"Dress well, shine your shoes, be professional, look busy, have good things to say about the company and your boss."
I really do remember this like it was yesterday. I was a young rep working in a small, regional facility for a national telecom company. There was a significant amount of commotion around the office created by the fact that our new, National VP of Sales would be visiting.
My sales manager was issuing these directives because he wanted everyone to be on their best possible behavior. I thought to myself "Really? That's it? That's all I have to do to impress the VP? Then what's all the commotion?"
Yep, that was it. The highlight of the day would be a half-hour sales staff meeting with the big guy. We would each get to briefly introduce ourselves, he would give his "state of the company" and "new sales direction" speech and we would have 10 minutes for a Q&A.
Shut Down by the VP of Sales
Things went without a hitch for me until the Q&A. Then my perception of senior sales management changed forever. The few questions posed by the team were about things like marketing support, reporting, new product announcements, promotions, etc. Fine questions, but this guy was brand new and hadn't gotten his feet wet enough to answer many of them. He deferred his answers to a later date.
Now remember, I'm young at the time, so here is my thought process: This guy had to be a sales god. I mean, come on, he's been a branch manager, regional manager and now has been a VP of Sales for two different companies. He really must know his stuff. Hey, we had the guy here. I wasn't sure about the rest of the team, but as for me, I wanted some of this guy's knowledge!
I was working on a sizable deal for a regional bank and their branches. I wouldn't admit it to the VP, but given the fact I hadn't been selling long, I felt the opportunity was somewhat out of my league. So here was my opportunity to get assistance from a true sales pro. So I raised my hand and said, "I'm working with a bank with seven branches. I want to make certain I am showing them meaningful information to prove the power of my solution, but I'm having a problem uncovering criteria for their decision. Can you share any insight that might help me?"
Ok, I get this might not have been the right forum for the question, and I would have accepted that as his answer. But that didn't happen. Here's what he said, and I'm NOT joking: "That's not my job, it's yours. I have no idea what you should do. As a matter of fact, I don't want to know how to do your job. If you want help, the best thing to do is rely on your fellow sales people and local management."
I was crushed. It changed my perception of senior sales management forever.
Sales Transformation at Every Level of the Organization
Unfortunately for many organizations, things haven't changed much over the three decades since that meeting. The idea that "Sales Transformation" happens in the field still haunts many of us. Many senior sales leaders still believe that what happens between the buyer and seller is none of their concern. They couldn't be more mistaken!
As a matter of fact, to this day, one of the major causes of failure in Sales Transformation efforts is lack of senior management knowledge, buy-in and support.
You see, a real commitment to Sales Transformation is evidenced not only by senior management acknowledging the requirement to change, or authorizing budget to implement transformation programs, rather by actually EXPERIENCING the change with the rest of the organization.
How Senior Sales Leaders Fit In
So it's critically important that senior managers attend the training that defines the selling process/methodology and the required coaching behaviors. They should witness the buy-in and leverage that experience later when engaging with sellers and managers. They should make certain the rest of the organization (marketing, sales support) is in alignment to ensure cohesive programs to support transformation.
They should be continually seeking and reporting successes. Most importantly, they should be leading and coaching their own direct reports as they would expect field level managers to manage their teams.
I'm submitting that senior managers should be able to discuss sales and sales methodology with field managers and account executives using the same terminology and methodology that they have learned.
True Sales Transformation doesn't happen when an individual on a team assumes the role of a Trusted Partner. It happens when YOUR ENTIRE COMPANY assumes that role. And a company can't earn this position unless representatives at the most senior levels understand the formal sales process, set the example, and hold everyone in the organization accountable for transformation.
The good news is that it can be done. We have seen leaders at all levels become fully engaged in Sales Transformation with their teams and when they do, they realize dramatic improvements in terms of sales, turnover, participation rates and virtually every other meaningful sales metric.
Bob Nicols has 34 years of experience in sales, sales management, executive management and sales force development. He founded Burton Training Group, now AXIOM Sales Force Development, in 1990 after being a top and highly recognized performer in sales, sales management and executive positions within the technology sector. He has managed and mentored thousands of sales people, sales managers and senior managers and been responsible for hundreds of millions of dollars in sales. For more than 21 years he has developed and delivered sales programs that have become the standard for many Fortune 100 companies including AT&T, BellSouth, Disney Enterprises, Alltel, Verizon and ESPN. AXIOM programs have been implemented in over 30 countries including Japan, the UK, Germany, Dubai, Brazil, Taiwan, Singapore, Australia, China, Mexico, Canada, South Korea, Slovakia, Sweden, and The Netherlands. Bob's highly energetic and insightful lectures and workshops have resulted in invitations to be a featured presenter at dozens of national and international sales meetings and conferences. He is a trusted advisor to the presidents and senior managers of multiple organizations, both large and small and has been a board member of a national technology company. Bob is the developer of AXIOM's “Selling Sciences ProgramTM” and co-author of the “Selling Sciences” CD series.