The 5 Tools of Sales Leadership, and When To Use Them

lead Dec 14, 2019

The overarching goal of anyone in a sales leadership position is to maximize the performance of their sales team. Unfortunately, many sales leaders apply a one-size-fits-all approach to managing their team. The problem is, any group of salespeople will consist of individuals who each present different challenges. It’s up to the manager to identify those challenges, and approach them accordingly using one of the 5 tools of sales leadership, which are:

  •       Empowerment
  •       Training
  •       Direction
  •       Counseling
  •       Coaching

The first step is to evaluate the skills of each individual in terms of their proficiency and motivation. If a particular salesperson fails to perform a certain task acceptably because they don’t know how, that’s a proficiency problem. On the other hand, if a salesperson doesn't perform a task well because they don't like doing it, that’s a motivation problem.

Evaluating the combined elements of proficiency and motivation will indicate which tool should be used to improve the individual salesperson’s performance. The following is a brief discussion of the five combinations of proficiency and motivation, and which tool should be applied to each:

High Motivation and High Proficiency

What if you had a salesperson who is both highly motivated and highly proficient at her job? Is that not the Holy Grail of sale managers? These people require very little management to get the job done. The management tool that should be used with these individuals is empowerment. By giving them greater control over their activities, you’re freeing up more of your time to work with individuals who fit into one of the other four performance categories.

High Motivation and Low Proficiency

This combination usually describes new salespeople, although it’s certainly possible to have a veteran rep who is highly motivated, but weak in some specific skill area. Whatever the individual’s tenure with the company, this combination calls for additional training.

Low Motivation and Low Proficiency

Clearly, this combination can be an indication that the salesperson should be let go. But there may be other mitigating circumstances that preclude that option. In these cases, managers should provide continual and specific direction on the what, when, and how of a particular task to salespeople who fall into this category.

Of course, having to provide ongoing direction for an extended period of time is an inefficient use of a sales manager’s time, so direction should be used sparingly.

Low Motivation and High Proficiency

Just like everyone else, salespeople go through bad spells as well as good ones. This is usually indicated when a rep has previously demonstrated a high level of skill and success in a particular area but, has become unmotivated for some reason. When this happens, it’s time for the manager to provide some performance counseling. Just remember, the reasons people become unmotivated are legion, and don’t always relate directly to the job itself. So, great care should be taken when using this tool.

Average Motivation and Average Proficiency

This is the category where the vast majority of salespeople fit - that’s why they’re average. This is also where sales managers should be spending the most time. The reason is motivation and proficiency often feed off one another. When the average rep’s proficiency increases, his motivation to perform also increases; and as motivation increases, the desire to become even more proficient increases.

The tool that can get this upward spiral going is coaching. The value of good coaching can’t be overstated because, as the spiral continues upward, the salesperson progresses from average to high motivation and proficiency. That puts them into the empowerment zone I described earlier.

Incidentally, coaching is different than training because it’s typically unstructured and done one-on-one. Training is more structured, curriculum oriented, and is frequently done in groups.

By correctly applying the five tools of sales leadership in their sales organizations, managers are creating a triple-win situation: The company wins with higher sales volume. The salesperson wins with greater job satisfaction and income. And the customers win because top-performing salespeople are always customer-oriented. 



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