A great sales culture is like a high-performing sports team. A great example is the US Women's Soccer team. It’s such a pleasure to watch them out on the pitch, working extremely well together. They are free, unencumbered. They play loose with an undercurrent of responsibility to bring their A-games every day to ensure the team has the best chance to win. Those qualities and characteristics are very similar to what I've seen in high-performing sales teams.
People and data analytics in general are very applicable to leading and managing sales organizations. With respect to decision-making, there's no question that the more data points you have for informing decisions, the better chance you have of getting those decisions right. And this applies to all levels of the sales organization. For example, when sales managers come to know what the attributes of a top performer are— the actions the performers take, the processes they use to close business and secure wins — they can bring that information into the hiring process. They have better chances of bringing top-performing individuals into the organization. Any time you are leading a team, using data to support decisions helps to bring the team along with you. Data doesn’t lie. It helps you win support for the direction in which you want to move.
With respect to managing high performers, it’s more about refining skills versus filling large gaps. You give them nuanced coaching and direction that they can build from because, typically, high performers are also very self-motivated and don't need a lot of nudging to get going. It’s more about giving them direction and fine-tuning the areas that can move them from being A players to A+ players. Average performers, however, need more time and attention to identify skills gaps that are holding them back from becoming next-level performers. You need to tailor desired outcomes and create specific plans to achieve them. This needs to be measurable so you can track progress, modify, and coach as needed to transform average performers into high performers.
I led the sales and services organization at Achievers — a recognition engagement company — where we acquired a tremendous amount of data around what motivates individuals. The data was crystal clear that public recognition is far superior in motivating people and making them feel rewarded for their work.
It comes down to basic human needs. It’s a common belief that salespeople are “coin-operated” but they really do react most positively to recognition amongst their peers for the work they do and the value they add. Recognition in addition to monetary rewards is the secret sauce. You need to have both. The best sales organizations recognize that. It takes energy and you need to develop specific programs for systematically recognizing people. It’s more than just giving someone a gift card or bonus. Great sales leaders invest time, resources, and energy to provide that balance.
When providing feedback, it is always helpful to give specific examples — the behaviors you’ve observed plus examples of model behaviors. You also need to explain why certain things are important. I often see managers early in their careers telling folks what to do without explaining why it’s important or what impact action is expected to have. I’ve learned from being a parent that explaining to my kids why I want them to do something really changes the conversation. I think it does for all of us. When you understand the potential impacts of an action or task, you’re more motivated to get it done. It’s a form of offering feedback that has worked very well for me.
(The interview was conducted during the second half of 2020. It has been edited for brevity and clarity.)
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