Have you ever been promoted to a sales leadership position and felt unprepared to handle the new challenge? Or perhaps you’ve seen star salespeople in your organization get promoted, and struggle with their new leadership roles.
While these individuals have a thorough understanding of sales, it takes a whole different set of skills to lead a sales team to success. The game suddenly changes from an individual, target-driven one to a team-driving effort.
If the transition isn’t well managed, what follows is a lose-lose situation for everyone involved. The sales department loses its top salesperson, and the company’s leadership team now has a leader whose skills might not be a good fit for their new responsibilities.
For the salesperson-turned-sales-leader, it’s frustration at every turn. They are used to closing deals and hitting success, and now suddenly, they find themselves unable to explain why their department isn’t meeting its targets.
This article serves two purposes: First, it will help you reflect on whether or not you have transitioned smoothly from your sales role to a sales leadership role. Secondly, as an owner or director of your organization, it will help you realize if anyone on your sales leadership team might need to work on their leadership skills.
The Real Problem
The truth is that the instincts that make a salesperson great can be, in many ways, crippling for a sales leader.
It’s no longer just aggressive target-chasing and keeping clients happy. Sales leaders need empathy. They need the skills it takes to support a whole team of individuals to go out and perform like they did.
Here are a few hazards to watch out for when it comes to salespeople who have worked their way to the top as sales leaders, and ways to overcome them:
They sometimes lack internal communication skills
These sales superstars might be great at externally-facing client conversations, but when it comes to talking to, coaching and developing their teams, they fall short.
They don’t spend the time nurturing their team, rarely make the time for one-on-one meetings to check on their team members’ performance and support them through their challenges.
Most meetings and conversations are more about numbers and targets, and less about the people that are meeting those numbers and targets.
They’re afraid to give up control
For many top salespeople, taking control is an instinct. These sales superstars are used to holding the reigns when it comes to sales conversations, and they often step in and take over a client conversation being lead by a team member.
While they are doing this in the best interest of the business, it demonstrates a lack of confidence in their team. This clips their wings – it prevents a team member from learning and growing as a professional.
All in all, this particular behavior can stir a few negative sentiments internally, and reflects poorly to clients, too.
Closing a sale is more important to them than long-term relationships
Many top salespeople approach targets, results, and performance on a 30-day cycle. For a sales leader, that short-sightedness could prove negative.
Some salespeople will go the extra mile and do what it takes to close a deal but fall short on delivering that same level of service after the sale has closed. This kind of DNA could lead to a sales team full of over-promisers and under-deliverers.
They’re reactive, but not necessarily proactive
Most successful salespeople, although they might be a part of a team, operate as solo powerhouses. They’re used to getting out there, firing up the conversation and closing a deal all by themselves.
They’re quick to respond to client requests, revise quotes, raise orders and get things done to move the sale process along. What they might not be good at is long-term strategic thinking. They might not be proactive leaders who see a problem long before it comes.
They’re motivated by results rather than a bigger purpose
While all good leaders will always have one eye on the target, they focus on ‘how’ just as much as they focus on ‘how much’.
A great salesperson is often driven by targets and numbers, and it might be difficult to switch this key motivator off and focus on team-building, motivating and helping the team stay in touch with the bigger purpose that their organization is serving.
As Simon Sinek says, people don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it. A good sales leader will always keep that ‘why’ fresh in their team’s minds, rather than just chasing numbers.
But don’t get us wrong, some of the world’s best sales leaders were once target-driven salespeople themselves.
These are just a few common pitfalls that many sales leaders fall into when they take over their sales leadership roles. The key lies in identifying these challenges and addressing them.
Here’s how you can help your star salesperson transition into a star sales leader:
Invest in their learning and development
Provide your sales leaders the right kind of coaching and training to develop and hone the skills they need to be good leaders. Provide them with the tools to share their wisdom, experience, and expertise to drive their team to success.
Give them time and attention
A new role with new responsibilities can be overwhelming. Guide them into it, have open conversations with them about their strengths and the challenges they are likely to face. Give them the time to adjust to the new hats they will be wearing.
Give them the room to grow into leaders
It’s crucial to give leaders the freedom to make changes in their department as they see fit. They shouldn’t feel pressured to prove themselves, and make drastic changes just because of that, nor should they be afraid to introduce new ideas. It’s all about maintaining a balance and giving them the room to take responsibility.
Providing sales leaders with these tools and support, in addition to their already-proven stellar sales acumen, could prove to be one of the most significant factors behind your sales team’s success.
Your turn now: Have you successfully transitioned into a star sales leader or watched someone in your organization make the switch? Share with us in the comment section below about the transition, and how you or they managed and overcame the challenges that came with it.