Reflections on Leadership: Sales Leadership and “Over-Managing”

In today’s economic environment producing an above-average ROI is a considerable challenge for leaders, particularly sales leaders.  They are often presented with the responsibility of motivating an emotionally fatigued workforce with achieving goals that may seem utterly unreasonable.  They must challenge team members to higher levels of performance, oftentimes, with diminished resources and higher-priced products.  In such times companies both large and small may resort to enforcing an organizational process that requires leaders to “over” manage.  The thereby add to the fatigue of their teams while producing only nominally better results. Genuine leaders, especially sales leaders, must resist the temptation to make everything within the process of equal importance. They must walk the delicate balance of “keeping the main thing the main thing.” The customer, it seems, is the main thing.

Few businesses would contend they are not “customer-focused.” Managers and executives within most organizations make such statements as “the customer is always right” or “we wouldn’t be here without the customer.”  They then proceed to place obstacles between themselves and customers and prospects by making demands of their staff that have precious little to do with the customer.  Salespeople are asked to spend precious energy planning, reporting, meeting, and documenting all of which takes time away from engagement with a customer or prospect.  Technology planning is often built on what IT department budgets or design with little regard for how the technology enhances the client “buying experience.”  Accounting and financial depart create a web of bureaucracy designed to control costs but actually create obstacles for the salesperson to interact with the client. There is a place for reporting, meeting, budgeting, and cost management, and especially, risk management.  Yet they must all be done in the context of the customer experience.

Salespeople, if they truly are “salespeople”, want to sell.  They do not want to be accountants, report writers, or much of anything else.  They want to be in front of customers and prospects. So in leading salespeople, leaders must recognize there are generally only three things the salesperson can or should control.   They include:

  • The number of sales calls they make.
  • The things they do on the sales call.
  • The people or companies on whom they call.

Anything that is inconsistent with those three points detracts from their interaction with clients and prospects unless it equips them to:

  • Make more sales calls
  • Be better prepared when they are on the sales call.
  • Get better at getting in front of people or companies.

Sales leaders must avoid the dangers of being outside these constraints.  They must courageously challenge those within the organization who would make demands on the sales team that detracts from this focus.  Sales leadership must play its part in achieving organizational goals, cost management, risk management, and regulatory compliance.  But such matters must not be mistaken for sales leadership.  And the opportunity cost associated with every moment the sales force is engaged in such actions is a moment when someone else is calling on your organization’s customer.

Keep the faith.