Genuine Leader or Mere Manager – Which Are You? Let’s Find Out …

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“There is a difference between leadership and management. Leadership is of the spirit, management is of the mind. Managers are necessary, but leaders are essential. We must find managers who are not only skilled organizers, but inspired and inspiring leaders.” Field Marshall Slim

You can buy someone’s physical presence, but you cannot buy loyalty, enthusiasm or devotion. These you must earn: Successful organizations have leaders who focus on the future, rather than cling to the past. Leaders bring out the best in people. They spend time developing people into leaders.

Here – in my humble view – are the qualities of a genuine leader:

  • Leaders have a clear vision of what they are working towards. They don’t keep their vision a secret – they communicate it to their people.
  • Leaders are consistent – they keep their principles and values at all times.
  • Leaders can and will do what they expect of others – they are prepared to walk the talk.
  • Leaders are not threatened by competence – they enjoy promoting people and are quick to give credit to those who have earned it.
  • Leaders enjoy developing their people into leaders, not followers – they train people to take on more challenging tasks and responsibilities. They develop people’s confidence.
  • Leaders don’t betray trust – they can treat confidential information professionally.
  • Leaders are concerned about getting things done. They don’t get embroiled in political infighting, gossip and backstabbing – they encourage those around them to do likewise.
  • Leaders confront issues as they arise. They do not procrastinate – if something needs fixing, they do it right away, even if it is uncomfortable. The longer things are left, the more difficult they become.
  • Leaders let people know how they are doing – they reward and recognize performance that is above expectations and they help people identify ways of improving poor performance.
  • Leaders are flexible. They welcome change – they do not stick to an old position simply because it is more comfortable.
  • Leaders are adaptable – they see change as an opportunity rather than a threat.
  • Leaders are human. They make mistakes – when they do so, they readily admit it.
  • Leaders reflect on and learn from their mistakes – they see errors as a chance to improve their skills.
  • Leaders enjoy challenge. They are prepared to take risks and encourage others to do likewise – if they fail, they treat the exercise as a learning experience.
  • Leaders focus on the future, not the past. They anticipate trends and prepare for them – they develop a vision for their team and communicate it to them.
  • Leaders are open to new ideas – they demonstrate their receptiveness by supporting change.
  • Leaders treat staff as individuals – they give closer attention to those that need it and lots of space to those that deserve it.
  • Leaders encourage and reward co-operation within and between teams.

Team Leadership

  • Leaders develop guidelines with their team – they constantly enlarge the guidelines as the team becomes willing to accept more responsibility.
  • Leaders change their role according to the demands of the team – for example, they become more of a coach or facilitator.
  • Leaders listen to their team members.
  • Leaders involve people in finding new ways to achieve agreed-upon goals.
  • Leaders create the opportunity for group participation and recognize that only team members can make the choice to participate.

In Summary

Without managers, the visions of leaders remain dreams. Leaders need managers to convert visions into realities. For continuous success, organizations need both managers and leaders. However, as most seem to be over-managed and under-led, they need to find ways of having both at the same time. Perhaps the best way to handle this paradox is for managers to aim to be managers when viewed from above, leaders when viewed from below and to remember that the need for leadership grows as we move up the organization. This is only one of the challenges that can make working life fun.

If a Salesperson Possessed Just Three Characteristics …

One of the most interesting and enjoyable exercises I perform before I engage with a new client is to conduct a full audit of the prospect’s commercial functions specifically the sales and marketing teams. One of the first results I always look for are those from the “Attitude to Change” assessment: It measures three personal characteristics, which have nothing to do with selling skills whatsoever  – or so you may think.

Creativity and Flair is the ability to look outside the square and to challenge paradigms when necessary; it means, for example, the ability to create solutions to meet client’s needs, the ability to think laterally when the situation requires it and the capability to constantly think, “How can we improve this” rather than accepting the status quo.

Discipline is all about being in control; it’s about working in an organized and efficient way, setting and achieving daily/weekly/monthly/annual objectives. It’s also about having a game plan and being in charge of one’s life and understanding what one both wants and needs.

Realism is slightly more difficult to articulate, but essentially it means that all of the hurdles that are likely to be encountered on the “road to success” have been taken into account.

Realistic individuals understand that success – whatever measure is used – will not be handed to them on a plate.

