Is Managing Your Sales Team Your Toughest Job?

Whether you’re the Vice President of Sales, a sales manager, or a CEO of a growing company, managing, developing, and inspiring your sales team must be one of your top priorities. When your people aren’t in the market generating new business, it has a ripple effect that starts at the top and trickles down to the bottom line.

If you have a dedicated sales team whose members know that they’re sales people, you have an advantage. These sales people know that they need to make sales in order to have a successful career. You set the parameters, and work with them to achieve their goals.

Easier said than done, isn’t it?

And what if your people don’t think that they’re in sales? This is the classic scenario in professional services firms, for example. The expert – the lawyer, the accountant, the consultant – see themselves as subject matter experts, not as sales people. The challenge of motivating seasoned professionals to develop new business can be daunting.

Do you ever lose sleep over this?

To view a snapshot of your sales team’s potential, review the following list and check any that apply. My sales professionals:

  • Are comfortable with the label of “salesperson”
  • Have top notch technical expertise
  • Are able to adapt their personal style to different personality types
  • Manage their time and priorities well
  • Know that they sell and are comfortable selling
  • Are committed to ongoing professional development and learning
  • Create a sales plan and work that plan
  • Are client-centered
  • Want to achieve financial success

We don’t need to give you an evaluation scale for you to interpret your results. The reality is that many dedicated sales efforts focus solely on the second item, and if this is true for your organization, you’re short sighted. Your people need a lot more than technical expertise to successfully sell.

All ten elements are integral for successful selling. And although you may understand this, there may be a gap between your knowledge of what it takes for sales success and how to lead and guide your people to become more effective.

We know that many of you find yourself in this position of running a sales effort without really taking the time to identify what it takes to be successful in that role. You’ve been promoted – or your company has reorganized – or the firm has downsized – any of these scenarios can result in someone becoming in charge of sales development without having any training or coaching in what it takes to be successful.

As you develop in the sales management role, it will be well worth your time to identify what it takes to be successful in this position and within the culture of your organization.

© 2016 Lisa M. Aldisert

The Democratization of Leadership

Today our people have the opportunity to shine as leaders earlier in their careers than any other time in history.

When the discussion around leadership was confined to the executive suite, it was easier to talk about. Much as it has been welcome, however, the democratization of leadership has created confusion because of people’s perceptions of what leadership means.

Leadership is a mindset. It is an attitude that you are in charge of and responsible for your professional domain.

Simply put, an employee of any rank can demonstrate and embody leadership characteristics.

Instilling leadership as a core value in your organization is a great goal if it fits organically and consistently with your other organizational values. A corporate culture where leadership attributes are encouraged and embraced is an attractive one for its stakeholders.

How you integrate leadership as a core value is the question. Consider the following:

  • Does your executive team enthusiastically support the idea of making leadership a core value?
  • Do you provide the appropriate level of support to your executives who may need development in some key leadership attributes? For example, a brilliant C-level executive who has lousy interpersonal skills will likely need to master several competencies to offset this weakness.
  • Is your leadership initiative supported at all levels of management in your firm? What strategies do you have for overcoming the objections of the cynics or naysayers?
  • Do you put your people through leadership development training as a “one-size-fits-all” solution? Or do you recognize the differences among your stakeholders?
  • Do you provide appropriate training for your managers, who also need to understand the specific dynamics of management as well as leadership?
  • How do you support the training once it is completed? What guidance do you give your people so that they can “wear” their leadership identity in a way that is consistent with your values and culture?
  • How do you reinforce the process of leadership development? What do you do to make your people accountable to continue to develop in this area? Leadership can be taught, but the act of becoming a leader (or a better leader) takes experience.

Not everyone can be in charge of a company. But leadership development provides a venue through which anyone can feel self-empowered by “owning” the accountabilities and responsibilities of his or her domain.

Leadership development can develop self-confidence, which will result in immediate and tangible performance improvement. The act of self-management creates more responsible and accountable people. Again, results will appear once people feel enrolled in the process.

Although leadership can be perceived as one of the “softer” areas for employee development, you can quantify the results if you’re clear on the attributes you want to improve.

To do this, you need to start with the end in mind, and identify specific outcomes which can be measured over time. You need to begin with a baseline of data, so that you can identify progress and improvement over time.

© 2016 Lisa M. Aldisert

Why You Can’t Rely on Telepathy

Something that amuses me is how people think that they communicate well with their staff, when in reality they are the epitome of ambiguity. You can’t expect your people to know what you left unsaid, especially any chatter going on in your head.

