BTS Strategic Execution Blog

The Accidental Sales Leader

Monday, March 02, 2015 | Category :

By Philios Andreou, Executive Vice President at BTS

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How do you sell if you are not a salesperson? Even more difficult, how can you lead sales representatives, if you are not a true salesperson and sales leader? These questions may seem hypothetical, but in many industries around the world, sales are overseen by professionals who do not consider themselves to be salespeople—they have not been trained as salespeople and certainly their value or expertise is outside of sales. Let’s consider some of these situations:

  1. You are a talented manager, strong in operations, and thus, are promoted to a general manager role assuming leadership over an entire business unit. Sales begin to falter. You are ultimately in charge of the sales process, but at the same time, feel unsure of the levers that could and should be pulled. You have become what we call “the accidental sales leader”.
  2. You are a strong leader in a professional services firm—whether accounting, law, consulting, engineering or architecture—and suddenly, you are running a team that has a target. You have just become an “accidental sales leader” and need to find out how to best guide your people through the maze of sales to hit your number.

The accidental sales leader happens often within industries where ensuring client success can allow you to climb the ranks and even achieve individual revenue targets, without ever really understanding sales and sales management. It can also happen in situations where the size and type of the organization may not permit a separate sales department or structure.

Leading Sales, 5 Things You Should Consider

When this occurs, there are five things that need to be done to rapidly adapt to a new sales leadership position. While this list is not exhaustive, it can be a first approximation to the right questions and issues to be considering and acting on:

  1. Data is key: Know what’s going on. Deploy real-time systems for data collection and conversion. If you have no control of the activities and the pipeline, it will be difficult to act when needed—let alone help others improve the situation. This likely means not only installing a CRM and engaging sales people in training, but also coaching sales managers on how to run their business through the CRM. Otherwise, sales reps will recognize that they don’t actually need to input accurate and timely data. Assess performance and identify gaps continually.
  2. Ensure a systematic sales process: Analyzing the way past sales have closed and focusing on identifying what worked and what didn't creates a systematic approach to sales. A systematic sales process should be telling you and your people the "what’s" and the "how’s" of the sale, so you can be sure to focus on the right things.
  3. Maximize results by upscaling capabilities: Sales may seem like an art, but it is all about skills – listening skills, understanding skills, conceptualizing skills, communicating skills, trust building skills, etc. Educate your people on your sales process and what best-in-class looks like for your organization through training, shadowing and peer coaching.
  4. Create accountability: Assign clear goals both for end results (sales numbers) and for process measures (the steps that must be taken so that the sale occurs—
    meetings, proposals, etc). Use the goals and performance management tools to ensure people are focused on what needs to be done.
  5. Reward success in a clear way: Make sure that your compensation systems are aligned to the goals and the behaviors you want to drive. Don’t overcomplicate your compensation plan; keep it simple and direct. People need to be able to see what they get when they perform in the right way, and keep in mind, when it comes to their livelihoods, people will respond to incentives correctly.

Sales leadership is all about clarity and alignment – clarity on what needs to be done and alignment to the process, the systems, the capabilities and the compensation. If you are an accidental sales leader, just look at the list and ask yourself if the clarity is there and whether the alignment exists. If so, keep calm and carry on.

Salesperson as Navigator

For an in-depth look at other best practices, check out the BTS White Paper exploring how sales people must become navigators.
Download the White Paper

About the Author: Dr. Philios Andreou is a Global Partner at BTS and the Managing Director for the Other Markets business unit with offices in Southern Europe, Africa, Middle East, Asia, Australia and Latin America.

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