity, constant pressure is placed on the sales team to deliver the numbers, but too often sales managers are expected to select, shape, and coach their team to excellence with few tools. Not surprisingly, they often fall short of giving the quality support that is required to develop a team of top performing professionals.

Leading a winning sales team presents many challenges. Our research has identified three key challenges that sales managers most commonly face. If you’re not getting the results you want from your sales team, ask yourself how you are currently approaching the following situations.

1. The 80/20 Rule
“The sales results of my top performers run significantly higher than those of my average producers. Our team pretty much reflects the ‘80/20’ rule.”

It may be a challenge to build a sales force of all “20 percenters” but doubling this group is certainly within reason. The good news is that the top 20% are not doing anything superhuman. The behavior patterns that impact their success can be defined and replicated. Building a uniform selling system is required to define the quantity and quality of activities for individuals to produce at top performing levels. This system will enable managers to monitor and measure improvements in the team’s performance.

2. Severe Pricing Pressure
”Even though we provide a highly technical and complex solution, we find that our prospects, and even our most knowledgeable customers, are forcing us to compete as a commodity with severe pricing pressures.”

The more complex the situation becomes, the more customers and salespeople alike try to simplify things. To the customer, the simplest differentiator is price, and in the absence of a quality decision-making process to help them understand the value of your products and services, they will tend to use it as their main purchase criterion. Your customers should be looking at their situation in ways they have not thought through before. They should quantify the consequences of not purchasing your product. Your role is to guide them through a collaborative decision-making process, much as a doctor would do when diagnosing a patient. For example, if you help your customer/patient come to an understanding of the severity of his situation, he will be willing to invest in resolving the problem.

3. Resistance to Change
"I realize I’m supposed to be the coach, but even after repeated coaching sessions, my salespeople keep bringing issues to my desk that should have been easily handled without me. They just don’t get it!”

They get it, but if you keep doing it for them, they have no incentive to change.
Go beyond proactive to interactive. A proactive manager gives the salesperson direction and a plan, assumes the salesperson will execute effectively, and waits for the results to roll in—management by assumption. By the time the results are reported, it’s too late to provide productive guidance. It’s like an athletic coach handing out the game plan, asking if there are any questions, and then heading back to his office to work on administrative details as the team takes the field.

To use an interactive approach, first, reach agreement with the salesperson on an action plan that defines specific behaviors, in terms of the quantity and quality of his or her sales activity. Then interact with the salesperson regularly and “course correct” as you move forward.

Sales leaders who can meet these challenges will replace frustration with confidence and direction for the individuals on their team and themselves. The results will be a high-performing team that produces more profitable and more predictable revenue streams.