How do you think you measure up? Want to find out?

You can take this very quick test, which will give you an instant result. HERE

What’s it Like in “Me Only Territory?”

The very best consultative sales professionals operate exclusively in “me only territory” and that demands an explanation, so let’s begin by examining the traditional sales environment ..

For the sake of this explanation, let’s use a baseball park (not that I know too much about baseball): So traditional salesmen and women are operating left field, they are usually totally focused on a single sales event, and they sell products.

If asked to describe the value they bring, they would simply offer you product options, and they are always willing to compete on price to get the order. They typically sell to “users” which requires them to be consistently reactive, and of course, their achievement levels are as unpredictable as the British weather.

Finally, if asked to describe commercial politics, they would stare blankly at you; that isn’t their fault, it is simply that they have never been exposed to it – and the same goes for ROI.

These people are all operating exclusively in “me-too territory”

When we move into center field, we find ourselves in “me-first territory:” These salespeople bring much more to the table and have a much wider commercial bandwidth.

They are pre-occupied with business process; they focus both on the customer and their competitors; they don’t simply sell products, but rather “application solutions;” they are acutely aware of the need to make a profit, and usually they deal with recommenders, so they have taken a giant stride up the food-chain.

These salespeople understand that reliability is more important to customers than speed of response (reactivity) and they are also politically agile. Naturally they can sell using ROI arguments, and finally, their achievement levels are consistent.

You might be forgiven for thinking that must be as good as it gets – after all, the two scenarios that we have described account for around 95% of the global sales population. But actually, no, it gets even better!

Now we are entering “only-me” territory – the hallowed turf of the sales world. We are very much right-field, and the population is made up of the biggest hitters, whose primary pre-occupation is long-term outcomes, and their focus is entirely on the customer’s commercial objectives and how they can assist the customer in achieving them: The value they bring is strategic direction, and they only see long-term ROI. Their dealings are exclusively with key decision makers, and they penetrate formal the DMU as easily as a knife slicing through butter.

These salespeople are always on the front foot – deliberately pro-active. They identify the business they want, and they go after it. They are not just politically agile, they are politically astute, and they use politics to win whenever they need or have to; they always secure high ROI, and they consistently exceed quotas. They have complete account control.

And you, where do you spend most of your selling time?

In the precarious left field, where you are totally at the mercy of your prospects and customers, hoping that they will call you?

Maybe you are center field, which does indeed feel much more secure when compared to your colleagues to the left of you, even though you frequently cast envious glances to those colleagues on your right.

Or maybe, just maybe, you really are a top 5% achiever? If you are, congratulations, I know precisely what it took for you to get there.

What Does Your “Ideal Customer” Look Like?

All customers are good” – No they are not!

All business is good” – No it isn’t!

Think “Pareto”

Use of ‘Pareto Thinking’ is highly relevant and important when applied to salespeople. For example, 20% of salespeople’s activities will create 80% of sales achieved, which has enormous consequences on how to optimise and manage lead generation activities.

Generating leads is an important sales activity that plants the seeds of growth for sustainable business development. A lead is purely a name that you could refer to as a SUSPECT because their potential to buy is unknown. Before you can qualify leads to determine whether they have the money, authority and desire to buy your products/services you need to generate them!

When deciding upon which lead generation methods work best for you and your organisation, it helps to have clarity on the type of customers that you’d like to attract. This means creating an Ideal Customer Profile that can begin to provide direction to your lead generation activities.

The following questions will stimulate your thinking when it comes to developing an Ideal Customer Profile:

  • What size of organisation would you prefer to deal with?
  • Typically, how many people will they employ?
  • What market sector(s) do these organisations operate within?
  • Who specifically will be buying your products/services and what are their titles?
  • Where geographically would you like these organisations to be located?
  • What does your organisation offer that is unique?
  • What types of organisations will be attracted by this uniqueness?
  • What do your best customers possess that you would like to replicate in others?
  • Which of your existing customers were the easiest and quickest to convert?
  • What similarities do these customers possess?
  • Are there any specific criteria that prospective organisations should have in place, so that your products/services can be optimised?

Having a well-defined profile of your ‘ideal customer’ can prove to be invaluable when determining which methods to use for lead generation, and improves the effectiveness of marketing initiatives.

