4 ways to be a great sales leader – (Clue: It’s all about the people)

A great leader is judged by how they work with their team. In this guest article for Sales Confidence, Salesforce’s Karen McAllister explains how to do it effectively.

Our second speaker was Karen Mcallister. Karen is Senior Regional VP for Communications and Media at Salesforce. I’m sure Salesforce needs no introduction! Karen is in charge of the team that sells Salesforce into telecoms and media companies, and was previously Sales Director at Oracle. The theme of Karen’s talk was ‘My Leadership Journey’. It was divided into 3 parts, where Karen shared 3 tips that have helped her achieve success. Sales Confidence

There’s a reason why the best salespeople don’t always make the best sales leaders. When you first become a manager, you always underestimate the amount of time you spend managing your team. In fact, you spend more time dealing with your team than anything else.

I’ve been managing for more than 10 years now, and if I’ve learned one thing, it’s that the best leaders are judged by how they work with their team, how they relate to them, and therefore, how they get the best out of them. As I said when I spoke at Sales Confidence’s 2nd live event, the best managers multiply. They manage to get more out of the same number of people. You get to this stage by leading your team in the right way.

So, how can you do this? How do work with your team on such a level that they become more than the sum of their parts? I’ve got 4 ideas for you.

1 – Know yourself

Nobody’s perfect, not even a sales leader! We all have our own strengths and weaknesses and it’s important to know your own limitations when you’re building and leading your team.

When you’re building your team, you have the opportunity to hire around your weaknesses. If there’s a part of the role which you are not totally proficient at, don’t spend your time on it. Hire someone who is great at it to do it for you. When you’re working with your team, use them to plug the gaps in your skill set. Never be afraid to ask for help. Use all resources available to you, internally or externally. It’s all part of being an exemplar, of leading.

Understand how you like to work, and importantly share this with your team. I’ll give you an example. I know I’m a morning person. I’m much more alert, more creative, more motivated in the morning than at night. So if I have something important to do, I will get up early and get to work. I am likely to be sending emails to my team at 7 am. However, I don’t expect them to be answered at 7 am. I am clear with my team on this from the start.

On the other hand, I am not good with important work late at night. So my team know, if possible, not to ask me to be on calls late at night.

2 – Know your team

I don’t mean just know their names and job titles either. I mean get to know them, personally. The best leaders build personal relationships with their team. We’ve all worked in places where the manager hides away in their office, detached. I don’t believe in that.

Take a genuine interest in them. Do they have families? What are their hobbies? Share your stories with them. This makes them feel valued. It also makes for a better, friendlier working environment. It will pay off in the development of your team.

For example, I like to run. It helps me clear my head and think. I love to run between 11 and 12, so I try and fit this every other day. My team know this about me and that it is ok to take this time out. In my extended team, we have a few marathon runners, so it’s good to bond over some running chat. Who’d want to work an environment where you couldn’t do that?

Another really simple example is that I try to avoid scheduling conference calls before 9 am. Some members of the team take their kids to school before the start of the workday, and I don’t like work to infringe on this time.

3 – Hire smart people

This sounds obvious, but actually many managers get this wrong. Sure, they hire smart people, but then they make them work to their own methods, ideas and rigid structure. This often happens when top salespeople become managers. They feel the need to lead from the front, relegating their smart hires to secondary roles. This is being a diminisher, not a multiplier.

You need to hire smart people, then let them be smart. Give your smart people the opportunity to come up with ideas to achieve certain goals, then let them take ownership of them. Give them support, but give them responsibility. Make them leave their comfort zone.

I believe I’m only as good as the team I manage. You don’t have to lead from the front all the time. When our team achieves our goals, I want it to be a success everyone can share.

4 – Motivate and champion

My last point is that the best leaders constantly motivate and champion their team members. When you’re a manager, your job is to make their job easier, to make them the “stars”.

Coaching is the key here. I coach my team on a continuous basis, helping them to identify ways to improve. We improve when we fail, so I allow my team to fail, then I help them learn from it. If you always jump in to help when they’re doing something wrong, they won’t learn. When things go well, we celebrate our successes.

Reading list

If you’re a current or aspiring sales leader, I hope these tips help you get the most from your team. Remember, it’s all about being a multiplier, not a diminisher.

To finish, I’d like to recommend 3 books which have really helped me clarify these ideas in my mind.

Firstly, ‘The Art of Possibility’ by Benjamin Zander. The central idea here is to ‘give everyone an ‘A’.’ Basically, assume everyone is great and treat them as if they are. Then, watch them rise to it and be great. This applies to personal as well as business relationships. You can also watch Benjamin on TED talks.

The other is ‘The Chimp Paradox’ by Professor Steve Peters. The theme here is mind management, unravelling the tangled workings of your mind in order to become who you want to be. When you know yourself, it helps you to know other people. When you react to something, is it a primal response or an intelligent response? We always want to react intelligently, but sometimes our inner ‘chimp’ gets the better of us. How often do you see that in your workplace?

Finally, my old favourite, “Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter” by Liz Wiseman with Greg McKeown. The theme is that there are 2 types of leaders: Multipliers and Diminishers. Multipliers unleash the intelligence and capability in others and in so doing, have a profoundly positive and profitable effect in organisations.

Do you have any tips of your own on how to work with and relate to your team? Please leave a comment below for the Sales Confidence community.

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