Principal of Global Sales Mentor and VP of Pharmajet. Zach has sold in 135+ countries over 30 years, building 9 sales teams in the process.
As sales leaders, our job is to get the best possible results from our sales teams. We recruit the best people we can, we train them, we coach them and then we lead them and support them. This is all in the interest of sales results and growth.
Like all coaches, if we are good, we are trying to find salespeople who are stronger and better than we are. Many sales leaders have a history of excellent or exceptional work as individual contributors, and that is how they were promoted into sales leadership. In reality, we will always be dealing with salespeople who have strengths and weaknesses, and our job is to get the best results from them. As often as a sales leader will have people who are stronger than they are when it comes to some traits, they will have people who are weaker than they are with other traits. It’s our job to do what it takes to get the most out of them either way. While this often means training and coaching them to improve, often it also means just understanding their personality and giving them the proper emotional support that they need. A key first step to this is to do a personality profile of yourself and your team members so that you are aware of their personality strengths and weaknesses.
I reached sales leadership by being an extremely successful individual contributor over two decades. While obviously I have my weaknesses, two of my strengths in terms of psych profile testing are resilience and an extremely low need for external validation. I don’t need my customers to like me. The latter trait happens to be extremely rare among top-performing sales contributors I’ve worked with.
No sales process, no product and no contributor closes every time. The nature of the game is that we will always have some that get away. A top-performing sales contributor with a high need for external validation can take a loss very hard. In some ways this is a good thing — it pushes them to avoid failure in the future. It can also wreak havoc on the organization if it is too extreme. I had an extremely productive and experienced regional sales manager working under me once who would collapse when he lost a big deal. He would literally go to bed for a week and not communicate with anybody. He had a very high need for external validation coupled with low resilience. While I didn’t identify with these issues, they were very real and they impacted his emotional state in a very real way, essentially rendering him inoperative for a few weeks out of the year. As I expected $10 million in revenue from him annually, three weeks of being out of action could represent $750,000 in lost revenue. I did some research on this. Many excellent salespeople who have natural low resilience and a high need for external validation have found tools that help them cope with the inevitable losses that come in sales. I found a good suggestion: Reach out to talk on the phone with two customers who value you and the service you provide just to chat. Don’t reach out to try to sell them something: Just chat and bask in the positive relationship. This conversation gives you a strong dose of external validation and can help get a salesperson who is down back in the saddle more quickly.
While this is one example of a tool that a sales leader can use to support the emotional needs of his team, what I learned from this was that I needed to have a range of similar tools to address issues that could come up with reports. Working with my own psych profile report, I put together a “shopping list” of areas where I might not have needed support but where it was likely that my team would need emotional support in the future. I also formalized some of the things that I had done myself over the years to bolster my own weaknesses. The result was a playbook of tools that I could use to help give emotional support to salespeople, depending on their personality and their specific emotional needs.
One of the biggest weaknesses that strong sales contributors have when they move up into leadership positions is a lack of understanding of their teams’ weaknesses. It’s ironic because these same leaders typically had an excellent grasp of the strengths and weaknesses of their customers over the years and probably would consider their ability to read and adapt to people one of their greatest strengths. But when we are looking at our team and not our customers, sometimes that clear vision becomes clouded by our judgment. Every sales leader should have a toolkit to help them support and bolster all the weaknesses that might show up in their team, regardless of what their own strengths and weaknesses are.
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