You may also discover that the process for asking for referrals becomes easier and generates a better response, because you are providing the person with a tighter specification of what you are looking for – this concentrates their thinking towards the direction you have defined.

Sales Leaders need to be “Models of Excellence”

Unfortunately, most salesmen and women believe that a successful career in sales culminates in sales management, and yet there are of course far less management positions up for grabs than sales positions.

As a consequence, salespeople with this attitude concentrate on making sales rather than investing in themselves in order to become Top 5 % players and eventually most become disillusioned, resulting in a significant dip in achievements levels.

The knock-on effect of this is that most salespeople who move into management, take with them an underdeveloped view of selling – a “traditional” orientation and as consequence they help to create or maintain an unrealistic and short sighted vision of what will be needed to develop their teams.

Because they lack Top 5% experience themselves, and an insight into the skills needed to make it at the highest level, the environment that they help to create fails to recognise the need for outstanding performers, and this is particularly noticeable in the compensation structures they build, which neither supports nor encourages their teams to break through that final glass ceiling.

As I have said often enough, both here, and on numerous other occasions, the single most common mistake that organizations make is promoting their number one salesperson into the role of sales manager, thereby depriving themselves in a single stroke of their best producer and hamstringing their sales force with an ineffective manager.

The skills required for managing, mentoring and developing a sales team are totally different from those required for selling. As a result, it’s not uncommon to find newly promoted sales managers who regret having taken a management position and may even leave to get back into sales – that is if they are not pushed first!

The majority of sales managers – new and experienced alike – say they do not have sufficient time to train and develop their sales teams. They are so focused on sales results – and so accustomed to achieving success through their personal pursuit of those results – that they overlook their greatest potential source of power, the power to increase sales performance by developing their people.

The sales manager’s role is transforming from evaluator to developer, from expert to resource, from teller to questioner. This change is no mere tweaking adjustment, it is a 180° shift from how most sales managers manage and how they are managed. Most organizations profess to want coaching, but they don’t really do anything about it. Just as students are lucky to have one or two special teachers in a lifetime, most sales professionals are lucky if they get one real coach. Organizations don’t have role models for coaching, they don’t train for it, and they don’t hold people accountable for it.”  Sales Coaching by Linda Richardson

In “Tougher at the Top” which Linda and I will be publishing next year, you can be certain that these are just some of the issues we will be addressing.

You see, today, the role of sales manager is pivotal. It is the vital link, and ineffective sales leadership is the main reason why so many sales teams are failing.

All the current excitement surrounds lead generation – it seems that everything I read everywhere, is totally focused on finding, qualifying, and weighting leads. But what is the point of continually creating new opportunities and passing them to sales managers who are unable to cope?

Depending on which sets of statistics you believe, sales performance is spiralling downwards, and yet compensation packages are increasing? But that topic is for another day.

At the end of the day, the sales leader needs to be a “model of excellence” – only then will the pack faithfully follow.

How to Find the Value Gap

The formula for calculating value is quite simply the benefit minus the cost of achieving or acquiring the benefit i.e. value + benefit – cost. So it is important that we always use rigorous questioning techniques to uncover as many needs as possible, for which we can offer benefit oriented solutions.

The more needs we can uncover, the more benefits we can deliver, the more benefits the greater the pay back, the greater the pay back the higher the value, the higher the value the better the chance to up sell and cross sell.

Questions will uncover needs – if they are there to be uncovered – however, it is one thing to uncover the need, it is another thing to prove that there is adequate pay back and value in fulfilling the needs.

Having uncovered the needs we must probe and find out as much as we can about those needs and the implications to the customer if they are not met or fulfilled.

What we are trying to establish is the difference between what the customer used to do and how he does it now. If we can establish this then the comparison between what they are presently doing and what they may be able to do based on our solution, will be easier to grasp. This is important, because the difference between them doing something and not doing it is the “value gap. We need to find value gaps that we can attach a price to, so that we can justify the benefit in terms of added value.

Let’s take an example:

Your support customer used to have a manual stock and inventory system. Using your database for an automated system has enabled them to increase shipments by 20% per day. With the shipments of goods totalling $10,000 per day, the value gap i.e. system or no system, is $2000 per day. If the system is down it would cost $200 to $400 in lost or delayed shipments per hour. Staying as they are or going for a support agreement that would reduce down time is the value gap opportunity. That gap is worth $200 to $400 per hour..

