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Sales leadership is the foundation for effective sales force management. But what is it really?

Define Sales leadership...You may as well ask what is love, or the meaning of life. A sales manager's leadership is such an intangible, and the attributes of effective leaders are subjective. It is also relative. A judge once said, “I can’t define pornography, but I know it when I see it.” So it is true with leadership.

Like the judge, I cannot define good leadership, but I know it when I am following it.

I received my sales leadership training under enemy fire as part of Task Force Ranger during combat operations in Somalia. I lived to tell about it my book Corporate Infantry: Everything I know about corporate sales I learned in combat. A third of this book is devoted to those real-world leadership lessons I learned in combat, and are directly transferable to you in your sales leadership role.

The Golden Rule of Sales Leadership

At any level, anyone responsible for accomplishing a mission that involves other people, is a leader. Anyone who influences others, affects their thinking, or decision-making to motivate them into action, is a leader.

The golden rule of sales leadership, more important than any other, the single item that without it makes everything else ineffectual is that you must love subordinates.

Okay, now lets all hug.

To be a good leader, there has to be a paternalistic overtone. Good leaders love their subordinates. Despite their flaws, despite their mistakes, despite their shortcomings, despite everything, you have to love them. Just as a good father loves his children, so should a good leader love their subordinates.

Without his underlying core requirement of sales leadership, everything else a good leader has to do will be forced and fraudulent. If you are generally narcissistic and do not love others where they are in life, it will be tough for you to be a good leader.

You may be a great autocrat. You may even see some results. Yet, you will never get the best results possible. Your subordinates will only do the bare minimum to keep you appeased. Or worse yet, work against you to insure your demise.



Everything in sales leadership stems from this paternalistic love. When a sales manager has paternalistic love for their subordinates, it causes that sales manager to have ownership of them. Just like a father says, “That’s my boy,” you will say “that’s my sales team' those are my salespeople, that’s my crew.” Pride of ownership naturally stems from this paternalistic view.

I loved my sales staffs. They were some of the best salespeople I have ever met. They were professional, committed, and generally good people.

Sometimes they were assholes, like everyone. Some I did not even like. Despite all their faults, and at their lowest point, you just have to remember that at the very least, they volunteered to be in sales. How can you not love them for that!?

I did not like them all, but I did love them. This paternalistic love must be balanced, however.

Empathy versus Sympathy

You must make sure that you have empathy. Empathy, not sympathy. Have empathy all day long. It is when you start feeling sympathetic towards your subordinates that you can get into trouble.

Sympathy: Having pity for someone because of the position they are in.

Empathy: Having an understanding of the feelings that someone has because of the position they are in.

The difference is subtle. When you have sympathy for someone, you rationale there actions. Where in you have empathy for someone you understand their actions but withhold agreeing with or condoning those actions.

If you feel sorry (again, not empathy) for your sales staff or individuals you will start making excuses for them.

“Oh, he is such a party-boy. He didn’t get much sleep last night, that is why he blew the presentation for the rest of us."

“Oh, she been really trying hard, and she is so sweet. All her clients love her. I wonder why she hasn't closed a deal in three months?”

“Oh, he has a mean wife and two kids in college. He has been working really hard, but is in a dry spell. That’s why he stole that lead.”

Bullshit. They were wrong. The excuses you use to justify poor performance, actually brings the rest of your sales team down. Try to counsel the first two (because you have empathy) in order to bring about change. Get rid of the the lead thief. No excuses are available for his lame-ass.

Taking care of those that take care of you (and your paycheck)

Salespeople know if you love them as human beings or not. Not intrinsically, so to speak. But if you take care of your sales force, they will take care of you. If you love them for who they are, they know this and take care of you, and will follow you through hell while carrying buckets full of gasoline.

Once you realize and acknowledge this paternal love in sales leadership, the paternal responsibility comes. Just like a father taking care of his children, ensures they are fed, schooled, and given everything they need to success. So should a sales manager insure their sales force is fed (leads), receive training and schooling, and have what they need to be effective in the field.

Taking care of them means you are required to develop them personally and professionally. The best way to do this is to counsel them. Leaders counsel counsel their subordinates. And, since you are a in Sales leadership, so must you.

Train them on effective time management , so they can make more money and spend more time with their families.

Teach them that Sales is Simple, so they can close more deals.

Develop the proper sales and marketing plans based up marketing insights , so that they have some structure to what they do, and won't have to pound the pavement so hard.

Hire me to help you do all this in a timely manner using my trademarked CoachSulting Process.

