Can great salespeople ever make great leaders?
Why would they?
The belief is that the top-performing contributors in any sales organisation are inherently selfish narcissists who only care about number one. Put them in charge of people, and their natural instinct is to take command and ‘tell’ people what to do instead of fostering collaboration, empowerment and common goals. They will be the first in line to take the glory of team success. Equally, they’re eager to point the finger when numbers are under pressure and targets aren’t met.
Hopefully not. At least not since the end of the last century – anyone who learned the art of sales management from Glengarry Glen Ross would last about 10 seconds in today’s business environment.
So, what’s changed?
We’ve changed. The environment has changed. The way we buy and consume has evolved. Competition is high. There are now quicker and more effective ways to reach consumers than ever before – far cheaper and more targeted.
The values and ethics we look for when we buy have changed. We want to know the source of our products, and we reject mass and industrial in favour of local, authentic and homemade. We are prepared to pay for quality and actively seek value. We have an abundance of choice, and increasingly we are conscience-led: we want to know what a company stands for before buying into them.
Consumers are savvy. We recognise and resist ‘being sold to’; instead, we seek out sellers who are genuine, informative, engaging and good at building relationships. In turn, this means the characteristics of successful sales leaders have changed dramatically. The days of aggressive leadership, managing through fear, and a top-down ‘my way or the highway’ approach are, gradually, becoming redundant.
Today’s sales leaders have empathy and humility, they are not afraid to embrace it, and they foster great communication and creativity, but are still inspirational and strong. People follow them because they want to, NOT because they have to.
So, does this mean that every great salesperson can now make a great leader? Sadly not.
It’s a fundamental mindset change to go from being a performing individual – worrying about your own sales numbers and knowing you are in control of an expected income – to relying on others to make that happen. Without a doubt, this is the main reason many great salespeople choose NOT to pursue a career in management.
True leaders in any discipline or sector get an amazing ‘buzz’ and ‘high’ from the success of their team or organisation, but it’s not about them. They love to coach, they love to see people grow and develop, and they are good at it. I often lament the fact that our best salespeople struggle to ‘bottle up’ their skills and pass them on, even if they have the right mindset. Nowadays, it’s critical that they get the right coaching themselves, in order to be able to coach others to be as successful.
So, while there is probably more chance now than ever before for salespeople with those qualities of empathy, humility and creativity to rise to the top, they need coaching, they need resources and, most importantly, they need TIME and space to lead.
Although Villanelle (the quirky but talented assassin in Killing Eve) stated that “management is watching someone do the job worse than you,” it really doesn’t have to be that way.
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