Coach K (Mike Krzyzewski) and the Duke Blue Devil basketball team are perennial winners. Same for Dabo Swinney at Clemson. And, love ‘em or hate ‘em, no one can deny Bill Belichick and the Patriots are winners.
One thing they (and many other legendary winning programs) have in common is: Winning teams have great leaders.
In his book, Sales Management Simplified, Mike Weinberg says the same is true for high performing sales teams: Sales success starts with leadership.
Part 1: The Failures
The book is divided into two parts: In part one, Weinberg lists sales leadership failures he’s seen.
You start reading part one chuckling to yourself about senior executives who are so self-un-aware that they don’t understand that their egregious behavior is undermining their sales teams.
For example, the “Big Ego Senior Executive ‘Sales Expert’” who is so obsessed with being the sales hero that they fail to create a team of sales heroes. Or, the visionary who chases the latest gimmick, adopting the innovative-sales-method du jour, thereby systematically destroying the team’s ability to execute the blocking and tackling of sales.
But a couple of chapters in, you recognize failures that sound familiar. And if you’re honest, you begin to realize some of the failures are the pitfalls that you have fallen into.
For example, spending less and less time one-on-one with your team in the field because you need to attend the executive committee meeting on budgets/operations/HR policy/assigning parking places.
If your sales team is underperforming, Weinberg advises looking in the mirror. Step up to your leadership role. Part one can be invaluable in pinning down the leadership problems to address.
Part 2: Winning Teams
Part two is your reward for having taken your medicine in part one.
In part two, Weinberg lays out a three-part framework for creating a high-performance sales team:
- Sales Culture: Produce a strong sales culture through great leadership.
- Talent Management: Put the right people in the right roles; retain the winners; coach-out the underperformers, and recruit more winners.
- Sales Process: Make sure salespeople know the blocking and tackling of selling. Give them the weapons they need, and coach them to use these tools to produce results.
Strong Sales Culture
Weinberg puts responsibility for leadership squarely on the shoulders of senior sales executives. He calls for a radical reallocation of the executive’s time from the pitfalls enumerated in Part One—like spending time on corporate or operations meetings and obsessing over CRM reports. Time should be spent with the salesforce out in the field.
Weinberg’s stories of rides with salespeople make you feel you are in the room observing the sales call, or in the car before and after the call, observing how Weinberg models world-class sales coaching.
Weinberg also recommends conducting monthly one-on-one meetings with each salesperson to review results, pipeline health, and only if needed, activities to produce results.
He recalls that when he was just starting out, his manager met with him each month. The agenda was: Sales results; Pipeline; And, only if results or pipeline were not achieving goals, Activities.
Weinberg says these meetings reinforced the maxim that describes a sales-culture: “You are not being paid to do sales work. You are being paid for results.”
Weinberg says companies too often classify “Salesperson” as a single job with a single set of required qualifications. Salesforce performance is enhanced by recognizing the different sales jobs that need to be done by people with very different skills. He brings this point home with the example that “hunters” are not “farmers” or, as Weinberg calls them, “zookeepers.”
Weinberg says that when he was a salesperson, he was a hunter who was so bad at customer service work that his company wisely had him hand-off accounts after he closed them to account managers who took terrific care of the customer and freed Weinberg to spend time pursuing the next new opportunity.
As a talent manager, define the role you need to have played and put the person with the right skills in the job. The sports coach analogy holds up here.
Retaining Your Winners
Retaining your winners starts with a compensation system that pays fairly for performance. Beyond that, learn what your top performers care about. Weinberg didn’t need to be put on the stage at the annual sales meeting to be praised. He liked it when senior executives asked him for advice and told him how central to the company’s success he was. Your guideline needs to be Different strokes for different folks. Find out what each of your top performers cares about and do the best you can to deliver.
Coach out the underperformers. Not acting on salespeople who, despite coaching and one-on-one meetings, are better at coming up with excuses than producing results harms your team. It steals time you could spend with the coachable. It demoralizes other salespeople. And it sends the message that you are not serious about results.
Finally, in talent management advice, Weinberg says, “ABR—Always Be Recruiting.” Develop referral sources. Hire the best talent when it becomes available.
Winning sales leaders make sure salespeople know the blocking and tackling of selling, giving them the weapons they need, and coaching them to use these tools to produce results.
One of the tools salespeople need to practice using is target selection—whom will I call on?
- Am I calling on my friends rather than the best opportunities?
- Are the accounts that enabled me to make quota for three years changing and moving on?
- The rule should be, “Fish where the fish are. Where are the fish in my sales pond?
Weinberg also reviews the blocking and tackling of sales: How do we prepare for a call? How do we execute the call listening 80% of the time while achieving our call objective? How do we move a sales opportunity forward?
And taking a section out of his first book, New Sales Simplified, what is our “sales story?”
It’s like being a winning sports coach. Weinberg cites Jim Harbaugh as an example for sales executives to emulate.
Jim Harbaugh Leadership Example
When Harbaugh took over a struggling University of Michigan football program, a reporter asked him when he would start winning. Harbaugh answered: “We are going to start winning at our first team meeting.” Harbaugh’s leadership expects excellence in every aspect of his team’s work.
Harbaugh’s leadership includes continuous recruiting. A great sports program has to attract the right people for each specialized job.
Harbaugh’s leadership also includes a structured process: Practice and preparation are the lifeblood of sports.
If your sales results aren’t measuring up, look in the mirror. Success starts with and flows from strong leadership: Always be recruiting. Create a sales-supportive culture. Put the right people in the right jobs. Design and execute a good sales process.
To go back to a sports analogy one more time: How many times have you watched the movie, Hoosiers?
It’s a story about underdogs and second chances—true. But it’s also an illustration of what leadership can achieve with “hand you have been dealt.”
Why not star in your own sales-results movie?