By Sean O’Shaughnessey & Kevin Lawson
As B2B-focused businesses navigate the ever-changing landscape of a post-COVID economy, sales leaders must adopt and institute strategies to meet the demands of a business in growth or recovery mode.
While the goal for a sales organization may be to sustain the growth trajectory aligned with organizational goals, the year-over-year approach to achieving success can vary significantly. Sales leadership styles depend on the current situation, the starting point, and the existing team charged to accomplish the goal. Good sales leaders find a way to achieve the annual goal; great sales leaders find ways to achieve the goal and systemize the process to allow for repeatable growth, pivots, and rapid scale.
Growth Focused Leadership
Sales leaders focused on growth must proactively identify new market opportunities, verticals, geographies, platforms, or sales talent. They must invest in new sales channels and technologies, along with onboarding and training programs to support the growth of their sales teams and the acquisition of new client relationships.
When sales teams are in a breakout stage of growth, it can be challenging to gain the discipline to systems and alignment on processes and approaches due to the nature of managing client expectations on a wildly rising revenue outlook. This situation demands that all of the skills of a sales leader be applied consistently and strategically across the team and sales practices.
Seasoned leaders know that hiring for an increased workload and rapidly scaling teams can be tempting. However, this approach can often lead to problems down the line. Further, we must suppress the desire to hire quickly instead of exercising patience in finding the right candidate to continue to scale teams and culture appropriately. That patience means we must endure the short-term challenges of being under-resourced and under a great deal of pressure to keep performing as if we already had the resources on the team. Instead, it is essential to focus on finding the right candidate who will not only be able to handle the current workload but also contribute to your team’s culture and help your organization achieve long-term success. Take the time to vet candidates carefully and consider not only their skills and experience but also their values and how they fit into your team’s dynamic. By prioritizing quality over speed, you’ll set your team up for success in the long run.
Another important consideration when building a team is to prioritize scalability. It’s easy to get caught up in your organization’s immediate needs and hire for the present moment, but it’s crucial to think about how your team will grow and evolve. Look for candidates with the potential to take on new responsibilities and leadership roles as your organization expands. Consider investing in training and professional development programs to help your team members acquire new skills and stay up-to-date with the latest industry trends. By prioritizing scalability, you’ll be better equipped to adapt to changing business needs and continue to achieve success over the long term.
Discipline to proven systems is essential for leadership and having transparent KPIs and organizational goal communications. The rigor and discipline of a sales leader in a growth cycle are particularly demanding. One primary concern for leaders in this mode is talent loss due to competitive pressures to grab your resources for their growth. It would help if you had experience and discipline for these growth moments.
Growth-Focused Action Items:
1. Identify new markets: Sales leaders must be able to identify new markets, niches, or customer segments that their business can serve. They should be able to analyze market trends, competitive landscapes, and customer needs to develop effective sales strategies. Leaders need to coach and build their teams on creating differentiation strategies for each new space entered.
2. Invest in sales resources: Sales leaders and business owners should invest in sales enablement tools like technologies and training programs to support the growth of their sales teams. This effort may include hiring new sales representatives, implementing new sales processes or technologies, and providing ongoing training and development opportunities.
3. Build Strong Culture: Cultivating a strong sales culture that emphasizes teamwork, collaboration, and continuous improvement is paramount for growth. These cultures are hallmarked with high degrees of trust and camaraderie. They should encourage their sales teams to share best practices, provide feedback and support, and celebrate successes.
4. Coaching for Success: Sales training is a crucial part of any organization’s growth strategy. However, it’s important to remember that training is just the first step in the process. Without proper reinforcement and coaching, the information learned during training is often forgotten as salespeople get busy with their day-to-day responsibilities. Investing in ongoing sales coaching is critical to ensure that your team can effectively apply what they’ve learned in training. Sales coaching can reinforce best practices, provide individualized feedback and support, and help salespeople stay motivated and focused on their goals. By combining sales training with coaching, sales leaders can achieve lasting results and drive revenue growth for your organization.