The best product at the best price does not always win the order; we have all been outsold by a competitive salesperson probably offering less of a solution and sometimes even at a higher price.

I do hope that we no longer think about features and benefits, buy rather value.

I can only repeat that the only five words that time-constrained key decision makers want to hear today are: “Save” “Gain” “Increase” Improve” and “Reduce” – these are, or should be, high value statements, but they must be proved!

The Don Quixote Approach To Opportunity Assessment

Emerging salespeople typically believe that all business is good business and to an extent, I can understand this viewpoint. If you are trying to make a name for yourself, being put under pressure by your sales manager to get “runs on the board” and earn the respect of the more experienced and successful members of the team, it is difficult to walk away from any opportunity if you believe you have the remotest chance of winning it.

However, it is essential that more seasoned professionals fully understand both the value and importance of rigorous objective qualification – not just at the front end, but right the way through the sales cycle. Qualification is a process, not a single event, and even internal and reactive salespeople should be fully skilled in asking a small number of basic questions regarding precise requirements, time scales, budget, competition, etc. before they are prepared to reveal their price and delivery.

As the value of the product, service or solution increases, the depth of the qualification should increase proportionally.

External salespeople have the opportunity to meet with prospective customers and it is far easier to extract information face to face than it is via the telephone. However, it is vital that some initial answers are elicited prior the that first exploratory meeting in order to ensure that the meeting will be worthwhile to both parties. With sales costs spiraling upwards and sales time becoming limited, considerable prudence is required on the part of the salesperson.

During that first meeting, a considerable amount of detail can and should be uncovered – e.g. background and history of the company, the key individuals, the composition of the DMU (Decision Making Unit) if there is one, timescales, budget, competition, current suppliers, buying criteria, etc.

Only by rigorous questioning will the salesperson be able to answer the following questions when they get back to the office:

  • Is there a requirement/need that my company can satisfy?
  • Is it winnable?
  • Do I want it?

The very best sales professionals will not pursue the opportunity, after proper objective analysis, if the answer to any of those questions is ‘No’. They will rather invest their precious selling time seeking out and closing opportunities that will provide a profitable return on that investment.

At the very highest selling levels – i.e. strategic “big-ticket” selling and marketing, clearly the sales cycle is much more protracted, complex and typically moves through four stages:

  • Rigorous opportunity assessment
  • Develop a strategy
  • Present the solution and re-assess the opportunity
  • Gain formal commitment, sign the order and develop

In Summary

Having a tilt at every windmill that presents itself is neither practical, nor profitable.

Qualification is a core competency that every professional salesperson should take on board as quickly as possible. Working to the maxim that “All business is good business” is unrealistic and totally erroneous. It takes just as long to work an unprofitable opportunity through the pipeline, only to lose it at the death, as it does a profitable one. The ability to determine which is which can have a huge impact on your ultimate success in a front-line sales role.

So What Exactly What Makes a Great Sales Coach?

For managers, developing others’ abilities is critical indeed, it’s the emotional competence most frequently found among those at the top of the field. This is a person-to-person art, and the effectiveness of counselling hinges on empathy and the ability to focus on our own feelings and share them.

Research suggests the best ‘coaches’ show a genuine personal interest in those they guide, and have empathy for and an understanding of their employees. Trust is crucial – when there is little trust in the coach, advice goes unheeded. This also happens when the coach is impersonal and cold, or the relationship seems too one-sided or self-serving. Coaches who show respect, trustworthiness, and empathy are the best.

One way to encourage people to perform better is to let others take the lead in setting their own goals rather than dictating the terms and manner of their development. This communicates the belief that employees have the capacity to be the pilot of their own destiny.

Another technique is to point to the problems without offering a solution: this implies the employees can find the solution themselves. And people hunger for feedback, yet too many managers, supervisors and executives are inept at giving it or are simply disinclined to provide any. Virtually everyone who has a superior is part of at least one vertical ‘couple’ in the workplace; every boss forms such a bond with each subordinate. Such vertical couples are a basic unit of organisational life.

