In many companies, leaders and managers are promoted to their roles because they have, or appear to have, the foundational characteristics of certain leadership traits. They are good communicators: they share the goals of the company, they listen to and understand their employees, and they don’t shy from the difficult conversations. The good ones are mentors, supporters, and advocates. They surround themselves with talent, and figure out effective ways to develop those staff who lag in performance. Promoting these types of leaders makes sense for many companies.
Unfortunately, in sales organizations, this situation doesn’t always exist. Typically, salespeople who are promoted to leadership roles are those who were the best at their trade: sales. They know how to close deals, and as individuals, they brought in the numbers. But the skills that make them good salespeople don’t translate to the same skills needed to be good leaders, and if they don’t change their mindset from that of “best closer” to “best talent developer,” they’re missing out on ways to build an entire team of sales closers for the company, because “coffee is for closers only” – Glengarry Glenn Ross.
To effectively lead a team, a person should not only know and support the goals of the organization but also be able to inspire others to be excited about the cause as well. As the main conduit for corporate information, the sales leader needs to be able to communicate effectively and adroitly, including, to an important degree, providing effective feedback. In most cases, this calls for the leader to know about each individual on their team, and understand the most effective way to get those people, as individuals, to perform at their best.
Feedback is one of the biggest components to a sales leader’s success in developing employees. In sales, employees know when they’ve failed—it’s very clear. So the feedback they receive should be tailored to supporting each individual’s needs and should address how that person can improve. The best feedback should be positive, about how the employee can close the sale on the next round. The best feedback comes in the form of good coaching.
Scott Edinger, a frequent contributor to Forbes as well as Harvard Business Review, notes “The best coaches work with their people to understand the current issues and jointly diagnose what is working and what is not as they develop an action plan to achieve sales objectives. They ask questions to help the seller frame the issues properly and provide constructive feedback regarding how to improve.” He notes that the best way for sales leaders to properly team with their sales force isn’t easy—it’s work that requires “intense focus and alignment coupled with the right kinds of conversations with representatives.”
In other words, newly promoted sales leaders can best lead their teams to success by learning and working at the skill of coaching. But once sales leaders learn to be effective coaches, the dividends should pay off.