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The Sales Leader

Saturday morning and I'm focused on investing my time this weekend on my consulting practice, M. Allen. One of the key reflection points or questions faced this week from my prospects were related to: "what makes a good sales leader?"

I touched on several key points and will share those in this post. However, believe it's just as important to discuss "what not to do" as a sales manager. Some of these are as follows:

  • Only doing a weekly pipeline review meeting with the team. Your job is more than going through every week the same routine and not drilling into competitive market intelligence, nurturing training and coaching, covering the specific set plays and actions to advance the opportunities, sharing wins and what is working, and looking at how you can specifically help advance the opportunities with your team. By the way, if your company has a CRM, not utilizing and enforcing a key set of principles for the team is a big mistake. Just one of the reasons you might be missing forecasts?

  • Not holding consistent scheduled one on one coaching sessions with the team. Structured with an agenda and a set of proven tools/methods to motivate and optimize performance of the team member.

  • Not building a bench of A players. Seriously, new manager coming in should quickly line up and bring on strong new talent as soon as possible. Make your mark and set a true example of the talent expectations.

  • No documented and data/objective driven sales, marketing and revenue operations strategy. What's worse is not having one that is formulated with key company leaders and your team's input. Should be measured and reviewed on a consistent basis.

  • Finally, acting a "buddy" versus acting as a "manager." Watch your actions and your words. Coach, manage, lead and develop your talent. Your staff has friends, they need more of these actions than someone who does not know how to manage through conflicts within the company, etc.

So let's switch over to some best practices and trends for sales leaders.

Start your week with these questions.....

There are 10 critical questions you should ask your team to find out exactly what their plan is for the week. Reps get lost in non-revenue-bearing activities, and these 10 questions will absolutely cause them to think differently about their week ahead. Additionally, they provide you another lever to set expectations and hold your reps accountable this week. You can see the 10 Questions to Start Your Week here:

  1. What live opportunities in your pipeline can you move forward this week? What actions will you need to take to move those opportunities forward? What commitments will you dream client need to make? What value do you have to create to gain their commitments?

  2. How much time are you going to spend prospecting for new opportunities this week? When are you going to do your prospecting work? What time are you going to block on your calendar for opportunity creation? Another point here, CRM should reflect the activity.

  3. Which of your dream clients need nurtured this week? What ideas are you going to feed your dream clients? How are they going to use those ideas? How will what you send them distinguish you as someone with valuable ideas?

  4. What commitments have you made in the past that you need to keep this week? Who do you owe a phone call? Who do you owe information? What did you promise to do on someone else’s behalf? When are you going to keep those commitments?

  5. Who do you need to thank? Do you have prospects who you need to mail a thank-you card? Do you have clients who are long overdue for a show of gratitude? Who on your internal team—your personal, private, professional services firm—do you owe lunch for delivering on all of the promises you make to your clients?

  6. Who are you going to help? Who needs your help? What are you going to do to help them? How are you going to pay forward what has been paid forward to you?

  7. How are you going to improve yourself? What are you going to read and study to improve your business acumen? What are you going to read to make you a well-rounded, educated person? What are you going to do to ensure you have the energy you need to generate the outcomes you want?

  8. What lessons have you learned over the past few weeks that you can apply to your work? What ideas have you read or discussed but haven’t yet put into practice? What do you need to do to turn that knowledge into results?

  9. What is the one outcome you need to achieve this week that will move you closer to reaching your biggest goal? Why is this goal so important to you? What is the price you will pay for not achieving this goal? What is the reward for reaching it? Have you blocked time to take the actions you need to get that outcome?

  10. Who do you have to be? What kind of person do you need to be to achieve everything you want to achieve this week?

Leverage these on a weekly basis with your team and guarantee you'll see a lift in your team's personal and professional growth.

There are only two ways to acquire the talent you need in any role, including a sales role. The first way is to buy the talent you need, paying more for their knowledge, their competency, and their experience. The second way to acquire the talent is to develop it yourself, something that may cost less money but demands more of your time, effort, and energy.

The reason so many revenue growth leaders are disappointed when they hire a salesperson for their experience, only to watch them fail, is because they rely too heavily on experience alone. While there is nothing wrong with buying talent, experience isn’t often enough to ensure a salesperson’s success in a new role.


