“Mr. Beaver, I was recently put in charge of sales for our plumbing supply company. While I have a great deal of product knowledge and have been in sales for decades, I am unsure of myself in this new role. Do you know of something out there that would help transform me from a sales guy to someone who can impact our growth, something like a business executives’ cookbook? Thanks, ‘Rob.’”
I do indeed, and cookbook is the best way to describe one of the best reads of any business book dedicated to sales that I’ve been asked to review. The Growth Leader: Strategies to Drive the Top and Bottom Lines (coming Oct. 24) by Scott K. Edinger, reminds me of the Good Housekeeping Cookbook in its accessibility and practical approach to guiding sales executives toward attainable, positive outcomes.
Edinger bridges the gap between the needs of a business leader in the abstract and the practical requirements of a sales staff out in the field. This is not a theoretical discussion of leadership concepts. Instead, it is hands-on, “here’s what to do and why,” which is free from much of the mumbo jumbo often found in “leadership books.”
I had a chance to sit down with Scott and talk about what will negatively impact Rob’s plans to increase growth and profitability of his company.
Here’s what a leader in Rob’s situation must avoid
1. Resist the urge to just push your sales team to try and sell more.
Why? It’s normal for “the new kid on the block” to want to impress management with accomplishments, but merely ramping up sales — just increasing volume — sacrifices the quality of the interaction between the sales team and your customers.
If you are in a consultative or solution-oriented business, especially, then more activity doesn't always mean more sales or better results, as it does little to develop long-term relationships with your customer. That cannot be overemphasized — your sales team is the channel, the voice of your board to the people who keep the lights on, your customers!
So, it is flawed reasoning to think of your sales team as wind-up robots who just sell. Rather, view and treat them as an integral part of the organization, not just order-takers. While more sales activity can drive more transactional business, that is less valuable in the long run.
2. Don't use compensation as a substitute for leadership.
Executives are fond of saying, “Salespeople are coin-operated.” Stated otherwise: I've just got to make sure I compensate them right, and then they'll do everything I need them to.
The flaw in that thinking is that compensation doesn’t make people better. As an executive, you need better selling interactions that help customers to see things differently, by helping them with expertise and insight your sales team can bring to the table. You want customers who see your people as problem solvers. Rewarding sales alone does not encourage your employees to see themselves in that role.
Anybody who has sold something that has uniqueness or customization knows that experience of being with a customer and hearing, “Oh, wow, we can do that? You've got something that'll do this? Interesting! I hadn't thought about that. I came to you asking for an X, and you're coming to me with X, Y and Z, and that's so much better because of what I need!”
In the role of problem solvers, salespeople are able to propose your products and services that may cost a little more, but which address the customer’s real needs. So, it becomes less about getting orders quickly that generate more income for the sales team and more about building a problem-solving relationship with a customer that will often lead to the sale of so much more.
3. When recruiting, don't hire Mr. or Ms. Popularity or allow yourself to be seduced by charisma. Don’t think that only men can be great salespeople. Show appreciation!
There was a time where a sales personality was about being friendly, gregarious and entertaining. Today, strategic problem solvers are far more important to a sales organization than a person who is personable on the golf course.
But businesspeople don't rely on friendship or collegiality that much anymore. That aspect has disappeared more and more since the pandemic. Instead, their focus is on how they can create value. Sales has become a strategic role.
Companies should hire salespeople based on depth. They should look for people who are well educated, articulate and, above all else, curious — new hires should be interested in your product or service and love dialogue, discussion and helping.
“Importantly,” Edinger said, “we need to get away from the vision that selling is very male. In fact, of the top performers on my own teams, more than half were women. And why? It’s empathy and understanding. Women tend to score higher for aptitude in this arena. It is what allows a seller to make a connection and understand the buyer’s needs and provide a better solution.”
Salespeople keep the lights on
Edinger concluded our interview with a message for all people in leadership roles: “Show appreciation and validate the great things all of your people do for the company, especially sales teams. They truly are the ones who keep the lights on.”
The Growth Leader is as enjoyable a read as was my chat with the author. It is the best business-sales cookbook you’ll ever find.
Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield, Calif., and welcomes comments and questions from readers, which may be faxed to (661) 323-7993, or e-mailed to Lagombeaver1@gmail.com. And be sure to visit dennisbeaver.com.
After attending Loyola University School of Law, H. Dennis Beaver joined California's Kern County District Attorney's Office, where he established a Consumer Fraud section. He is in the general practice of law and writes a syndicated newspaper column, "You and the Law." Through his column he offers readers in need of down-to-earth advice his help free of charge. "I know it sounds corny, but I just love to be able to use my education and experience to help, simply to help. When a reader contacts me, it is a gift."
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