Over the years I’ve asked hundreds of sales leaders that question.
The answers are enlightening. Most of the time, the response I get is about how the sales leader participates in taking care of the company’s customers. Every once in a while I get a response that takes a very different view of who the sales leader’s customer is and the conversation centers on how the sales leader addresses the wants and needs of upper management.
Once in a blue moon I have a sales leader who interprets the question to be about how he or she services the needs of their sales team.
As sales leaders shouldn’t our primary focus be on serving the needs of our primary customer—those sellers who look to us for guidance and support—the sellers who create our success or failure? Why do so few sales leaders recognize their team members as customers to be served rather than servants to serve?
I’ve heard many a sales leader make cracks about how lucky their salespeople are to have a job, how expendable and replaceable they are, or how underworked or overpaid there are. I’ve also noticed how many companies have extremely high turnover within their sales team which is often attributed to just the nature of the beast.
But maybe the high turnover is a result of poorly supported salespeople, of low morale, of undertrained sellers who are looking to move somewhere where management supports them, gives them the training and the tools they need to be successful, and where they feel wanted and respected.
Maybe some—maybe a lot–of the low performance, tardiness, lack of focus, and low drive within the sales team are our fault. Maybe the way we treat our team members is reflected in their actions—or non-actions.
Certainly there are salespeople who no matter what we do will fail, who lack drive, who don’t have the discipline and desire to develop the necessary skills, who will whine and complain no matter what. Those are the applicants we must do a better job of not hiring by learning to interview better and by using well designed assessments to help weed them out before they ever get hired.
But do those salespeople account for all of the frustration, failure, and underdeveloped skills we see in the sales team? That certainly isn’t the case with most of these situations that I’ve seen over the years.
In fact, a good many of the team issues I’ve witnessed have emanated directly from management. Most often when I find a situation where turnover is excessive, an inordinate number of salespeople are struggling with basic selling skills, and/or morale is low, the fault lies with the team’s managers.
Although some companies have excessive turnover and low morale by design (the churn and burn operations), many managers I speak to seem blind to their role in the situation.
How can we effectively address this?
To start with, it isn’t rocket science.
Simply recognizing that the members of our sales team are our most immediate and important customers is a great start. But recognizing that is one thing, managing as a servant is another.
Uh, oh. That word servant probably isn’t sitting well with some. But the definition of a servant is “a person working in the service of another” or “a person who labors or exerts himself for the benefit of another.” Now certainly in common usage we think of a master/servant relationship where one is in mandatory servitude to the other. That’s not my meaning here. Servant here is more along the lines of a public servant, one who voluntarily does service for the betterment of the group. Or to paraphrase Plato, you can’t be a good master if you aren’t a good servant.
What are our servant or customer service responsibilities to our sales team members?
Training: We ask our team members to do a very difficult job—find and connect with quality prospects and then sell our goods or services to those prospects. For many sales teams, if they aren’t successful in making sales, they don’t eat. Even for those who are supported with a salary, in most instances the salary is designed to be only a percentage of their income. We’re asking these men and women to make a very real investment in the company with the expectation of earning an income that will justify that investment. We must justify their investment by giving them the training they need to be successful. Whether through in-house personnel or from outside trainers, every member of the sales team deserves to be given proper training. Anything less is dereliction of our duty to them.
Coaching: Training without coaching is a waste of time and money. The information salespeople get from training must be turned into action. Turning information into action requires not only implementing the necessary actions but also working through the missteps and overcoming the problems encountered during the implementation stage. In other words, coaching– and few salespeople are capable of coaching themselves to success. Again, whether the coaching comes from an in-house coach or from outside the company, giving them real world guidance and feedback as they learn to turn training into action is paramount to helping our team members become successful sellers.
Support: The members of our team expect and deserve more from us besides training and coaching—they expect us to be their go-between with senior management, to fight and advocate for them when necessary, to hold them accountable for their actions, and to demand the best from them at all times. Unfortunately, some sales leaders offer little support of any kind yet still expect their team to produce results. Most sellers seek only to be treated fairly and with respect. If we as leaders can’t do that, we have no business in a leadership position.
Our job as sales leaders is to nurture and grow out sales team. Our company depends on us getting the most from our team members. In order to accomplish that task we must recognize our customer service–that is servant–responsibilities to our team members and work for their success because it is by demonstrating our servant-ability that we earn our leadership position.