Sales Leadership


Leading a sales team / fee earners

(Written by David Tovey)

Whether you have a team of full-time sales professionals or lead a team of fee earners in a professional practice, the skills needed to build a culture of sale or business development are those of a sales leader. Sales leadership is one of the hardest and most critical leadership roles in any organisation. Leading fee earners and professional sales people has sometimes been likened to herding cats; they tend to have firm views and strong personalities.

It does require commitment to the more formal aspects of the business development process by applying the Principled Selling Growth Model; but knowing the right processes, skills and behaviours isn’t enough. You also need to inspire others to apply them consistently and systematical

First learn Principled Selling

The first step on the road to inspiring your team to win more business through Principled Selling is to be totally familiar with the concepts yourself and to enshrine them in your own working practices. Use the resources on the Principled Selling website, download the Growth Model and the various templates available and learn how to use them. You will need to provide guidance and personal coaching to help the team and individuals adopt the practices that will result in improved sales performance.

The tools you download become your sales management tools. Just like an individual uses them to monitor their own business development activity you can use them to monitor your team’s activity. Get everyone using the same approach and life will become so much easier.

 Principled Selling Tip: Don’t launch Principled Selling as another initiative; involve your team in developing an approach that best suits your organisation

 If you don’t have any existing processes for managing business development and sales activity you can introduce the Principled Selling models and templates as tools to help you. Once you are familiar with them take care not to introduce them to the team in a Big Brother way. The main purpose of the models and templates is to drive the right activity and the right behaviours so they should be seen as an aid to the team not as another level of bureaucracy.

If your organisation already has systems, then use the Principled Selling Approach to review what you already have. You can then discard elements of the old system which were not working well and keep the best of the old system. There may be some need to adapt the best into the Principled Selling Approach, so this is a good opportunity to use the experience and knowledge of your top performers.

Inspiring the right behaviours

You don’t have to have the title Sales Manager to have the responsibilities of a Sales Leader. Just as selling is a part-time role for some, sales leadership can also be a part-time role that comes along with other leadership responsibilities.

Focus on the right team behaviours

 The best Principled Selling Sales Leaders coach their team in the behaviours that build trusted relationships with dream customers and clients. They frequently remind their team of the importance of long-term profitable relationships and how they result in sustained success for individuals and the organisation. While a competitive spirit has its place, more important is the pride that the best Principled Selling Sales Leaders instil in individuals towards the team and the organisation.

Every individual in your team has different motivations and aspirations. You can apply exactly the same questioning and listening skills you learned about in Chapter seven to demonstrate genuine interest and understand the individuals on your team.

Adapting leadership and coaching styles

Because everyone on their team is different, inspirational Principled Selling Sales Leaders adapt their approach to coaching and mentoring accordingly. Just because your team are all sales people or all engineers or all accountants doesn’t mean they can all be treated as one homogenous group motivated by the same things. Treat the individuals on your team as you would treat your best key accounts and apply the Principled Selling behaviours to your relationships with them.

Demonstrate enthusiasm and energy

The enthusiasm that a team or individuals have for Principled Selling and the energy they exert to apply it is directly correlated to the enthusiasm and energy displayed by their leaders. In high performing teams no one wants to let each other down and no one wants to let the team leader down. The buzz of success is maintained in both good times and challenging times.

Encourage cross team cooperation

 When people operate in silos or there are any barriers between functional teams it has a negative effect on customers and your ability to win business. Inspirational Principled Selling Sales Leaders take responsibility for building internal and external networks, using online and offline tools to build relationships.

It is not inevitable that there is a clash between marketing and sales, or production and sales, or technical support and sales. It is part of the Sales Leader’s job to set the best example of collaboration.

There are numerous teams and individuals that can help you and your team. The best way of eliciting that help is to reach out and see what value you and your team can add first and build trusted relationships.

Acting as a buffer

 I was once told that bad news travels downwards. In other words my boss passes down to me the message passed down to her by her boss and I then pass the same message down to my team and so on. Some managers call it cascading information. Sadly my experience is that the message is sometimes filtered or given a personal slant that doesn’t inspire those it is shared it with.

The best Sales Leaders act as a buffer between their team and the next level of leadership in the organisation. They take the objectives and goals passed down to them, prioritise them to balance short-term and long-term objectives and turn them into inspiring and compelling visions for their team; an action equivalent to writing an email from the future (chapter three).

