To an outsider, a sales job might seem like an individual sport: Each salesperson is responsible for their daily tasks, has personal goals, and is usually incentivized by commission.
Anyone who has worked in sales, however, understands that it’s a team sport. A successful sales team takes dedication and commitment from every player. If even one person isn’t pulling their weight, it becomes difficult or impossible to achieve team goals and beat last year’s numbers.
To optimize the team’s performance, sales leaders think like coaches. They may not carry whistles or clipboards, but they execute plays and provide personalized advice to help every salesperson shine.
No sales team wins every team. But if you want to take home the trophy, make sure you aren’t making these sales leadership mistakes:
1. Neglecting one-on-ones
Your sales team is only as strong as its weakest link. If you don’t realize that someone is struggling, the whole team’s performance is going to suffer.
Setting aside time to meet as often as needed with each of your salespeople can make a world of difference. Not only does this time bring you up to speed on what each rep has been working on, but it can also make them feel more appreciated and valued on the team.
Use this time to set goals, but don’t neglect the personal side of things. How are things at home? Is COVID-19 doing a number on their mental health? Is there anything you can do to help?
2. Assuming reps have the tools they need
It’s true: a lot of sales success boils down to each rep’s discipline, creativity, and personability. But especially as more business moves online, technology plays a major role as well.
When in doubt, ask your team: Are there any sales tools that could help them sell faster, better, or with less stress?
If so, encourage them to test the waters with a free trial. If the tool turns out to be valuable enough to buy, get a subscription for the whole team.
3. Stifling growth opportunities
You hired your salespeople because they’re the cream of the crop — ambitious people who are willing to work to succeed. Not only are employees of that caliber challenging to recruit, but they need more growth opportunities than run-of-the-mill workers.
Never discourage people from pursuing opportunities. If you’re about to add a managerial position to the team, encourage everyone to apply for it. Although only one person will get the job, other applicants will have grown simply by vying for it.
Reward everyone who reaches higher. If there’s an opportunity on the account side, give the candidates who weren’t chosen for the sales management role the first crack at it. Give the whole team credits for continuing education and development.
4. Failing to track progress
On a sales team, accountability is everything. If you’re not using metrics to track the sales team’s progress, you’re missing a huge opportunity.
Without metrics and performance evaluations in place, you simply can’t compare apples to apples. By tracking each individual’s progress, you can get a better sense of their strengths and areas for improvement.
As the team’s coach, you need those insights to help them grow. And if you aren’t seeing consistent growth, you can swap out salespeople who can’t cut the mustard with those who can.
5. Emphasizing lagging indicators over leading ones
Sometimes, sales leaders get too caught up in last quarter’s numbers that they lose sight of the future. While it’s easier said than done, avoid fixating on what’s in the rearview mirror. Not only can focusing on the past be discouraging to the team, but it’s impossible to change.
Instead, look ahead. Choose metrics that emphasize future performance, such as:
- The average amount of time your team spends converting a lead into an opportunity
- The number of meetings, emails, or calls required to create an opportunity out of a lead
- The proportion of leads that convert at each stage leading up to the proposal
- The proportion of qualified leads out of the total for the month or quarter
6. Managing with a sales mentality
Your success in sales is probably what landed you a leadership position in the first place. The trouble is, the traits that make for a star salesperson aren’t the same ones managers need to succeed.
You might be able to sell sand in a desert. But if you have to talk someone into taking a role, it might be best to heed their skepticism. A leader’s job is to put the right person in the right role, not to talk people into taking posts that aren’t right for them.
Know when to wear each hat. Sure, you may occasionally have to step in for a salesperson who’s out of the office. In those instances, go ahead: Haul out your sales skills. But when it comes time to lead, listening, being empathetic, and thinking strategically are far more important.
7. Treating your reports as friends
One of the toughest parts of sales leadership is managing your relationship with your direct reports. Chances are, your old teammates and friends now answer to you.
Be careful: You’re the team’s biggest cheerleader, but you’re also the person who has to hold people accountable when things go wrong. Don’t get so invested in your personal relationships that you can’t have hard conversations when mistakes are made.
It’s not just about discipline, either. If your salespeople see you treating some members of the team differently than others, they may question your impartiality or competence as a leader.
On the grid or at work, there’s no one-size-fits-all playbook for leading a sales team. Inspire, challenge, and reward your salespeople until you find a formula that works for the entire team. Avoid these mistakes, and while you won’t win every match, you’ll get doused with Gatorade more often than you might think.