The definition of leadership is complex and widely contended: ask a different expert and you’ll get a different answer.
Let’s just say for our purposes that leadership means guiding others to get results. It is the act of determining a direction and course of action that leads to extraordinary results. It requires varying degrees of many skills, including self-discipline, optimism, initiative, resourcefulness, pigheaded determination, empathy and emotional intelligence, communication, influence, and negotiation.
Got all that?! Don’t worry, this Ultimate Guide to Sales Leadership will help you digest it all.
The first publisher who asked for my first book, The Only Sales Guide You’ll Ever Need, hated the very first chapter because it was about self-discipline He said, “Why would you start a book with a chapter on self-discipline. Everybody hates that.” This is not exactly what you hope to hear about your work, let alone from a person who asked you for the book.
Selling Exposes Character
I patiently explained two ideas to this acquisition editor. First, I explained that the things that I called “Mindset” get exposed more in sales than in other endeavors. I went on to explain how things that show a lack of character get amplified, and when one is deficient in these traits, they tend to fare poorly in sales.
I went on to explain that if a person is unable to keep the commitments they make to themselves, then much of what comes after self-discipline is of little or no use to them. If someone can’t will themselves to prospect or follow-up or keep their commitments, how can they succeed?
The Enabling Character Trait
My belief that the ability to will oneself to take action is still the first among disciplines has only grown stronger over the last couple of years. More and more, the gap between a salesperson’s results and their goals is not made up some deficit of skill. Instead, it’s a deficit of will–coupled with an absence of accountability.
With few exceptions, we each know what we need to do to produce the results we want. When we don’t, that knowledge is available with a few keystrokes or a phone call. There is no lacking when it comes to discovering the recipe. What is more difficult, however, is following the recipe. For most of us, the largest obstacle between our current results and the results we seek stares back at us in our mirror each morning.
Optimism is a philosophy. It’s the belief that things will work out for the best, regardless of how the situation looks today. Optimism is a personal choice to view things positively. It’s your attitude. It’s personal. And it’s a choice. Optimism is a foundational success skill for sales people.
Imagine a job in which part of the way that you create value is by acquiring new customers. Imagine a job where your role is creating value for these prospective customers by providing them with your company’s products or services, helping them with their problems and challenges, and helping to make massive improvements that make them more competitive in their space. Imagine leading and managing that value creation process.
That sounds like an awesome job, and we call it B2B sales!
Would you pick up the phone and dial the next prospect if you believed it wouldn’t make a difference? Would you again (and again) call the prospect that has already told you no so many times that you have lost count?
A salesperson has to believe.
Optimism is what allows you to continue. It allows you to believe that you can make a difference. It underscores your belief that the next call will be the call that moves the chains. It allows you to believe that-eventually-something will change for the prospective client and that change will result in your gaining an opportunity. It allows you to believe that you can create enough value to change your dream client’s mind.
Optimism allows you to draw on your resourcefulness to overcome obstacles and roadblocks, instead of deciding not to try.
Initiative is the ability to take action proactively. It’s the opposite of being reactive. It is good and necessary that you do what you are asked to do, and it is good that you do what is expected of you. You need to do those things to be successful, too. But what separates the most successful from the rest of the pack is their ability to take initiative and do what needs to be done before anyone else recognizes it needs to be done.
The lack of initiative results in the salesperson failing to identify and act on ideas that have the potential to create more value for the client than was expected or bargained for. It results in missing the chance to do more than is expected and creating something wonderful.
Initiative is perhaps the greatest demonstration of a willingness to own the outcome of whatever endeavor it is that you are engaged in.
Resourcefulness is the ability to find a way to achieve your goal or to make one. This is especially true when the goal is difficult to achieve and when little or no direction is given. Resourcefulness is the ability to think creatively, to generate ideas, and to identify alternatives. Resourcefulness is also imagination, the ability to visualize how something could be achieved when there is nothing there but the vision.
To be resourceful takes self-discipline and iron will. Self-discipline enables the belief that there is a way to achieve the outcome. And it takes an iron will to ignore the naysayers, the devil’s advocates, and those who simply lack resourcefulness themselves and so have no interest in seeing you succeed.
Great salespeople use their resourcefulness to find ways into prospects that others fail to uncover. Once inside, they work with their prospects to generate ideas that create a vision of how a problem may be solved or a competitive advantage might be gained–for them and for their prospect.
They imagine a way. Then they help create that way.
Determination is the act of deciding on a desired outcome and taking action to achieve it. It is being resolute in purpose and persevering until you achieve your desired outcome.
