Results! That’s what every CEO wants and, ultimately, they need it from sales -and from those responsible for sales. So this means higher sales growth targets and selling more of that “new high margin solution” to higher level and higher worth customers. The HR profession is charged with developing the right people to ensure the company’s future – including sales leaders – so, if you could impact sales results what more concrete proof could there be of HR’s true value?
In 2010, the Forrester CEO, George Colony, interviewed other CEOs about their opinions of their sales force and one of the questions he asked was whether they were satisfied that it was helping the company meet its strategic objectives. Of the 40 CEOs he interviewed, 39 said no. And there is no reason to believe that this situation has improved in the intervening few years.
In the not too distant past, the premise of “doing basically the same but sell 10% more next year by being a bit better” was often the norm; sales managers and directors were asked to simply execute the plan. This is no longer good enough and, today, almost every organisation is wrestling with fast changing customer needs and is looking to their entire sales organisation to rapidly transform in the face of it.
The companies that are genuinely addressing this and transforming are asking for a fundamentally different mindset from their sales line management. They are developing transformational sales leaders at all levels in the organisation; individuals who challenge the status quo and find new ways to deliver increased sales quickly. Developing transforming leaders is the quickest and most cost-effective way to deliver transformation to the entire sales organisation, as it is in every other business function.
We are working with one of the world’s leading global IT companies, with over 60,000 employees. They have dramatically embraced this creed and have instituted a transformation leadership Masters programme for their highest potential sales leaders, to develop a cadre who can both directly and virally catalyse rapid change throughout sales.
Most sales leaders don’t bother to explain why; rather they just say what you must do. Hit your numbers, increase your pipeline coverage, qualify your deals and so on. Where’s the inspiration in this? As Simon Sinek has pointed out in a famous TED video, the great leaders and the great companies communicate why they do what they do to inspire their teams to perform or to inspire their customers to buy.
For example, Apple’s ‘why’ is described as: “everything we do, we believe in challenging the status quo, we believe in thinking differently…” The reasoning behind this is that people don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it.
At Consalia we see many sales managers but, regrettably, only a few sales leaders. The true leaders in sales share the same underlying tenets as leaders in other disciplines. They know and communicate their ‘core’; they know what they stand for and why. They have a clear vision for the future of their team, they are clear on their mindset and the guiding principles that they will use to make difficult decisions and assess others by. By clearly communicating their core to inspire their team and other key stakeholders, those being led know where the leader is going and will make much clearer choices on the right thing is to do; even when the leader is not present. They will also be in no doubt of the performance standards expected.
There are few sales line managers who can express their core but, largely, this is because no one has ever asked them to! Should we therefore be surprised when sales as a whole does not transform fast enough?
So how could this work in practice? The following is a real life example from a senior sales director at a Fortune 100 company whose team members regularly exceed their targets; in fact, last year 50% of them got promoted. He has expressed his core in terms of his vision, mindset and guiding principles.
His vision is to build and manage the most innovative solutions team across the region and help each team member to succeed. His mindset is to exploit and maximise all of his talents and help his team to develop the right mindset to ensure success through continuous improvement and people development. Finally, his guiding principles are to create a work environment where people can succeed, to take time to reflect and observe where he has grown and where he can improve in the upcoming year and to continually and critically review his own performance.
The vision is clear, inspiring and much repeated; and not just to his own team. It is also used for – and by – other senior stakeholders and those providing the wider team resources – presales, industry consultants, solutions architects et al – across the organisation. Everybody wants to work with winners!
Notice also the strong people focus linked to success for the whole team which comes from a deep inner conviction that his people should be developed – how many sales leaders can you say that for? Underpinning this is a strong sense of self-reflection, taking time to think about where and how to improve.
Those in HR can play a crucial role in helping their own sales organisations transform. HR can help individuals, teams and the whole organisation to get a clear sense of their core, find the connection points to the overall company strategy and have them express it in their own words and start communicating it. You might get some pleasant surprises.