Through coaching, you can identify areas where individual team members may be struggling and provide targeted support to help them improve. This support can include assisting salespeople in developing more effective sales strategies, providing guidance on overcoming objections, and offering tips on better managing their time and workload. By investing in your team’s ongoing development through coaching, you’ll improve their skills and abilities and foster a culture of continuous learning and improvement. Sales coaching can lead to increased engagement and job satisfaction, ultimately resulting in higher retention rates and better performance for your organization.
Leadership for Sales Recovery
The events of the last decade or two have taught us that geopolitical or global economic events can create massive disturbances in small and medium-sized businesses and cause the business to go into Sales Recovery mode. During these times, business leaders must create an all-hands-on-deck mentality to re-gaining revenue and sales momentum that has either evaporated or been lost.
Think back to the early stages of when you opened your business. Those first few sales years, likely, were filled with attracting clients whose primary qualification was being willing to say yes to your product or service and their ability to pay for your goods/services. It was simple and gritty, and your leadership style was to hustle and close as much business as possible. This is the kind of effort required to recover lost revenue streams.
Being laser-focused on recovery becomes the all-consuming focus for sales leaders, and modifying behaviors and requirements to achieve recovery becomes the management style. Think of this as a strategic sprint where you apply this methodology and tactics to get back to the previous point of success and then shift to the growth-focused leadership style. The following are a couple of tips to get the recovery process started.
Recovery Leadership Focus:
1. Prioritizing profitable products/services: Sales leaders must analyze their sales data to identify the most profitable products or services and focus their sales efforts on those offerings. They should also consider upselling or cross-selling to existing customers to increase revenue.
2. Streamlining sales processes: Sales leaders should look for ways to streamline their sales processes to increase efficiency and reduce costs. This may include implementing new sales technologies, improving lead generation and qualification processes, and simplifying sales contracts and proposals.
3. Building strong customer relationships: Sales leaders must build solid relationships with their existing customers to encourage repeat business and positive word-of-mouth referrals. They should invest in customer success programs, provide exceptional customer service, and regularly communicate with customers to understand their needs and address any concerns.
4. Salespeople must be successful: During a “recovery mode” of operating a business, each salesperson must be relied on to bring in their share of the company’s needs. One of the critical measures of success for a sales team is whether or not the revenue they generate outweighs their cost to the company. Sales leaders must set clear revenue goals for their team members and ensure that each salesperson can meet or exceed their targets. If a salesperson consistently falls short of their goals, the sales leader needs to take swift action to address the issue. This action could involve providing additional training or coaching, reassigning sales territories or accounts, or even making the difficult decision to terminate the salesperson’s employment. By proactively addressing underperforming sales team members, sales leaders can help ensure that the team can meet its revenue targets and contribute to the organization’s overall success.
Another important consideration when evaluating the performance of sales team members is the concept of burden costs, i.e., the costs associated with supporting a salesperson’s activities, such as overhead expenses and administrative support. Sales leaders must keep a close eye on burden costs and ensure they are within the revenue generated by individual salespeople. By regularly monitoring burden costs and revenue generation, sales leaders can make data-driven decisions about allocating resources and prioritizing sales activities. This effort helps ensure that the sales team is operating efficiently and effectively and that each team member contributes to the organization’s overall success.
Whether leading sales for growth or recovery, the situation requires approaches and strategies tailored to each internal challenge. Sales leaders must be able to adapt their leadership style to the needs of the business and the stage of the business cycle where the focus remains on prioritizing profitability, streamlining processes, and building solid relationships with customers to achieve long-term success.
This article originally appeared in two parts at https://salesxceleration.com/adapting-leadership-styles-to-the-situation-sales-growth-vs-sales-recovery-part-one-sales-growth/ and https://salesxceleration.com/adapting-leadership-styles-to-the-situation-sales-growth-vs-sales-recovery-part-two-sales-recovery/
About our guest co-author: Kevin Lawson is the President of Lighthouse Sales Advisors. Lighthouse Sales Advisors is a sales leadership solution provider for small businesses. Lighthouse helps business owners navigate the potential pitfalls around sales growth, sales turnaround, or scaling up by leveraging sales acumen and decades of experience to build effective sales teams.