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Posted: November 16, 2010

You can sell—but can you lead?

It's about more than just pep talks

Liz Wendling

Successful companies and smart sales managers see an economic downturn as an opportunity. A slow economy can mean decreased sales, unmotivated sales teams and deteriorating morale, but it's also a great time to revive and motivate your sales team to become stronger players who possess the skills needed to succeed. But is the person leading your team the right person for this task?

It's not uncommon for top-producing salespeople to be "promoted" into the position of sales manager, in the hopes that they'll manage and lead others to be equally successful. I see it all the time; great salespeople with no experience in leadership and management being thrown into a position they're not ready to play. But the move often fails because they are being promoted for the wrong reasons! Just because they are great sellers doesn't mean they are great leaders!

Motivating and leading a sales team requires a completely different skill set than just delivering the Monday morning pep talk. Many sales managers lack basic coaching skills and tend to use coaching techniques - such as pep talks, high fives, a few "atta boys" and "atta girls," and motivational messages - that are more appropriate for little league than the major league. Sure, pep talks and motivational messaging have their place, but they're not going to produce the type of high-level results that are expected of great sales teams.

In order to maximize profits, your salespeople must be performing at their best, operating at peak performance and led by managers who possess the skills to empower a team. The result? Employees who feel valued and confident in their sales skills are more effective in the sales process, which leads to more profit and growth for your company.

To have - and to retain - a high-level sales team, a sales manager needs to learn the communication skills that keep a team focused and successful. Positive feedback is crucial to maintaining an encouraging work environment in which all salespeople can thrive. Negative feedback and nagging is not a form of motivation and not an environment that breeds success. Some inexperienced sales managers use those tactics because they lack the leadership skills necessary to manage effectively. No one is ever motivated by nagging!

Productive sales managers have the ability to identify, define and improve sales skills for all members of the sales team. They possess the proper tools to maximize the strengths of their team, and address the weaknesses, through coaching and constructive communication.

Is your sales manager a true coach, or just a salesperson with a fancy new title? Can he or she motivate and inspire or just nag and criticize? The skills required for managing, mentoring and developing a sales team are totally different from those required for selling.

A great sales manager leads by example and commands with authority, but in a way that draws respect rather than contempt. These managers keep morale high, set real, but challenging goals and then do everything necessary to assist the entire team in reaching and exceeding those goals. Your salespeople want to be recognized as individuals, shown appreciation and given opportunities to grow.

Before you promote your top salesperson into a position he or she might not be ready for, I recommend you take the time to implement a management "test drive" prior to an official promotion. Lay out the rules of the game and help the candidate understand what the role entails so you are more equipped to make an informed decision.

A management "test drive" is an effective way to see if a salesperson truly possesses what it takes to step into that role. Finally, give the candidate the skill set needed to lead, manage, motivate and inspire. If you don't, you are throwing someone into the position who isn't equipped with the right tools for the job, and it will cost you sales.
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Liz Wendling is the president of Insight Business Consultants, a nationally recognized business consultant, sales strategist and emotional intelligence coach. Liz is driven by her passion for business and generating results for her clients. Liz understands the challenges that business owners are facing building a business and selling their professional services in today's market.

Liz shows clients how to tap into and use their innate strength, power and confidence to develop highly successful businesses. She teaches them to create effective, dynamic and fluid client conversations that turn interested prospects into invested clients who keep coming back.

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