Being a manager isn’t easy. Being a sales manager might be even harder. But learning how to lead a sales team might not be quite as hard as you think.
Part of what can make it difficult is that you have to be able to encourage people to sell. And selling is widely looked down upon and disregarded as a real job. A belief that is wrong and needs to change, but it’s out there.
Leading and motivating are two skills every manager needs, but they don’t come naturally. And the line between supportive coaching and pushing or demotivating can be incredibly blurry.
If you have kids, you already know how hard it is to teach or coach in a nurturing but effective way. Most of us struggle with that line.
What it Means to Lead Effectively
There are many different sales metrics you might use for success. Some are probably very effective; others might be doing more harm than good.
However you measure productivity, there are certain things our sales team will have to do to hit quota and make money.
Knowing how to lead a sales team to sell well and with company values in mind, they have to:
- be motivated to work hard,
- communicate effectively with prospects and each other,
- accept rejection
- follow a process or sales methodology
- and track their progress so that they know how to improve.
It’s a difficult skill, to say the least. Not impossible, especially if you’re a natural motivator.
Although, motivation itself can be tricky.
When Motivation Doesn’t Work
Understanding someone’s motivation is a little bit easier than leading, but it’s still more complex than people think.
For decades, maybe centuries, managers have assumed that just dangling money in front of someone’s face will get them to work harder.
Unfortunately, most managers treat them as two sides of the same coin; money and fear.
“If I give you more money, you will work harder. If you don’t, you’re fired.”
This idea is just as antiquated as the need for sales hunters.
Believe it or not, money is not the number one motivator for many salespeople. That kind of pressure creates an unhealthy work environment for everybody. A well-functioning workplace doesn’t work on the principles of Battle Royale, every person for themselves.
Finding the true motivations of your team and not constantly holding their livelihood over their heads is how you make sure they sell with your processes and values in mind and bring in the best clients possible.
How to Lead a Sales Team
As the workforce becomes more and more dominated by millennials and Gen Zers, sales and business culture will continue to change.
Knowing your employees on a personal level is becoming more and more critical. Especially since fewer companies offer pensions, these younger generations will never be loyal to a company that their forebearers had without the right motivation.
So how do we do this?
One of the most effective options to help you find the best ways to lead your sales team is to give each member a personality assessment.
The most successful assessment we have used for sales is the DISC personality assessment. It doesn’t just show what kind of personality they have; it also highlights their:
- motivational levers,
- communication style,
- and selling style.
We’ve already talked about how important it is to give assessments during the hiring process. But if you’re trying to help the team you already have, you can’t turn back time to rehire them. However, it’s never too late for assessments!
Schedule time to sit with each team member individually after their assessment to go over their results. If you’re not well-versed in how these assessments work and what to expect with the results, hiring a professional to go over the results with you and each employee may be beneficial.
Lead with positivity and objectivity!
Be careful to keep any judgment or negativity out of the conversation when discussing results, whether with a professional or alone. Every single person is going to have struggles and challenges. Even strengths can be detrimental if they are relied on too heavily or come on too strongly at work.
The point of walking your employees through the results is to develop an individualized plan with them to overcome challenges and work within their strengths.
This first step will be the foundation for how you lead and motivate your sales team moving forward. But it’s only the first step.
When possible, have an open-door policy for your team.
Let them know that you are there to encourage and push them to be their best. You don’t only want to be the boss who gets on to them when they’ve done something wrong.
Also, consider group activities.
You don’t necessarily have to take them to one of those leadership or trust camps. There are other fun and motivating group activities. For example, you can host dinners, bring them to conferences, or take them on weekend trips.
Get to know them outside of work!
Spending time with them outside of the workplace can be enormously beneficial for everybody. They’ll get to know you better while you’re learning more about them. It makes leading a lot easier when they trust you as a person and a boss.
The more time you can spend with them, both individually and as a group, the more you’ll get to learn the essential things about how they sell and react to situations. Such as when they:
- close a big deal – Do they quietly move to the next thing, or are they fist-pumping with each new sale?
- lose a customer – Do they lose it and burn that bridge? Do they try to hide it or put the blame somewhere else? Or do they dig in to find out what happened?
- get cussed out by an angry client – Do they shrug it off and move on, or do they need some emotional support or need a break?
- have a personal crisis or issue – Are they able to “keep it at home,” or will it affect their work until they’ve had the chance to deal with it?
Knowing these things makes them so much easier to lead. And you’ll be able to guide them towards the motivation they need to keep going or stay focused.
This step isn’t really the third thing you should do. If anything, it’s the first. And it should begin during the hiring process.
For your team to be coachable, they have to trust you. And they have to believe in the values of their company.
You’ve probably heard this before, but it’s important and frustratingly easy to forget.
You need to communicate the “why” about policies, decisions, values, everything. The more transparent you can be, the more they will trust your decisions and management.
Most businesses start with an unambiguous “why” or at least a solid mission and value statement. But management doesn’t always do a great job upholding and reinforcing those values. And that’s where they fall apart.
For the employees to wholly buy into those values, they should be consistent from the top of the chain to the bottom. Everyone should know them inside and out and understand how they can impact their role.
While it’s easy to fall into the role of “I’m the boss, and you’re not,” that doesn’t make for the best leadership.
That’s why you should lead, coach, and motivate with the “we” in mind.
If you want to have a coachable, value-driven, and motivated team, you must be a part of the team.
You’ll have to have hard discussions with them. Whether it’s discussing a failure to hit quota or mediating a dispute, the more you can make “we” statements, the easier it will be for everybody.
Additionally, let meetings or coaching sessions be largely question-driven. Not only will you get more insight into any issues going on, but they will also feel like they are playing a part in the solution.
Though this could probably also be helpful in the parent/child dynamic, you don’t want to make your employees feel like children. It makes them understandably resentful and angry. Treat them like the equals they are, and work together to find solutions to any problems they may be having.
They will feel more comfortable and fairly represented in these solutions, but it also helps prepare them for future leadership roles.
How to Lead Your Sales Team by Example
This is far from the most in-depth guide on how to lead a sales team. There are countless books, podcasts, and articles talking about it.
But as sales culture (thankfully!) changes, continuing this discussion becomes increasingly essential.
The most important thing you can do is lead by example. Keep a cool head when things go wrong. Communicate your expectations. Celebrate wins and support losses. Lead with care, genuine empathy, and nurturing resoluteness.
Your sales team brings in the money to keep your business going. So you owe it to yourself, your business, and your team to find the best way to help them be their best.