Key Leadership Behaviors That Improve Sales Force Performance

By: Dr. Tara Jones (American Management Association)

No industry or business function has been immune to unprecedented conditions that have engulfed the economy. Most sales teams are faced with conditions they’ve never experienced before. New business conversations are tougher than ever. Targets are still high and, in many cases, redundancies mean there are fewer people to actually do the work. We’re often hearing sales teams say; “We’re expected to do more, with fewer resources.”

A typical sales team’s culture is numbers-driven, competitive, and achievement- focused. Teams are under constant pressure to perform at the highest level in order to meet hourly and daily targets. Combine this with the impact of the financial crisis, and it’s easy to see why individuals are focusing entirely on short-term results and their own performance rather than that of the team.

imagesA Time for Change
The sales managers and leaders are under pressure, too. They are visible, vulnerable, and accountable for their teams’ performances. Rather than empowering individuals to make decisions for themselves, they are going for the short-term fix and resorting to telling people exactly what to do, resulting in mistakes and bad decisions.  This behavior is driving unhealthy competition among team members. Salespeople are protecting their turf, keeping their ideas and techniques to themselves, and pulling out all the stops to prove their worth to the organization.  They are holding onto their accounts, unwilling to share anything, with the fear that someone else could get a foot in the door and take over that account.

In sports, healthy competition is a part of the culture where thriving on pressure is critical.  Elite performers thrive on pressure because they work hard to develop the mental toughness to perform at consistently high levels. However, in business, the development of these skills is often neglected in favor of technical skill development. But pressure can do powerful things–it can help to raise performance or it can debilitate workers.

Sales leaders are bombarded with the daily complexities of modern business, but their primary role is profoundly simple: they must create the conditions in which people can thrive. Leaders are accountable for developing high-performance environments for their teams.

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