There is a crisis in sales leadership across the country. Seventy-four percent of sales managers confessed to The Sales Benchmark Index that they have poor communication skills. Considering that most people tend to have a positive view of their own abilities, this statistic is alarming. It’s also a sign of the widespread need for better sales leaders. Here are three sales leadership problems and their solutions.
1. “What we’ve got here is failure to communicate.”
Ineffective communication is a critical performance gap that signals bad sales leadership. Many sales leaders hide behind a wall of email communication, sending lengthy missives that then either overwhelm sales reps or require a long thread of replies to clarify confusing parts.
Sales managers should keep emails short and to the point. Short emails ensure that recipients quickly and completely digest the information and then carry out the action items (rather than completing three of the 20 items listed in a longer email, for example).
Additionally, managers should spend more face time with sales reps. This approach often results in faster and clearer transmission of information. More importantly, it enables managers to get to know their reps on a more personal level, adding humanity to what otherwise seems like a remote and detached process.
2. The sales manager is inflexible.
Inflexibility cripples the sales leader’s ability to lead and usually comes in two forms: an unwillingness to learn or change and an inability to adapt to the styles of direct reports. When sales leaders are unwilling to learn or change, they can fall behind on industry knowledge or sales best practices because they aren’t learning and keeping up to date on current trends. A sign of this type of inflexibility is some variant of the phrase, “Back in my day, I/we….” While this nostalgia for a sales past can make for great stories after work, as a sales leader in today’s changing marketplace, it’s a recipe for disaster.
When sales managers stick only to the leadership style they’re comfortable with, only some of their sales reps will respond positively. As a result, an inflexible leadership style means that the entire team will either need to have the right personality trait to respond to that style or that the team will struggle to meet quota and key performance indicators. Even in an ideal scenario, in which every sales rep responds well to the manager’s style, the same type of sales rep will be interacting with customers. Not every customer will connect well with a single sales rep personality type. Teams need diversity.
The resolution for this problem depends on the source of the manager’s inflexibility. It might come down to lack of knowledge – perhaps they simply don’t know how to use other leadership styles, or they don’t know what other leadership styles look like. In that case, training and reinforcement can expose them to new ways of leading their team and selecting the right tool to engage with each rep. The same is true for industry knowledge – refresher courses or subscriptions to industry trade publications can inspire managers to change.
If their inflexibility is due to stubbornness rather than a lack of knowledge, encourage and support them to change, while modeling the desired behavior. If the manager still refuses to budge, it might be time to make a personnel change. This decision isn’t easy or comfortable, but sometimes, pruning of the leadership is necessary for the long-term health of your organization.
3. Micromanaging is their modus operandi.
Maybe they were the organization’s best sales rep before they were promoted. Perhaps they’re anxiety-ridden. Or maybe they just don’t trust anyone else to do the job. No matter the reason, micromanagement ensures underachievement from the team, increased turnover from stifled sales reps who leave for better management and delays in the selling process based on managers’ need to constantly intervene.
The obvious answer is, to quote “Frozen,” to let it go. At its core, micromanagement is a function of a lack of trust. Remember those face-to-face meetings mentioned earlier? They’re part of the solution here, too. When managers get to know their direct reports, it helps them provide their reps with the freedom to do their jobs.
If letting go seems too drastic to a manager, encourage him or her to delegate small tasks at first, such as following up with a client or prospect. Then, as the sales reps perform those minor duties successfully, the manager can gradually let them handle larger and larger tasks without stepping in.
Another way to approach this solution is for managers to ask reps when they need their input and when they don’t. The answers to this question will give them a baseline of when to intervene and when not to. If a sales rep doesn’t know when they need help, the KPIs and other metrics will let the manager know, and then they can insert themselves in the situation or provide necessary coaching. If the metrics don’t signal a problem, and the sales rep has indicated that they’d prefer freedom, the sales manager can let them carry on, secure in the knowledge that they’re doing what they’re supposed to.
These are three of the most common symptoms of a need for improved sales leadership and corresponding solutions. Fixing these fundamental issues will lead to a happier, more productive sales team; higher quota attainment; and reduced turnover.