Therein lays the blessing or the curse: This interdependence ties a subordinate and superior together in a way that can become highly charged. If both do well emotionally – if they form a relationship of trust and rapport, understanding and inspired effort – their performance will shine. But if things go emotionally awry, the relationship can become a nightmare and their performance a series of minor and major disasters. While vertical couples have the entire emotional overlay that power and compliance bring to a relationship, peer couples – our relationships with co-workers – have a parallel emotional component, something akin to the pleasures, jealousies and rivalries of siblings.

If there is anywhere emotional intelligence needs to enter an organization, it is at this most basic level. Building collaborative and fruitful relationships begins with the couples we are a part of at work.

Bringing emotional intelligence to a working relationship can pitch it towards the evolving, creative, mutually engaging end of the continuum; failing to do so heightens the risk of a downward drift towards rigidity, stalemate, and failure.

So How Do You Develop A First Class Sales Team?

Pick up a typical annual sales report and what words do you find? Verbs like analyze, forecast, plan, assess and schedule, are used in pursuit of organizations that are efficient, productive and predictable. What set of people are required? Obviously, people who are efficient, effective, proficient, competent, productive and co-operative.

But I believe we need to go beyond; we need to be inspired, motivated, creators, who are enthusiastic and able to consistently deliver against our key objectives. We should be developing individuals who are not afraid to challenge paradigms, who are prepared to go that extra yard in search of excellence and who understand that success is 80% attitude and only 20% aptitude.

For a group of people to remain consciously competent at optimum performance levels, they require frequent injections of stimulation, motivational guidance, prompting and directing, otherwise they can easily lapse into becoming unconsciously competent or worse, unconsciously incompetent.

The primary objective of a professional Sales Manager has to be:

To achieve consistently superior results through the performance of every key individual.”

Here is a quick “sanity check” for you as we head into Q2:

When thinking about your own sales force …

  • Do you understand their motivators – what is driving each one of them?
  • Do you have visibility of their numbers – year to date, forecast vs. required performance?
  • Activity levels – are they working hard and smart enough?
  • Engagement – are they talking to the right level in their prospects/accounts?
  • Messaging – are they capable of delivering an appropriate message at the right level?
  • Qualification – are they only spending time on deals where they can compete and ultimately that they can win?
  • Closing – are they constructing successful campaigns and closing business?

Good luck for Q2!

The Golden Egg(s) Nestling in Your Basket

From quite early on in our sales careers, we are encouraged to explore every sales opportunity that presents itself – in fact in some companies, they are brainwashed into believing that “all business is good business.” And of course, we/they do not challenge this fallacy, simply because we/they don’t know any better. We/they are on the first rung of the ladder.

We/they are anxious to make our mark, get “runs on the board” and impress our manager – even our colleagues. At this point in our careers, our naivety sustains us, and in some perverse way, insulates us from the harsh realities of the sales environment – but only momentarily.

Maybe all new sales professionals should memorize this statement: “Selling is the most exciting, the most invigorating and the most rewarding career in the world – if you are selling well

Gradually, as we ascend that sales success ladder, we experience a life-changing epiphany – well those of us that become successful do – and it dawns on us that actually, it takes just as long to progress an opportunity that has no chance of closing through the various funnels and pipelines, as it does a profitable and closable one. We even manage to work out that whilst we are spending so much time on unwinnable business, we are letting winnable business slip through our fingers, due to a lack of time and attention.

It isn’t rocket science, but our ability to determine which is which early in the sales/buying cycle, could ultimately decide just how far we progress up that aforementioned sales ladder, because be assured, the very best frontline sales professionals – the top 5% – always position themselves with the real decision-makers and avoid those without “approval power.” They are able to first identify and then access the formal decision making unit.

They are also able to readily identify and know how to deal with the four different buying influences present in every sale and they understand how to prevent sales from being sabotaged by an internal enemy. They insulate themselves by developing strong allies within.

Finally, they are able to recognize fail-safe signals that indicate when a sale is in jeopardy. This comes from experience, but also information supplied by their allies.

But, most important of all, they are rigorous in tracking account progress and are able to accurately forecast future sales because they use proven methodology, which allows them to realistically weight every opportunity in the pipeline.

So, do you think if you re-examined your pipeline today, and you had to wager your house on those opportunities that will really happen, you could do so? Or are you happy to continue playing the numbers game?

Do try to spot the “golden eggs” in your basket – and encourage them to hatch – it will be worth it, I promise you.