Far too many salespeople have never been trained, coached, or developed, so you can’t assume that a jam-packed resume proves that they already have the competencies they need to succeed in B2B sales. Odds are they’ve received no real development or other professional investment, and all of the experience was gained by figuring things out on their own.

One of the worst mistakes you can make as a sales leader or manager is to hire a person because you believe it will make your job easier. Every role will benefit from a development plan that increases the sales force’s competencies in their chosen field, regardless of how long any given rep has been selling.

Not Effectively Led

You also can’t assume that the experienced salesperson you hire will have experienced good leadership or the accountability necessary to be successful in sales. Because salespeople are provided more autonomy than most other roles in business, they also need better leadership. Leaders who believe they can buy talent often do so because they mistakenly believe that all people are motivated by money, a belief that causes them to abdicate their responsibility to lead them. I learned that lesson the hard way!

Worse still is the idea that the promise of money can replace the need to create and sustain a culture of accountability. No matter how talented your new recruit is, you must still hold them accountable and impose the disciplines necessary for them to succeed in sales, things like creating new opportunities by prospecting and planning to use their time to good effect.

Recently, I asked a sales leader to share with me what motivated one of their salespeople and any information they had about that salesperson’s upbringing. The leader was unable to answer either question, knowing very little about them personally. If you want your sales force to produce the best results, you need to care about them and their success. A great leader will see something in their employees that they cannot yet see themselves, raising the standard and causing each individual to become something more than they are now.

Not All Credit Transfers

Not all sales roles require the same approach, the same conversations, or the same skills to meet the same challenges, simply because not every client needs the same kind of help.

A salesperson who is exceptionally effective in a transactional sale may have skills and competencies that don’t port over to a more strategic, long decision-cycle sale, one with real negative consequences for a client who makes a poor decision. The approach that works in one sale might cause a different type of sale to crash and burn.

Different types of sales can also call for different sales conversations. More complex challenges tend to require more strategic conversations: conversations that require the salesperson to provide insights that cause the client to recognize the true nature of their challenge, a well as the new potential decision that they lacked before they engaged with the salesperson. A simpler sale may find salespeople with clients who are experienced, recognize their challenge, and don’t need anything more than a better partner with a better solution.

Because different sales conversations require different skills, time in a sales role may not be as important as other factors, like the candidate’s character traits, their competencies, their attitude, and dozens of other factors worth exploring.

The Value of Building Your Own

Not only is building the talent you need a more reliable method in general, but it lets you foreground the skills needed to serve your prospective clients, creating and winning opportunities because decision-makers and decision-shapers come to prefer to buy from them. Even a salesperson with years in their role will benefit from continuous development.

In every human endeavor, you will find individuals and teams who continually develop over time to master their craft. The craft that is professional sales is no different. In an age of constant, accelerating, disruptive change, the most important thing for those who want success is to learn, unlearn, and learn again.

Here’s the bottom line: building your talent ensures that you field a team of value creators who can do the work necessary to help your prospective clients through an increasingly valuable sales conversation, the single tool you have to work with to create the results you need. A better salesperson that provides a better sales conversation will put up better results than one who lacks the character traits and skills necessary to win the client’s business.

There is no better approach to improving your sales results than developing your sales force. Leaders who complain about disappointing hires would do better to build the sales talent they need instead.

  • When buying talent, don’t overvalue experience. Dig deeper.

  • Start building talent by identifying the competencies necessary to create value for your prospective clients.

  • Ensure that your team can create and win deals through continuous development, including training and coaching.

Some of our relevant and related insights for you and your team are below:

Latest brief on managing in crisis below. Let's grow. Have a great weekend and week ahead.

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About Matt:

Analytical talents, passionate leader of teams, and record of generating 2x growth

  • Superior interpersonal skills, solid P&L experience, and a visionary mindset to drive dramatic, 30%+ YoY profit and revenue growth.

  • Over $600 million of revenue managed with $180M in new revenue won & win ratios > 33%. Largest deal won was over $33M in annual revenue.

  • Thrives in a wide range of environments - from startups to multibillion-dollar market leaders. Global brands employed with include: JP Morgan Chase, H&R Block & Firstsource.

  • US Military Combat Veteran with commendations (Petty Officer/Crypto Tech Operator in US Navy). Awarded Blue Jacket Sailor of the Year.

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