The most challenging leadership job
If I had to single out the toughest leadership position, I’d say head of sales. And not just because sales brings in the revenue and is often the first to feel any friction between the firm and the wider industry, though both are true. But because sales organizations face singular challenges.
First of all, their members are often spread out around the globe. This makes substantive interactions among team members and between staff and leader difficult.
Second, there’s no standard educational path, or shared body of knowledge, for sales professionals. Accounting leaders can look to the generally accepted accounting principles for guidance. Manufacturing leaders can look to Six Sigma. Sales professionals can only turn to the experience of other sales professionals and the books that have been written on their field.There are, however, a few traits shared by the best sales leaders that managers can rely on. Here are four:
•They lead with metrics. Everyone knows that the ultimate measures of success in sales are revenue and profit. But while critical, these are laggingindicators.
The best sales leaders also focus on leading indicators – metrics like ‘’key milestones in a long sales process’’ and ‘’increases in the value of a pipeline,’’ which are predictive of future successes and failures.
•They develop talent. Coaching has been in vogue for a number ofyears, but it’s particularly critical for people learning most of their job on the job. That means that sales leaders must place a premium on developing the capabilities of their staff.
•They provide strategic guidance. I’ve rarely seen competitive strategies that don’t look terrific laid out in PowerPointpresentations. But I’ve also rarely seen such strategies translated into specific actions for the members of a sales team. It’s up to the sales leader to make it clear how his team is expected to implement those plans so that the strategy is carried out effectively.
•They keep the focus on value creation. Salesleaders must continually draw the focus of their teams away from simply discussing features and functions, and toward the value they can create by helping clients define their needs and meet their objectives with the company’s products.
(Scott Edinger is the founder of Edinger Consulting Group.)
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