Too many times as sales leaders we allow our subordinates to work themselves to death. It is like the Reverse Pony Express. Make them take vacations, and set the example by taking vacations yourself (see below about setting the example).

Sales leadership is the constant balance of "Quota First. Salespeople Always". When you ask a leader in the Army what is more important the Mission or the Men? They will answer, "Yes."

It is a delicate balance between meeting your quotas and killing your people to do it.

Lastly, invest in some Sales Force Multipliers to make your people more effective and increase their job satisfaction.

It is up to you, brother, to do these things to take care of your sales team. No one else is going to do it, or is more qualified to do it but you.

Lead by example and actions

Leaders lead by example and their actions. They lead by setting the example for others to follow. They never ask a subordinate to do something they themselves are not willing to do.

If you want them to look and dress sharp. Then you better look and dress sharp. If you want them to be on time for your sales meetings, then you better be on time for them when conducting your ride-alongs. You do those right?

If not, you have got to learn how to do some serious GOMA. Follow this link for an excerpt from the GOMA chapter in my book Corporate Infantry: Everything I know about corporate sales I learned in combat.

I could not imagine making subordinates come in on a Saturday to work, and me not being there. On the other hand, if my leader is pulling a 24-hour shift, how can I complain about doing it?

Your sales staff is a direct reflection upon your sales leadership. Before you can change them, you must set the example for them to follow.

You are just a proficient resource...

Leaders must be technically and tactically proficient. In most cases, you need to be the information, mentoring source in any number of areas. Here is the kicker. Ready? You do not need to be the expert; you just need to know how to find the expert.

To find an expert (me) for developing your sales leadership and for help in building a world-class sales team, Click Here .

You need to know how to find information; you need to know where to appropriate the tools of the trade; you need to know how to solve your subordinates' problems. Do you know why this is you all-important sales manager, you all too important regional sales manager, you omnipotent district manager, you Zeus-like CSO?

The answer is because all you are is simply a proficient resource for your subordinate.

All too many times, we become confused and think our subordinates are our resources. You have it backwards. You and your corporate staff should be nothing but a resource to help salespeople sell more.

You should not be asking your sales staff for reports so you can make pretty graphs. Shame on you! Instead, corporate should be giving you reports so that you can give your sales staff reports to help them sell.

Yet corporate leadership does exactly the opposite all the time. Corporate should be a resource, not a constant source of distraction from selling.

It always amazes me when corporate comes down and asks, "Hey guys, what is our competition doing out there?" I always respond in my head, "shouldn't you be telling us that?"

The people in corporate are trying to do their best. I understand they want this information to make the corporation better prepared. God bless them even for asking and thinking about what the competition is doing. I just cannot understand why it is a salesperson's job to provide the information.

It is time consuming, and a distraction from selling. Corporate should collect this information, and then have sales verify it. More often than not, it happens the other way around.

Do what you say you are going to do, even if it hurts

As a good leader, you have got to do what you say you are going to do. Your subordinates have got to believe you without question and your integrity must be unquestionable.

If someone from your sales team calls you up and you over-commit to them on a delivery date, you better deliver it on time. If some yahoo out in the field puts out an unprofitable quote, you have to do the same thing. You must deliver the product at the quote price.

Deal with the yahoo so that it doesn’t happen again, but deliver as promised.

Yeah, both instances are going to hurt. But, the reputation of you and your company depends upon it. The pain of a bad reputation will last a lot longer (and affect your bottom line more), than the pain of having to deliver at a loss.

Your sales team needs to know that they can trust your word, and know that you will back them. This will allow them to sell with confidence and certainty. When you have a sales team selling with certainty and confidence, their increased sales will erase the costs of any mistakes.

When in charge, take charge

Taking charge does not have to mean coming in and ball-busting. It does not mean you burrow down in the weeds, and have your hands in everything. It is tough to explain in tangibles what exactly taking charge in sales leadership is.

When you talk to experienced helicopter pilots, they will tell you that there is a definitive moment in their training when they stop going to just fly their helicopter, and they go out and strap the helicopter on.

Do you see and understand the subtle difference? Instead of you being a part of the helicopter in order to make it fly, the helicopter becomes and extension of you. Instead of sitting in the helicopter, you strap on the helicopter. The helicopter actually becomes an extension of the pilot's body.

That is what taking charge should feel like. You should not be in charge of your sales staff, office workers, or corporation. You need to take charge of them. Instead of becoming part of the organization you are in charge of, make that organization an extension of you. Strap on your people, or your team, or your corporation.

Take ownership of them and fly them. They want to be lead, and they need to be lead... Lead them with your sales leadership that you just received with this sales leadership training.

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