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4 Lessons to Learn as a First-Time Sales Leader

challenges as a first time sales leader

You started out last year as the top shark closing deals left and right. You were so hot the sun couldn't touch you. Fast forward to today: you're not the top shark anymore; now you're in charge of 6 salespeople, and your team isn't meeting their goals, yet you have no idea why. This is the case for many first-time sales leaders.

The biggest pool of candidates for sales leaders comes from the sales team. But, what makes a sales leader great and what makes a salesperson great are very different sets of skills, if you want more on that, see our blog on "How Effective is a Player-Coach Sales Leader?" About 70-80% of first-time sales leaders fail because they don't have anyone to teach them what to do.

1. It's not bout you

As a sales leader, your role isn't to sell anymore. It's fun, and it's also what you are best at, but your role has changed. You are now in charge of making your team better. This is a fundamental shift that many first-time leaders don't immediately grasp. You now need to focus on hiring, training, coaching, and developing your team. What are the things you can focus on to build your team or make them better?

One way to build a team is to hire new salespeople. That probably wasn't on your list of things to focus on last year as a salesperson, but now it is.

Salespeople are famously focused on the next week, month, quarter. However, a sales leader must think at least 9 months, 12 months, or even 36 months ahead. They must work on exceeding two numbers: their hiring targets and effectiveness, as well as sales targets.

Remember, a team is only as strong as its weakest member, so if you aren't improving your organization, you should be working on building your team. Always be on the lookout for new talent.

2. Every Time is Teaching Time

That's right; every time you have an interaction with one of your salespeople, it’s an opportunity to coach, teach, or provide feedback. There is a big difference between coaching and telling.

Sales leaders are notorious for telling a salesperson what they SHOULD do, or what questions they SHOULD ask, or how they SHOULD answer a call. Should is a bad word. According to Psychology Today, one study proved that using the word should increase a feeling of guilt and creates anxiety.

Try opening a dialogue with your salespeople when they come to you seeking your input. Get them to think about what they are asking. Probe their mind. Ask questions like why they would choose to answer this way over another. Try and get them to reach their own conclusion. This is how they learn and get better; not just by following whatever direction you give them. If you need more insight on how to give good feedback, check out our blog on "Effective Feedback."

3. Pay Attention

Help your team stay focused. It would be best to meet every week for your 1-on-1s and go over their commitments from the prior week – we label them the “Most Important Things” (MIT's). The more you do that, the more likely your salespeople will get the tasks done and meet their goals.

Then ask yourself, "what am I doing on an individual basis to help my team members reach their goals?" Is it helping them learn new skills? Is it helping them prioritize? Is it product knowledge? Your team needs your guidance to help them learn and stay on target.

4. No more Coffee with your Boss

One of the biggest misses with sales leaders is their communication with their boss. When we ask how often you, as the sales leader, talk to your boss, we hear, "We talk all the time while at the Keurig machine." Then we ask, "talk about what?" We hear from you, "the deal of the day, problems that are coming up and such." But what's missing are some critical elements.

How is your boss supposed to know what you are doing if you aren't telling them about it? We recommend having structure, an agenda and sticking to it instead of the more casual conversation, where both of you just talk about whatever comes to mind. Get specific and concrete with your boss. Schedule time to sit down and get aligned with them. Explain to them what you're doing with certain people and why, where you are on target, align on goals, and make adjustments where you see fit. If you want to learn more about how to communicate with your boss, check out our blog on "TheBiggest 'Miss' that Sales Leaders Make – Are You making It?"

When moving from a salesperson to a sales leadership role, you're choosing to be a leader. While anyone can call themselves a leader, leadership is a mandatory part of this position, and there's a lot that goes into it. If you cannot define your team's or the company's purpose as a leader, you need to work on it and seek clarity. Coaching, clarifying, and reinforcing that vision regularly, will continuously remind your team that the work they're doing matters.

About Gary Braun

Gary is a founder and co-owner of Pivotal Advisors. He has worked for 20+ years as a salesperson and sales leader. Gary has been a guest speaker for many groups such as Vistage, Allied Executives, CEO Roundtable, Sales Management Association, and more. If you want to find out more about Gary check out his profile here.
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