Finally, you hired a new sales leader.
During the period of time when the position was vacant, much of the responsibility for sales likely fell to you or another executive in the organization. With the sales leader now in place, you want to get back to your job.
Slow down. Before getting too comfortable, consider this: The average sales leader’s tenure is less than two years. Many industry experts peg that figure at 16 to 18 months. This doesn’t bode well for companies, sales revenue or the sales staff.
Whether you want to avoid this problem with your next sales leadership hire or ensure the current one enjoys a longer tenure, here are some suggestions.
Prior to doing anything else, resolve to incorporate the sales department into your job description – permanently.
- Schedule regular meetings with the new sales leader.
- Accompany the reps on field sales calls.
- Monitor phone conversations with customers and prospects.
- Participate in the occasional sales staff meeting by reviewing revenue numbers or sharing industry knowledge.
- Call reps and personally congratulate them on closed deals.
- Talk to salespeople after they lose a deal. Show appreciation for their hard work.
- Read a book on sales management. Understand the job.
Many people think this effort undermines the sales leader, but the opposite occurs. Through your direct involvement, the entire company understands that sales is critically important to the organization. You champion the current sales leader.
A sense of teamwork and trust develops between the two of you. This leads to sales leaders busting quotas and looking at their job as a career with the company, not a stop on the way to yet another job.
Look at the Facts.
Sales management assessments provide a unique, unbiased look at a candidate. Incorporate an assessment into the interview process. Require all candidates (internal and external) to take one. Read the reports carefully, and trust the results.
Great salespeople rarely make effective sales leaders. The two jobs have little in common. If the assessment shows the candidate lacks managerial ability, believe it. Move on from that person, and look for someone who can successfully transition from sales to management.
If your current sales leader did not take an assessment as part of the hiring process, ask him or her to do so. Use the information provided as a basis for training, coaching and corrective action.
Give Them a Head Start.
Have the entire sales staff take a sales assessment. Provide the sales leader with copies of the reports on their first day of work, and watch their face light up.
One of the most time-consuming tasks for a new sales leader involves gaining a solid understanding of the reps’ strengths and weaknesses. This unbiased data saves time, fosters focused coaching and enables the sales leader to create targeted development plans for each salesperson.
Understand Coaching versus Training.
The two are so often confused.
Sales leadership training involves teaching a methodology in a classroom or online environment. The emphasis is on terminology, a defined process and templated sales management tools. Training provides an invaluable base for new leaders, showing them how to avoid common pitfalls, structure their day and maximize their time.
Coaching represents a customized collaboration between client and coach. The coach focuses on the sales executive’s and senior management’s specific concerns, issues and initiatives. They hone in on the areas where the leader struggles and excels. The dedicated individual attention results in a faster learning curve and a turning point in the careers of most sales leaders.
If you’ve hired a first-time sales leader, sign them up for training. When you see they’re going about their job in an organized manner, look into customized coaching.
For very experienced sales leaders, provide coaching. Though they’ve been leading teams of salespeople for years, they’re new to your organization. Likely, they could use some support.
Both sales leaders and salespeople stay longer at organizations offering regular training and development. They appreciate it and see it as an investment in their career.
Set Separate Goals.
Starting a new job comes with stress and uncertainty. Minimize both to the extent you can by being specific about your expectations of the new sales leader. Segregate the goals into the first 90 days and the year. Be reasonable in your initial expectations.
Annual goals tend to be more specific:
- Reactivating 20 percent of dormant accounts
- Hiring three additional reps
- Creating an inside sales function
Ninety-day goals take into account the newness of the position and could include:
- Becoming conversant in products A and B
- Developing a performance appraisal system
- Understanding the lead generation program
Leaders who are given time to learn and settle into their jobs get off to a stronger start. Better beginnings lead to longer tenures.
Understand the Top Priority.
Sales leaders don’t hit quotas; salespeople do. Sales leaders meet and exceed their sales revenue goal through the reps. In order to do so, great leaders never lose sight of their most important job: coaching, mentoring and motivating the reps.
Forward-thinking executives make it possible for the sales leader to actually act as coach and mentor by streamlining the job. Limit the number of meetings they attend and reports they must fill out. Set boundaries with administrative duties. Strictly limit or eliminate an individual sales quota for the leader. Keep coaching through field accompaniment and phone call monitoring.
Motivate the Leader.
Make it a priority to keep the sales leader inspired and encouraged. Leave space in the budget for professional development and travel to an off-site conference at least once a year. Allow them the chance to keep current and network with and learn from their peers and knowledgeable speakers.
Create a sales contest just for them. Remember, your sales leader was once a salesperson. No doubt, they still think like one.
Short tenures of 16 to 18 months do not have to be a fact of life. No organization has to accept them as “the way things are.” Think about what would motivate you to build a career with a company. Build a job description around the sales leader, and offer the support necessary to keep him or her with you for a long time to come.