What can sales leadership learn from top performers?Posted on February 8th, 2019 by Mark Stecker
George Shinn, former owner of the Charlotte Hornets, doesn’t shy away from talking about his success. But, the multi-millionaire who bounced back from bankruptcy doesn’t take all the credit. Shinn acknowledges the valuable input of those around him: “There is no such thing as a self-made man. You will reach your goals only with the help of others.”
As Shinn knows, sales and leadership are two separate — but equally necessary — roles in business. Teams need leaders, and leaders need teams. They rely on each other to succeed.
However, a strong salesperson does not always make a strong leader. Sellers and leaders have different personalities, values, and responsibilities.
So, what can leaders possibly learn from their top sellers?
As it turns out, some skills translate, and some don’t. Get the best of both roles and build a more efficient business by learning three key skills from top performers.
Lesson one: Competition.
It’s a dog-eat-dog world, and nobody knows competition like salespeople. Top performers in sales organizations must be competitive. They live and breathe their sales quota.
But, it's not all about the numbers. They want to compete with:
- Themselves by beating their previous results
- Other companies
Their competitiveness can cause top performers to display some unorthodox, “out of the box” thinking. For example, they’ll throw out the standard sales script if it’s not working for them. This willingness to employ unusual methods might get good results.
Don’t reject their approach just because it’s not the accepted way to do things. As a sales leader, watch the competition unfold and note how top performers succeed. Spread the knowledge around your sales team.
Lesson two: Soft skills.
“If you make a sale, you can earn a commission. If you make a friend, you can earn a fortune.” — Jeffrey Gitomer, Little Red Book of Selling.
As Gitomer suggests, long-term success is based on building friendly business relationships. In a best-case scenario, the salesperson is considered an extension of the customer. Both sides of the deal recognize the working relationship with mutual respect and work towards a common goal.
There’s much more to a top performer than their competitive spirit and sales numbers. To reach the top, a salesperson has to control the softer skills of:
You can see this by watching a master salesperson at work. Look for subtle changes in body language and the way they listen to the customer. Empathetic listening is the most important part of a sale.
Then, watch as the salesperson leverages the information they gleaned from listening. They might pivot from a sales script. The pivot might be in body language, wording, or tone. These deviations might be hard to pick up for the listener, requiring dedication and patience.
What's the best way to learn this? The best place is over the shoulder of a seller. Ride along with a seller on a sales call or meeting. Often what differentiates top performers from others must be observed, not articulated.
Lesson three: Self-interest.
Compensation is a driving factor when it comes to motivation. Interestingly, only 39 percent of people actually wanted to be in sales in the first place! So, getting paid for their time and effort is essential to their continued drive.
A salesperson will benchmark their pay against their past efforts, co-workers, and other companies. It’s important you remove barriers to profitability so they feel rewarded for their achievements.
Self-interest isn’t only about money. It’s also important to feel:
- Supplied with the right sales materials
- Respected by bosses and colleagues
The transition from Sales Star to Sales Management, in many cases, involves self-interest. More often it’s driven by desire for leadership, personality traits and professional goals.
With standout qualities like competition, soft skills, and strong self-interest motivation, top performers have much to teach. But, do they have what it takes to be leaders?
Does a good seller make a good leader?
Leaders need to sell their ideas, be competitive, and display the soft skills of focus and responsibility. Still, there’s more to being a leader than just being a good salesperson.
Consider this example. There was a salesman who was a great problem solver and good at listening. Upon becoming a leader, he had to become a good problem solver for others, not only for himself. Did he have the ability and willingness to help others? In the end, he quit and found another sales position. He was not willing to invest as much in other people as he was in himself.
Becoming a leader might seem like the next logical step for a seller on the way to Vice President, the C-Suite, or avoiding career stagnation. Yet, leaders must take on mentoring responsibilities. They need to have vision and resilience. Plus, their working environment is different. A shift from the high-pressure, ego-driven sales floor to the steady routine of management can be too jarring for some sellers.
Whether this change is manageable comes down to personality, values, and what the individual finds important. Having worked in sales, top performers know what works on the sales floor. But, they might not have the broader perspective that a good leader needs.
Learn from your top sellers and improve your business
Perhaps more than any other profession, there is a perception of a “secret formula” in being a good seller. Sometimes it comes from natural intuition. More often, it’s gained through careful observation and experience.
The art of selling is a mixture of soft skills and hard results that make a recipe for success. While not all good sellers become great leaders, they offer many valuable lessons for leadership. Smart leaders will use these skills to improve themselves and the rest of their sales team.