People struggle with communication issues constantly. Even when you do it well, sometimes you need to repeat it, say it differently, or ask them to repeat it back in their words so that you know that you’re on the same page.

It isn’t that the entire world suffers from ADHD (even though sometimes it might seem that way); the basic ways that we read, write, speak and listen have changed.

For example, like many people, you probably spend a lot of time in front of screens – computer, tablet, smart phone – as you’re doing right now. People don’t read on screen; they scan. And simply put, you don’t get the same comprehension from scanning.

And when you’re scanning, myriad other distractions enter the picture: interruptions from co-workers, phone calls, texts, instant messages. No wonder concentration suffers!

And that brings us back to the main point, which is to be critically mindful of how people receive your message – especially in this interference-laden world. Whether you’re talking or typing – even if you think you couldn’t be clearer – don’t deduce that people heard you the way that you intended and expected.

When you presume that people know what’s on your mind, you’re basically “managing by telepathy”.

This is rarely intentional. After all, you don’t sit in your office and think about how you can avoid communicating effectively. But you can get swept up in the busy-ness of your day and simply think that you said something, when it never left your mind.

Executives who complain about communication challenges are often guilty of weak communication skills themselves. When I drill down about exactly how they communicate, it doesn’t take too long before discovering that they “forget” to mention specific directives or details.

One way to keep your thoughts organized is to keep running lists for the various individuals or groups that you address on a regular basis. As an example, you can keep a running list for staff meetings, for key managers, or for specific projects. Then when you meet with them, you’re not relying on memory or leaving a string of emails after the fact.

It doesn’t matter which method you use to manage these lists; what is important is to use something that works for you. You can use a notebook, the tasks function in Outlook, or any number of software packages or apps, such as Evernote.

I know this may seem glaringly obvious, but you know that the little things make a big difference when it comes to communication.

I recommend that you not only try keeping person-specific running lists, but to observe how your communication improves as a result. At a minimum, your people will be relieved from trying to read your mind (and you’ll be relieved to not rely on your memory).

After all, much as you might want to, you can’t rely on communicating telepathically!

© 2016 Lisa M. Aldisert

What’s Your Organization System?

A perennial topic with my clients is staying organized. It seems like people are consumed by this subject, largely because staying organized is an ongoing key challenge in this information-flooded environment that we live and work in.

What makes this even more challenging is that so many different systems, software and apps seem to shout “try me!” Technology is great, but it’s so easy to get bogged down into things that aren’t relevant for what you actually do in your work.

It truly doesn’t matter what system you use as long as you have one and use it consistently. I know people who still collect business cards in shoe boxes and others who have the discipline to scan them on the day they receive them. What works for you is what matters.

Having a system will help you develop the competency of planning and organizing, defined as using logical, systematic and orderly procedures to meet objectives. It will also help you with self-management, which is your ability to manage time and priorities. Having a functional system, then, can work towards the enhancement of two important competencies.

I’ve tried so many systems over the years that ultimately my solution was to pick the “best of” from various products and create a process that works best for me. I replicate this method with my system-less clients so that they can create and use what’s best for them.

Here are some of the key areas (by no means all of them) that your organization system ought to capture:

  • calendar system that you can access quickly and effectively so that you don’t commit to do too much in too little time.
  • A way to manage your contacts, so you can find their information when you need it.
  • What you need to follow up on, in what priority, with deadlines attached. This used to be called a “to do” list, but given today’s complexities, to do lists are somewhat obsolete.
  • A way to track what you’ve delegated, to whom, with deadlines attached.
  • A method for managing projects. These are different than your regular follow up items, especially if you are working with a team. The bottom line, though, is that you still need to know when, where and how your share of the projects fits in.
  • A list of “A” priorities (for example, related to your clients, your manager, your family) that you “must do” regardless of your other priorities.

Attaching dates to these different categories is a subtle, yet keenly important way to stay on top of what you need to do. Using dates creates discipline. You can always change a date, but when you don’t have one, you tend to forget about the task. Those items tend to drift off into the great unknown until you can’t remember why they were on the list in the first place.

I don’t recommend starting from scratch and changing what you do all at once. Change a few things at a time and try them on for size to see how they work for you. Once you have integrated them, then go ahead and make other changes. And, try to enjoy the journey, because the ride is likely to be a long one!

© 2016 Lisa M. Aldisert

Mutual Advocacy

I like to think that one of the great ways we can be of service to clients is to be their champion beyond the work that we’re hired to do for them. The degree to which we advocate for them directly aligns with our depth of understanding their businesses and our desire and willingness to go the extra mile.

How do you do this? One way is to refer them to new business opportunities. Aside from making a great introduction, your client will feel that you understand them in new and meaningful ways. And because so few people do this, you stand out as an advocate.

