I often advise sales leaders and growth officers in their strategic, people, and operational efforts. There are some common sales leadership mistakes and pitfalls I observe, and in this article I’m sharing those, along with some ideas to help you build awareness of and improve them. Sales professionals, I encourage you to read as well if you aspire to become a leader or you want to focus on your self-leadership.
1. Lack of balance between leadership and management tasks.
The first sales leadership mistake is lack of balance between leadership and management tasks. Leadership elements include activities like participating in and shaping strategy, creating a productive and performance-oriented environment, helping your individual team members develop their sales plans, identifying new markets and clients, and talent scouting. Management tasks are items like reporting, tracking activities, reviewing sales data, reviewing compensation, and participating in problem solving.
To be fair, a sales leader needs to flow seamless between both, which is what makes being a sales leader so challenging at times. Often, I see the scales tip toward the management tasks because they’re usually the burning issue of the moment. The leadership tasks are longer term and often take more creativity and collaboration.
2. Lack of reliable sales data.
In large companies this can take the form of data in disparate places that becomes hard to track and use; in smaller companies this often presents as having no centralized data platform with which to track customers, deals, and revenue. When sales data isn’t reliable or accessible, it can create a lack of trust within the team. Depending on your role in the organization, you may or may not have control over your data systems but know that it’s an impediment to strong and successful leadership.
This data extends to knowing the strengths and weaknesses of your sales teams and using data to understand each team member. This can help you as a leader identify skill building, coaching, and accountabilities that will help them to be successful.
3. Lack of meaningful sales metrics.
Lack of meaningful metrics is another sales leadership mistake. This can either be too many metrics or not the right metrics. I encourage my clients to undertake a “metrics audit” to determine what is most meaningful to track based on the organization’s goals. If you’re looking for a place to start, in this article I offer 11 metrics that successful organizations track. If you can prioritize a top 5 to focus your teams on in the upcoming year you’ll find far greater success than having too many. You may find that depending on the individual team member’s goals you may want to tailor them.
4. Inconsistent or non-existent sales processes.
Processes are the foundational structure of the sales organization. In my sales strategy work with clients this is often a starting point because these processes impact so many other elements of sales growth. These processes can include sales process (and sometimes there is more than one), sales methodology, skill development, data integrity, onboarding, offboarding, compensation, hiring, and sales plans.
The lack of sales processes is a sales leadership mistake and a red flag to top performers who interview with your organization. It will be interpreted as a lack of structure and maturity; the risk is that you’ll lose current and potential sales professionals.
Micromanagement often presents itself as trying to solve all of the problems of the team beyond providing a productive environment. It may also show up as allowing poor-performing team members to drain a leader’s energy, or not empowering the team to be self-sufficient. There are many sales professionals currently working in remote environments who actually aren’t suited for remote work and this adds to the micromanagement challenge. In the end, micromanagement is a strategy for leadership burnout. It isn’t productive for empowering the sales team to be self-driven and accountable. Avoid this sales leadership mistake.
6. Poor hiring and poor firing.
Poor hiring and firing might be the top reason for culture and performance problems on a sales team. Too many leaders tolerate poor performance for extended periods of time. This leads to long-term morale issues and lack of results. There’s a difference between a short-term issue that causes poor performance and chronic underperformance. If you look at your team today, who is achieving their sales goals? Who is contributing to the team and the organization’s success outside of reaching their sales goals? Do you use data to assist with your hiring and firing processes? Is there true support from the executive team to hire properly and ensure there are options for performance plans or removal of poor performers?
7. Allowing the urgent to overtake the important.
How well do you prioritize? This is the difference between sales management and sales leadership. Tactics are part of everyday sales activities, but when they overtake your ability to think and plan strategically, it negatively impacts both long-term success and your own satisfaction as a leader.
A leader I coached had a strategic priority to build strategic partnerships that could ultimately lead to significant revenue and profit for the company. It was also an initiative that energized this leader and was an excellent use of this leader’s talents. But, this leader was allowing it be to crowded out by tactical tasks of lesser value. To borrow a phrase from Covey, the urgent was overtaking the important. To avoid this sales leadership mistake, the leader committed to creating space for focus on this strategic priority and to present a business plan to senior management to move it forward for the company’s benefit and also for this person’s own success.
8. Inconsistent onboarding.
The first 90 days of a seller’s career at your organization will be a significant deciding factor in that seller’s overall engagement, commitment, and success. It starts with a consistent hiring process, and a clear onboarding process that includes immersion into key factors of the business, skill development, and relationship-building with both team members and customers. Too many organizations don’t have a clear and consistent onboarding experience. This leads to missed expectations and frustration of both the new seller and the leadership team. This can ultimately lead to a parting of ways that is costly.
9. Not using coaching properly.
Strong sales leaders are strong coaches as well, and a key part of the role is helping individual sellers to develop their skills. The key mistakes I see here are typically not using any coaching, or not deploying it in a way that’s useful to the seller or the leader. I find the most successful coaching to be succinct and targeted to a specific goal or topic. In this article I share more on how to develop a coaching strategy and various coaching categories that can help you optimize how you’re working with your teams.
10. Lack of investment in yourself.
Your own self development is one of the best investments you can make, but often sales leaders put themselves last. I’d like to offer a different perspective, and that’s to put yourself first. Prioritizing your care and development will make you a better leader who is better able to serve your team and your customers. I see too many leaders suffering from burnout, which has the exact opposite effect on results and overall impact.
How can you identify which of these sales leadership mistakes are impacting you and what can you do next?
- The first step is becoming aware of your tendencies through both self-reflection and getting some solicited feedback from those you trust.
- Next, I’d encourage to you choose one or two to focus your energies on, based upon your priorities for the year. The good news is that many of these are connected, so a focus on one will have a positive impact on others.
- Work with your own coach or leader to put a 90-day plan in place that includes asking for accountability. In my own experience I’ve found that sharing my commitment with someone else and asking to be held accountable is the difference maker in the level of growth that can be accomplished.
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