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How To Align With Your Sales Leader

The sales leader is the person who leads the sales organization to generate predictable and repeatable revenue for the company, correct? With such a vital role, how come more and more owners and CEOs feel disconnected from their sales team?

Why is There a Disconnect?

The average tenure of a sales leader has steadily declined in the last seven years. According to Gong, once standing at 26 months, sales leader tenure is now just 19 months, and it continues to decline. There are several reasons why this could be happening. Three common reasons are:

  • Hiring the wrong person - if you break it down to its roots, make sure you're hiring the right person for a sales leadership role.
  • Poorly defined expectations – many sales leaders don't know whether they are supposed to simply help their salespeople sell and close deals, teach, or if they are expected to set strategy.
  • Lack of communication – CEOs and sales leaders frequently talk multiple times each week. Still, weeks pass where the sales leader and the CEO neglect talking about progress against goals, initiatives to improve sales, challenges the team has, and plans to address those challenges.

Anyone of these can cause the downfall of a sales leader. There are several ways to prevent this.

Hiring a Good Sales Leader

Hiring is a challenge, so it is always a letdown when the person you thought was a good fit is not. Every organization is unique, so having a standard characteristic checklist of what you need in a sales leader is irrelevant.

The best sales leaders should have a coaching mindset and understand that a vital part of their role is mentoring. According to Forbes Magazine, 74% of leading companies say coaching is the most critical role sales leaders play.

The sales leader should understand the intricate dynamic of their team, each individual's personality, sales approach, and goals. They know how to get the best out of their team and what tools and training they need to do their job autonomously. Ideally, the sales leader would be able to pick up quickly when a team member is underperforming.

A lot of the time, sales leaders start as a salesperson focused on their own goals, so they have to be capable of transitioning their focus to their team's success. A great sales leader knows when to stay hands-off, and equally when to pitch in and get involved.

If you want to know more about what makes a sales leader great, check out our blog, "6 Proven Traits That Help Sales Leaders In Times Of Crisis."

Dig Deep When Hiring

CEOs and owners often hire a sales leader based on their sales track record. Many sales leaders tout personal sales accomplishments in their resumes, which may have nothing to do with their ability to lead. CEOs often mix the candidate’s individual success with their ability to be a good leader. The question most CEO's forget to ask is "How." You want to make sure they have leadership skills to back up the numbers they produced. It's essential to understand how the candidate got to those numbers and what they contributed. A few questions to keep in mind when interviewing your sales leaders:

  • What was the performance of the sales team before you took over?
  • What are the things you implemented to drive sales? Why those?
  • Where did the growth come from? 1-2 large accounts? New markets?
  • What did you personally do to build and develop the team?
  • How did you establish goals with your CEO, and how did you set goals with the team?
  • What was the biggest challenge in rolling out your changes, and how did you handle them?

Getting to the core of how that person specifically reached the numbers will tell you a lot about them and how they will meet your expectations.

Defining Your Expectations

Most owners or CEOs assume they have set clear expectations; however, this is one of the most poorly practiced aspects of leadership. It is arguably also the most important. An Interact/Harris Poll shows that 91% of the surveyed employees think that their leaders lack communication skills. Unclear expectations can lead to problems, including customer dissatisfaction, tension, conflict, stress, weak team performance, etc.

CEO’s or leaders in successful organizations make sure all employees know what is expected of them from the beginning. To be effective, you need to communicate and reinforce your intentions and expectations consistently.

What level of authority does your sales leader have to hire/fire, change compensation, restructure, etc.? Can they just do these things? Do they need to check with you first? These are the factors that are critical to staying aligned but are often less clearly defined. They should be communicated at the beginning and reinforced consistently.

Great leaders set the pace by ensuring expectations are translated into day-to-day habits to promote an environment of deliberate action, accountability, and achievement.

Prioritize Your Sales Leader's Focus

After you've set expectations, it's time to set goals and help your sales leader organize their time. Have a discussion with your sales leader to analyze initiatives and challenges and agree on the areas of focus. Is it coaching? Selling? Finding new markets? Be clear about their role and where they should spend most of their energy. Start with asking simple questions to understand their approach:

  • How much time will they be spending in the office vs. in the field with their salespeople?
  • What is their system for driving accountability in meeting activity goals and results?
  • What are the key behaviors and changes they are trying to push?
  • How can you, the CEO, help reinforce what they are trying to accomplish?

After figuring out how your sales leader plans on spending their time, take a closer look at reports required, time spent in meetings, and special projects. A study by MIT Sloan Management Review states meetings have increased in length and frequency over the past 50 years, to the point where executives spend an average of 23 hours a week in meetings, up from less than 10 hours in the 1960s. This can distract from the sales leader accomplishing their plans.

So, ask yourself, are they all vital? Or do they merely add to the pile of "Good to know" rather than "Need to know" information? If so, step in and help your sales leader prioritize or cut out anything that does not contribute to the advancement of sales success.

Meet with Them and Have a Specific Agenda

When we talk to CEOs and Sales Leaders and ask them about formal 1-on-1 meetings between them, we often hear, "Well technically we are supposed to have them every week, but we are not really consistent because one of us is always busy." That is often followed by "But we talk multiple times a week, so I think we are good." That may be the case, but those ad hoc discussions are typically about a specific deal or issue and rarely involve essential discussions about the team's performance.

First Rule

Keep your one-on-ones between the CEO and the sales leader. Without them, you tend to get out of alignment. Having an agenda for every meeting is essential, but even more vital with your sales leader. You want to cover only relevant topics. It also ensures that the meeting starts and ends on time so that attendees aren't stuck in an unproductive meeting.

Agenda

An example of an agenda can be:

  • Step 1: Progress against their goals/plans
    • If they are on plan, great. 
    • If off, what is their plan to get back on track?
  • Step 2: High-level forecast review. This is not a deal by deal review, but an overview of what is new from the last meeting, what dropped off, and what is at risk so you can mutually agree on what the forecast looks like.

  • Step 3: Obstacles and roadblocks could be salespeople that are struggling, departmental issues, process issues, etc.
    • Discuss what they are and agree on a course of action to correct.
  • Step 4: Metrics updates – look for trends. 
    • Are you maintaining a good level of activity and new opportunities? Are close rates maintaining, growing, or declining? 
    • Is the deal size or account size shrinking or growing?
  • Step 5: Set a meeting up for next time – we prefer having a recurring meeting each week for consistency, but if that doesn't work, make time for the next one. If you don't consistently meet with your sales leader, things could fall off, numbers could slip, and you wouldn't know why.

In The End

As your company grows, one of the most critical questions is how to increase results and revenue. The key to a successful, growing business is being aligned with your sales leader on your specific initiatives and plans and making adjustments when things get off track. When you and your sales leader are aligned, you will increase your odds of achieving consistent and predictable revenue.

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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