My professional life as a Sales Manager had been all smooth until one evening when my seniors decided to take a leap of faith in me and ask me to manage sales team at Work Better. To give you a background, I have been an “exceeds expectations” performer in both Sales and Client Servicing, mostly achieving my targets and my customers singing praises of my commitment towards them. However, this responsibility that came to me was huge and I was very nervous, to say the least. My first feeling was that two unachievable tasks had been bestowed upon my young shoulders – one, to ensure I meet my own targets and second, to get the team to achieve theirs. I felt like a non-swimmer who’s been thrown into the ocean without a float. Either you learn to swim or you drown!
However, keeping all the initial trepidation aside, I took up this challenge because I knew this was going to be my chance at immense development in what was until now uncharted territory for me as well as the opportunity to prove my mettle as a leader. The first few months weren’t easy and I found myself stumbling all along the way. I don’t claim to have gotten it all right, but have certainly learnt the essentials of Sales, Leadership, Team Management, Time Management, et al.
Encourage an open, transparent and honest culture
Research states that sales personnel are the ones who usually tend to find excuses, camouflage details and try to hide their failures under the garb of difficult clients. This generally stems from the fact that sales leaders play the role of the devil’s advocate reincarnate and scrutinize even the most minuscule detail when it comes to their subordinates. As long as you are approachable and empathetic as a leader, your team will never have to lie to you about anything and will proactively come to you in case of any concerns or errors.
Make numbers your best friend
Sales is all about getting your numbers right – be it for setting targets, deciding on incentives related to them, doing a comparative analysis of past and present data correctly, etc. I, myself in particular was extremely poor at this, not knowing what to do with all the data given to me. However, taking one step at a time helped me immensely, starting by breaking down the figures, team member wise and periodically, i.e. daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly and annually. Having an analytical bent of mind is always an added advantage for this profile, but my experience says that there is hope for amateurs like me as well, as long as one is focused.
Periodic reviews with the team
While it’s imperative for a leader to understand and analyse numbers, it’s equally important to discuss and sensitize the team about it. Conducting regular reviews is immensely useful to get a clear picture of the progress of individuals and the team, and also to keep a track of what is in the pipeline. Remember that you must focus on both quantitative as well as qualitative discussions with the team. While numbers remain the focus, softer elements like pitching, building rapport with the client, negotiating well, and other elements of the sales cycle also need to be worked upon to achieve results.
Planning your time well
Being a first time leader can drain a lot of your time and energy since it is no longer your work only that needs your time; you need to devote time to your subordinates too. It is advisable to keep separate blocks of time reserved for individual and team discussions, and for your own tasks. If you fail to do so, your time will unknowingly be consumed by unimportant and irrelevant work, which in turn can lead to unnecessary stress.
Related: 4 Ways to Effectively Manage Time
Know what motivates your people
Time and again, global management gurus have emphasized on the fact that different people have different motivators. If you have a discussion with your team, each will have a different story to tell. Money, challenging work, career progression are some of the common motivators for professionals. As a leader when you learn what motivates whom, your approach and conversations with your team should also move on those lines. It will help you get the most out of your team. This somewhere also boils down to the kind of people you bring on board. Sales as a profession needs a special zeal, passion and attitude to feel motivated daily; hence special care needs to be taken to hire people who are like you and who have that fire in them.
Celebrate the small wins
The biggest mistake a sales leader can make is to wait for the team to achieve their final target and not appreciate the daily smaller goals they meet, and struggles they overcome. I have learnt that once a monthly goal is achieved, a quick huddle applauding the team’s efforts goes a long way in keeping the wheel rolling. As is rightly said, “Praise while sweat is still on the brow!”
Some of the leaders I look up to are those who have inspired me in my career. Till you don’t strike a genuine chord with your team, no amount of reviews and trainings will make them excel. Sales is not for the faint-hearted. Until your attitude is not confident like a tiger’s, all your efforts will come to naught.