Determination allows one person to continue in their pursuit of an idea or a goal for as long as it takes for that goal to be achieved. It provides those who possess it with the ability to continue to chase a dream, even when all of the evidence indicates that it cannot or will not be realized.
Determination is an essential attribute of great salespeople, allowing them to succeed where others fail. It provides the salesperson with an immunity to the word “no” and allows the professional salesperson to persist in their efforts to acquire new clients and to succeed in delivering the outcomes they have promised.
Empathy and Emotional Intelligence
Empathy is the ability to feel what the other person is feeling and emotional intelligence is the ability to manage your own emotions, as well as the emotions of others. Together they are the foundation of trust.
Empathy allows a salesperson to understand deeply what their prospect is feeling. It is the patient exploration of the other’s person’s thoughts, feelings, and emotions. In part, it allows them to create a connection with their prospect and customers.
Emotional Intelligence solidifies that connection. While empathy allows the salesperson to understand what the prospect or customers is feeling, emotional intelligence is what allows them to communicate that they understand those feelings and their implications.
Together these abilities allow the salesperson to understand the other person’s communication in not only their words, but also in what lies beneath their words. Working to understand another person’s thoughts, their feelings, and emotions, and communicating with emotional intelligence, are the foundations of building trust.
Communication is the transfer of information. In the past, sales and marketing people believed that communication was the act of conveying their ideas to their prospective buyers and clients. Some sales and marketing professionals still do.
But the one-way communication of ideas is not communication. Communication is a two-way exchange of information. As one party conveys information, the other party gives feedback that is used to ensure that the meaning is conveyed and understood.
Communication skills begin with the ability to listen well. Great salespeople are curious. They have hundreds of questions they would like answered, and they usually have more questions than they can comfortably ask during a single meeting with a prospect or a client. The quality of these questions is a form of communication in and of itself; it communicates the desire to understand.
Influence is the ability to persuade others to act differently, to behave differently, or to believe something.
Great salespeople have an enormous capacity to influence and persuade others. But it isn’t a tactical influence. Their ability to influence others is the natural outgrowth of the other foundational attributes.
Great salespeople are able to influence others because they are first able to influence and persuade themselves. Someone who is unable or unwilling to keep the commitments they make to themselves doesn’t easily persuade others. Influencing others begins with keeping your commitments.
Great salespeople influence others by their ability to ask effective questions. They ask questions that demonstrate their ability to understand the challenges, the problems, and the opportunities. The nature of these questions demonstrates that they have the expertise to be trusted, as well as their desire to truly understand.
Negotiation is the art of the deal. Negotiation is an event, or series of events, designed to produce an agreement of how best to proceed. These events are dialogues to consider all of the various interests and to create a consensus on an agreement that is most advantageous for all stakeholders.
But, let’s be honest. Not all who negotiate do so with the intention of maximizing the value created for all interested parties. Some negotiate only for their own individual advantage.
Salespeople spend much of their time negotiating outside of negotiating final agreements. Final agreements are the events around contracts and the legal documentation that take place before they move forward with their solution. Before this final agreement, a salesperson has negotiated dozens of prior agreements. Professional salespeople negotiate for agreements to proceed throughout the sales process; they negotiate to advance the sale at every stage.
They negotiate for the first agreements that result in their gaining access to the individuals who are involved in buying or using the product or service that they sell. They exchange the value that they potentially create during the exploration of issues for access to the individuals within the prospect organization. Negotiating for time is a challenging negotiation; it is a commodity in short supply.
As the salesperson learns about their client’s business, they negotiate each advance, including access to additional individuals within the buying team and access to the information they need to help create a solution.
Successful salespeople negotiate agreements within and between the departments or divisions of their client companies, ensuring that the implementation and the execution of their product or service creates the maximum value for all stakeholders without damaging something upstream or downstream.
Successful salespeople negotiate agreements within their own company for changes to their offering, resulting in modifications that create value for their individual clients.
When the ability to negotiate is missing, the salesperson struggles to advance the sale from stage to stage. They struggle to gain the initial access to individuals within their prospect’s company, often because they fail to deliver anything of value in exchange for time. When they are fortunate enough to get face time with their prospects, they fail to negotiate next actions.
When the ability to negotiate is missing, salespeople fail to negotiate within their own company. They fail to sell the modifications, the changes, and the exceptions their prospect needs from their own organization. This results in their not being able to create the value necessary to win the deal.
Great salespeople have the ability to navigate a variety of negotiations, with both sides trusting that they can create a win-win agreement.
When leadership is missing, the salesperson cannot guide his team, or his prospect’s team to achieve the end result that he sold. Great leadership involves a winning combination of all of these skills and the ability to achieve results.