It is always great to speak with current and former Chief Revenue Officers (CROs) and Chief Sales Officers for their perspectives and insight. Recently I talked with Jeff Lehman, former CRO, CEO and multiple award-winning author. Our conversation about the 3rd edition of his book, “The Sales Manager’s Mentor – 365 Tips on the Art of Sales leadership” turned into an interview for a post.
LR: Why do you think so many companies promote one of their top sellers to sales leader, when the skills required are so different?
JL: Great companies often reward their best sales performers with promotions. The best salespeople should keep getting new opportunities, but I think that it’s often assumed that the skills that generated great individual sales efforts will also magically create a great sales organization. Sometimes it does, but that’s not always the case. There’s much more to consider when a CEO or board are picking a head of sales than previous numbers. I wrote the book to help salespeople and sales managers become sales leaders – it’s not as easy as some people make it look. I offer insight into the practical side of how it’s all done
LR: There is a lot of mention in the book of mentoring rather than managing or leading in sales – what is the difference?
JL: Anyone can be promoted to manager and put pressure on people to make their numbers. This happens everyday. These people are called tormentors, not mentors. There are probably some people shaking their head in agreement as they are reading this. I put mentoring and leading very close together. When you add solid sales management skills and mentoring together you have a sales leader. These are the kind of people that salespeople want to follow because everyone’s career can advance.
LR: If the average tenure of a sales leader is somewhere around 24-30 months, isn’t there a lot of pressure on them for quick results? How realistic is it for a sales turnaround in most companies?
JL: My understanding has always been that the tenure of a sales executive is about 18 months, so I’m glad it’s getting longer! I think a disconnect sometimes occurs between the CEO and the sales leader about what it will take to grow sales from zero to big, or turn around a struggling sales organization. Everyone from the highest level down needs to be on the same page when it comes to managing sales expectations. The best way to do that is to have an open dialog between the sales team and CEO. As I point out in the book, having a CEO that is revenue focused is incredibly helping to achieving sales goals.
LR: If put in position as a new sales leader, would you suggest a focus first on process, personnel, products/services, or what?
JL: My first task is always to listen to the sales organization and all the departments that touch sales. I also want to listen to customers. I ask them all what we could be doing better – and why we aren’t. I have accepted a new Chief Revenue Officer jobs and then asked that we wait 2-3 weeks before announcing it so I can “secret shop” the sales organization to see what issues will need to be addressed. It’s amazing what you can learn when you simply ask. It will always be a combination of process, product, personnel, presentation skills and market perception that needs to be adjusted. Sometimes they all need to be addressed simultaneously. I try to do this early on when my perspective is fresh and changes can be made quickly.
LR: What are one or two quick ideas that when implemented, often improve sales sooner than later?
JL: This is a fun question, because I do these all the time. The first idea is to get the value proposition or unique selling proposition of the company/product crystal clear and consistent in every salesperson and sales manager’s mind…and make sure they can articulate it. Second, get everyone in the company (and I mean everyone) aligned in what the company’s sales goals are. Everyone in the company should know how they contribute to the company’s revenue success and that their focus matters.
Want a copy of “The Sales Manager’s Mentor?” We’ll be giving away 12 copies – one copy each business day from December 3rd to December 18th. To enter, you must be a verifiable sales leader. Simply post a comment on the Score More Sales blog that day and we’ll do a video “draw” to choose each day’s winner. You can enter daily with a fresh, pertinent comment on the blog. Good luck and happy mentoring.
This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet.
Lori Richardson is recognized as one of the “Top 25 Sales Influencers for 2012″ and one of “20 Women to Watch in Sales Lead Management”. Lori speaks, writes, trains, and consults with inside and outbound sellers in technology and services companies. Subscribe to the award-winning blog and the “Sales Ideas In A Minute” newsletter for sales strategies, tactics, and tips.