They also represent their team to their next leadership level and demonstrate their pride in their team. They make sure that the voice of their team is heard and make sure any genuine concerns, as well as good news, are passed upwards.

Inspirational Principle Sales Leaders don’t see themselves as being stuck in the middle between two irreconcilable forces but as individuals who provide leadership in both directions.

Providing the right tools and systems

 Nothing is quite so frustrating to salespeople or fee earners than to find that the processes and systems used by the organisation interfere with rather than support their efforts. The Sales Leader has to provide the right tools and systems encouraging the next level of leadership and other teams to provide support as well. The right systems support Principled Selling behaviours and manage out the wrong behaviours.

Recognition and reward

People repeat what is recognised and rewarded. If reward systems encourage the right Principled Selling behaviours then those behaviours and the positive results they bring will follow.

You may not have the authority to implement reward changes at an organisational level but you can ensure any local recognition and reward encourages the behaviours needed to build long-term success for your team.

Be creative with any budget you might have for incentives, find ways to reward great customer service, recognise business development activity as well as actually winning business.

 Individual success is important, but not if it is achieved at the expense of sustained team success. When individuals are focused on external results like winning dream clients and giving great customer service so that customers buy and re-buy, individual performance morphs into team performance. 

Promote a ‘we’ not ‘I’ culture

When I facilitated the board meeting of a well-known Rugby team, I met and worked with one of England’s most successful rugby captains, Lawrence Dallaglio. I hope he learned something from me because I certainly learned lots from him. He inspires with almost every word and one thing he told me was that all he ever asked of a player is that they do what the number on their shirt asks of them and to do it exceptionally well. Anything else they can give to the team is a bonus. The team’s objective is clear, to win. How they do that is by everyone playing their part exceptionally well so that team success is assure.

Responsibilities of the Sales Leader

 Focus on targets

  • Coaching the team and individuals to use the Principled Selling Growth Model to identify what level of business development activity is needed. Setting clear and realistic sales performance targets for numbers of named prospects, specific contacts, M2M activity M2B meetings and Key Account Management action plans to secure and develop existing Key Accounts.
  • Sometimes setting targets that stretch the team and inspire achievement of the seemingly impossible.

Focus on measurement

  • Selecting a few activities to focus on that are most appropriate to the teams’ present strategy; i.e. focus on winning new business, securing existing business or creating new opportunities with existing clients.
  • Inspiring individuals to see personal success in the context of team success.

Provide support

  • Identifying the coaching and training requirements of individuals
  • Coaching the Principled Selling skills and behaviours to become ‘the way we do things here’
  • Identifying opportunities for top performers, developing the skills of middle performers and managing poor performers away from a sales role
  • Proactively developing and encouraging internal and external networks to build cross team cooperation based on how the team can help others to succeed
  • Delegating responsibility for leading presentation teams and Key Account teams to the best people for the job rather than doing it yourself
  • Avoiding taking over in client meetings and presentations
  • Debriefing and coaching post-E3 meetings and presentations
  • Praising and encouraging Principled Selling behaviours
  • Instilling a feeling of pride in the team and organisation
  • Dealing with any examples of bad sales practice swiftly and effectively to ensure no repeat.

Provide appropriate incentives and rewards

  • Recognising and rewarding Principled Selling behaviours as well as actual sales success
  • Rewarding best performers to encourage repeat behaviours
  • Setting expectations of success for middle performers
  • Linking rewards to customer service and customer feedback
  • Recognising and rewarding commitment to Key Account Management and willingness to develop opportunities for colleagues and the wider business.

Dealing with under-performance

 The two types of people sales leaders say they have most issues with are the people who moan and are consistent under-performers; they are often one and the same person.

A huge amount of time and resources can be spent focusing on poor performers at the expense of time committed to middle and top performers. However there is often no strategy for dealing with either behaviour.

If you have invested in helping people to be Principled Sellers, providing coaching, mentoring, training and encouragement, then your strategy will have to be to manage them away from a sales role.

Principled Selling Tip: When considering moving poor performers into a different role or even outside the organisation, always involve HR specialists so that you do things constructively and legally.

You and your organisation simply can’t afford to spend time with individuals not cut out for building trusted relationships and winning business.