Five Sales Leadership Lessons From 2018 That Could Make 2019 A Whole Lot Better

March 20, 2019 Randy Illig

This article originally appeared on Forbes.com

Executive teams that personally own the sales and customer experience have the best sales cultures and the highest growth. At these companies, the leadership team knows and models the sales methodology and approach better than anyone in the organization.

Unfortunately, those companies are few and far between. Instead, a number of leaders in 2018 made a few common mistakes that derailed their results.

Here are the top sales leadership lessons I’ve observed working with executives and sales leaders over the last year:

  1. Organizations are leaving their most valuable interaction to chance. Arguably one of the single most important things that happen in an organization is the interaction between the company and its customers. It’s shocking that executives are leaving that interaction to chance—or to the companies that your salespeople worked for in the past and how they did it. Why wouldn't you view the sales process as the ultimate opportunity to shape your brand in the marketplace and delight your customers? Establish what makes an ideal client buying experience, one that clients enjoy, value and want to repeat. One that is your distinctive brand. Once you do this, make sure that every client-facing professional, including you, is a master of the approach.
  2. The customer still isn’t king. Although it's generally accepted that the most productive way to interact with your clients is to focus on their needs, yet another year has gone by with sales organizations focusing on themselves. We don't talk about customers; we talk about us: our needs, our numbers, and our messaging. This remains the most pervasive approach, despite all these years we’ve known the importance of customer centricity. Executives are hung up on the pitch. They hound the sales force about their numbers. This constant pressure, to the point of badgering salespeople, becomes what organizations think about, talk about, write about and report about, all at the expense of the client. These sales organizations continue to make their road a tough one—needlessly. How about making 2019 the year of the client. How do you help your client make their numbers? Figure that out and you will make yours.
  3. Sales forces are cruising toward extinction. Most sellers are woefully behind the social sales curve, and they're not catching up. Like Moore's Law, the pace at which technology changes is doubling, which means the speed at which you're becoming extinct is increasing. If you can’t develop the flexibility and agility to change now, and keep changing, you’re becoming irrelevant faster than ever. Consider what key moves you might make in 2019 to move up the social sales curve.
  4. Salespeople must become the new subject matter experts. Twenty years ago, a salesperson’s role was to provide access to resources for customers, control information and act as the gatekeeper to subject matter experts. Now, of course, the Internet has taken over that role. Salespeople today need to be experts in their field, knowing their market, competitors and solutions better than anyone else. That bar is high because most businesses these days do pretty complex things. I recently talked with a sales manager who sold corrugated boxes—what could be simpler than selling a box? How ignorant I was. To help them find the right product, the sales manager asked his clients dozens of questions: “What are you shipping? Is it powder? Heavy? Sharp? Hazardous? Where's it going? How is it being transported? How long will it be in transport? Will it be stored? How long?” Even the sale of boxes requires a deep store of knowledge. Leaders often say, “We want our salespeople to build better relationships, create more pipeline and bring us new opportunities.” Expertise creates those things.
  5. Salespeople need time to do the very things that will improve outcomes. Recently, we worked with a client who was familiar with FranklinCovey’s legacy in productivity solutions. As we began the engagement, one of their senior leaders asked skeptically: “You’re not going to teach us time management, are you?” We assured him we were there to focus on their sales process. We ended up bringing in our productivity consultants, after all. The same executive who scoffed about time management realized that it was the answer to his growth challenges. Every client I worked with this year has said the same thing. We are more than ever ruled by these boxes we stare at all day—laptop, phone, tablet—with constant interruptions and pressure to respond to emails and texts in the middle of the night, on our birthdays, on Christmas Eve. More than ever before, time rules us. That doesn’t necessarily mean you need time-management training. It does mean you must stop spending your time on too many things that don't lead you to where you want to be.

If there's a change to make in 2019, it's picking one or two behaviors that would make the biggest difference in growth next year and focusing your energy on those.

Challenge for Leaders: What important skill will your sales force own in 2019?  Preparing for meetings? Developing trust with clients? Coaching each other? How can you, as a leader, ensure that they focus on it?

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About the Author

Randy Illig

Randy Illig is the Global Practice Leader of FranklinCovey’s Sales Performance Practice and the co-author of Let’s Get Real Or Let’s Not Play. With more than 25 years of experience ranging from direct sales and general manager to successful entrepreneur, CEO and board member, Randy leads the global sales performance practice team as we help our clients build high performance sales and sales leadership teams. Randy is a former recipient of the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year award, the Ernst & Young “CEO Under 40” award, and the Arthur Andersen Strategic Leadership Award.

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