This also works when you refer vendors or suppliers and when you introduce prospective employees. By making an introduction to someone who fits well within their company culture, again, you’re reinforcing how you “get it” about their organizational dynamics.

Another way to advocate for clients is to showcase them through your media contacts. One of my clients, a construction management company, was interviewed by The New York Times for its work on a new corporate headquarters for a high profile retail company. In the interview, the CEO focused on their client, the retail company, which resulted in dazzling piece about this company’s new global headquarters.

Of course, my client was featured, but how smart he was to turn the focus to his client! They both benefited from the media coverage and the retail client was thrilled. Since then, they have done more work together and their relationship is stronger than ever.

When you wave the flag for your clients, your company may be on the receiving end of their advocacy as well. This doesn’t always happen – and you should never advocate for clients with quid pro quo as your end goal – but they may turn right around and refer you to the same sort of potential opportunities.

A client who advocates on your behalf can be like minting your own money. That said, there are important caveats to a relationship that moves to this level.

First, thank them promptly and keep them in the loop as you move forward with a new client they referred to you. They will appreciate the update to be sure, but this also demonstrates a level of respect for them.

Second, never coast or take short cuts with your referring client. If they are going to put their neck on the line by introducing you, you need to always be on your “A” game. The minute you slip, they’ll second guess their judgment of why they referred you.

Third, where possible, go the extra mile for the referring client. When you do this, you’ll reinforce that you value them, which will bolster their decision to advocate for you. People love feeling valued, so this is to your advantage.

As you can see, mutual advocacy has amazing potential. To get to this stage, think proactively on your clients’ behalf, always do more than they expect, and go above and beyond by providing information and resources that they will appreciate. This won’t always result in mutual advocacy, but it will position your company as a reliable and trustworthy partner in any case.

© 2016 Lisa M. Aldisert

Help! I’m Drowning in My Business….

Do you ever feel like you’re barely treading water? If so, take comfort in knowing that you’re not alone.

We hear all kinds of stories from our clients, and know that for every seemingly unique or complex or bizarre situation, there is yet another new one waiting around the corner. Here are some of the things that we have seen and heard:

  • “We have a great idea for new business, but don’t know when we can possibly do anything about it. I can’t work more than 19 hours a day.”
  • “My people accuse me of micro-managing. I just want to know what’s going on.”
  • “I promoted my best salesperson to sales manager, and all of our sales people are ready to kill him.”
  • “Everything has become so specialized and technical that’s it seems impossible to keep up with everything I need to know.”
  • “Our competition today is completely different than it was a couple of years ago. We’re afraid that we’re losing ground.”
  • “How can we increase sales today? There must be something that we can do now.”
  • “It’s time to add a higher level of professional to our management team. This will be a big investment and we have to do it right.”
  • “I haven’t had a vacation in years – it’s just impossible for me to get away.”

All businesses suffer growing pains. And this is a good thing (although it can be a pain to get through when you’re there). Think of it this way: if you don’t experience symptoms like these, then your business probably isn’t growing.

Managing a growing business requires you to change the way you look at the business strategy. Whether you nurtured the business from its infancy or you’re the first professional “hired gun” who is responsible for raising the bar, start looking at things differently.

Here are some issues that you need to address:

  • Does the business have a real vision and strategy, or is it growing based on whoever will buy your products or services?
  • Or, perhaps the original business strategy no longer makes sense. Have you taken time to think it through and, in effect, re-vision the business?
  • Are you hiring the right level of professional to do the best possible job at the level of standards that you want to uphold?
  • If you’re not hiring (or outsourcing) at the right level, do you know what’s holding you back?
  • Have you established relationships with financial partners who are committed to your growth?
  • Is your professional support team (attorneys, CPAs, insurance brokers, consultants) at the right level for your growth? (Hint: perhaps you’ve outgrown some of them.)
  • Are you falling into the trap of workaholic who can’t easily take a day off and replenish?
  • Are you spending too much time working in the business instead of on the business (and do you know the consequences of this)?

This list could go on, but you get the picture. If you’re not satisfied by the way you answered some of these questions, you need to determine your priorities and decide how you can have a fresh approach to your business strategy. 

Sometimes it’s hard to prioritize, but doing so will be infinitely better than being overwhelmed by your business. We provide a variety of solutions, based on your specific situation.

If we’ve touched a nerve (or two) and you’d like some advice, we’ll be happy to give you a complementary telephone consultation. Please contact us, and then let’s roll up our sleeves and see what needs to be done.

© 2016 Lisa M. Aldisert