'Top Gun' Sales Leaders
© Seán Weafer 2008 all rights reserved
What does it take to create 'Top Gun' best of breed sales directors? Directors who can communicate and connect with their board and with their teams to achieve extraordinary sales performance in challenging times?
In the Eighties film of the same name, one of the scenes that sticks in my mind was the one where the pilots were welcomed to the ‘Top Gun' academy. This place is reserved for the best of the best only. It was hallowed ground where they would compete for the honour of being the very best
Let's take a look at just some of the ‘Top Gun' questions that I ask my sales management clients to consider so that they can compete successfully for ‘Top Gun' honours of their own.
1. How secure am I in terms of my ability to deliver sales targets in the next 12 months?
A key skill for directors is sales forecasting, as well as having a keen understanding of the commercial elements of the sales process and how it contributes to the bottom line in the business.
Forecasting allows us to be able to plan to do the best with that we have, identify the resource gaps that we might need to deliver on the objectives as well as getting a good sense of the kind of environment we are likely to be facing along the way. Only by effective forecasting can we start to create the sales environment in which we can be consistently successful. Forecasting and planning are key skills for sales directors which often do not come naturally to us.
Effective forecasting is not an option, especially in challenging times such as these, because it allows us to get the kind of clarity and create the kind of conviction that we need in our communication with our board - and if we are to empower our ‘troops' on the front line.
Also, we need to be constantly alert to what else is happening in the business and company environment. Are we fully staffed, what level of skills have our sales people, how up-to-date are our customer databases, are we on top of our customers and have we ‘locked them in', what special events or offers might add revenue.
Our security is dependent on our ability to spot what's coming down the line and ‘adapt, innovate and overcome' to whatever challenges there may be.
2. Do I have clarity about what specifically I should focus on to ensure success?
Success has always been defined as the achievement of pre-defined goals. As sales leaders, we should have highly specific goals for our business and what the business expects us to deliver.
For many of us our business goals tend to be just top-line goals - a sales number or a figure maybe but with little ‘soul' or ‘heart' imbued within it. By ‘soul' or ‘heart' I mean that all goals - as well as having the ‘what' piece - most certainly should also have the reason as to ‘why' the achievement of that goal has a value for each and every person concerned with that goal.
This is what I term the ‘emotional trigger' behind the goal. When you make the goals happen - what do you personally (forget the company for a minute) get out of this - what will you have that you don't have at the moment when the business goal is achieved? What will your managers have, what will each and every individual sales executive have when the goal is reached?
Try these two questions when asking your staff when setting their sales objectives 1. ‘What specifically do you want to do about your sales targets?' and 2. ‘Why specifically is that valuable to you - what will you have that you don't have at the moment when you make this happen?' Try these questions and see what the responses are. You may be surprised.
If you want to empower your team to reach new heights - goals for each and every person should be clearly broken down into what is expected of them (right down to the actions or steps that they need to be taking) and how they will benefit personally when it's done. (Hint: it's not about the sales bonus, it's about what they can do with the bonus).
That clarity must start with us first.
3. Am I in control of the process or am I too reliant on external factors?
Being too reliant on external factors, means that we cannot exercise sufficient influence to make change in the market place - and sales is always about making change in the market place. By not exercising effective control we are forced to constantly react to the market demands instead of creating and implementing the most effect means of accomplishing our sales objectives.
However, not recognising what it is that we do control is equally dangerous as we can expend our resources and energies needlessly and to little effect.
I created a simple model to clearly identify where I need to be applying my efforts to get the most results, which I call CIA filter: ‘Control, Influence and Accept for Now'.
"C" stands for Control - do I control this action, am I in charge of it, have I the resources and authority to action this now, immediately? This is the first order of change - what we control, we should act upon.
This implies that we should have absolute clarity about our objectives (see Question 2).
"I" stands for Influence - if I do not control this action, can we reach out to someone who does, someone who might act on this for us, and can we influence them to do this for us? This is the second order of change - what might be called a "relationship" action.
To exercise this ‘second order of change' we are required to have extensive personal networks. Networks allow us to leverage our influence way beyond or sphere of personal control.
Networks also need to be both external and internal. In selling, it is natural enough for us to build networks in our market place, establish a little profile, set ourselves up to attract new clients. However, real ‘top gun' sales directors spend as much time building their internal networks with the departments (and their directors) that is responsible for supporting our operations on the front line of selling.
They focus just as hard on building their personal brand or profile within the firm, positioning themselves at the heart of key company networks, identifying and connecting with the key stakeholders in their success and then using these links to provide support to others as and when required - so that they can reach out to them for a favour when we are most in need.
Finally: "A" stands for Accept for Now - if I do not control it and I cannot influence it, then I walk away, for now. Focus on what you can control and influence and "park" what you have no control or influence over.
Many of us tend to spend a great deal of time worrying over things that we neither influence nor control. By acting on what we control and influence, that which we have to "park" for now may fall within our control and influence in time.
4. How effectively am I communicating with the board and with my team?
Staying in control of the sales message is the remit of the sales director. We have a responsibility to manage that message upwards to the board and down to the front line sales team. But the message needs to be interpreted differently for both parishes.
For the board, the message needs to be couched in the language of the board.
What terminology do they use when they discuss the business? What are the expectations of each of the other directors for the business? What are the metrics that they use - how do they measure success and how do they know (in their terms) when we are proving to be successful?
Do they understand the dynamics of the sales process and what are their unique views about how they interact with the customer? Do they understand that all their staff are equally involved in creating and keeping customers and do we (as sales leaders) make it clear that everyone in the business is selling.
For the front line team, what is the consistent message that we carry to our customers both in times of challenge and in time of plenty? What are there needs from us - how can we serve them better? What are their current unique challenges? Am I acknowledging and reassuring them as appropriate. We need to connect, involve and engage with our teams and our people. In the new world of the ‘soft power' market place management from the ‘ivory tower' is ineffective - we need to lead by inspiring and by being of service to our people.
In the new collaborative and contemporary market place - and for ‘Top Gun' sales directors - there are no ‘little people', everyone is deserving of their attention.
In the competitive world of sales and sales management only the best qualify for Top Gun.