Suppose you're the Chief Revenue Officer of a large enterprise. And suppose that you learn one morning that a number of your top team leaders, people you had hoped to hold on to for years to come, have left unexpectedly – and signed on with your competition.
How do you keep that from happening?
The best way to answer this question, I think, may be to pose a related question, one that often goes unasked: How do we make sure that the people who are leading our sales teams are not just reporting to us, but engaging with us?
Here are three proven strategies effective senior leaders use to make sure sales managers don’t end up migrating to the competition – and taking tribal knowledge, relationships, and revenue opportunities with them.
Strategy #1: Set up clear guardrails.
Give front-line sales leaders explicit permission to fail within clearly defined areas… and when they do fail, don’t make them feel bad about failing. Ask them what they’ve learned from the experience. Ask them what they would do differently next time. Move on. Once the guardrails are in place, let them do the driving! There are three essential concepts effective leaders keep in mind when it comes to setting and reinforcing guardrails: knowledge, skills, and application. Knowledge connects to teaching them what they need to know; skills means making sure they know what to do with that knowledge. An equally critical component, and one that sometimes gets overlooked, is application, which is giving people a chance to apply both knowledge and skill in the real-world context of their position. When you set people up to apply what they’ve learned without fear of being ambushed over an initial failure, you set them up for success.
Strategy #2: Lead by example – by leading minds, not just metrics.
One of the big challenges mid-level sales leaders face is that, very often, they don’t see themselves as the connector between senior management and the field. They tend to fixate on the metrics – and they may overlook the human equation. You can help people get past this common obstacle by setting a better leadership example. That means, for one thing, setting a personalized growth and development plan for your direct reports… so they are inspired to invest the time and effort to do the same for their direct reports. Another challenge is helping front-line sales leaders learn to look beyond the numbers. It’s not that the numbers aren’t important – they certainly are – but they don’t exist in a vacuum. So don’t just focus on the metrics. Make room in your weekly check-ins for meaningful discussions about goals (both personal and organizational), the organization’s mission and vision, and the values that drive both team and individual success. The managers who report to you shouldn’t just understand what’s moving through the pipeline and how fast it’s moving; they should also understand how pipeline optimization connects to what you’re trying to accomplish and why you’re trying to accomplish it… so they can communicate that to the members of the sales team.
Strategy #3: Take “I like to do it my way” out of the equation… without alienating anyone.
The key to pulling this off lies in a single, powerful word: brand. To give just one example of how you might do this, let’s say you have a problem with a specific team leader who isn’t buying into the sales process that your entire organization is supposed to be following. Instead of launching into lecture mode and holding forth about the importance of things like standardization, teamwork, and compliance – lectures that are likely to turn off your direct report – focus on the brand. Have a real discussion about the importance of understanding and supporting the company’s brand – which is something your direct report is unlikely to challenge. Then look for an opportunity to tactfully present the issue of following a clearly defined sales process as a simple matter of brand integrity. The sales process is there, after all, to create a consistent brand experience for prospects and customers! Ask for your direct report’s help in building and expanding the company brand in the marketplace… by supporting the expression of that brand that the sales team is most likely to affect: the sales process.
For more on engaging effectively with sales leaders, connect with us about the Sales Leader Growth Series, a customizable program with nine different courses and three customized learning paths to select from–all designed to help you grow your people, grow your business, and grow yourself.