Effective Sales Leaders Apply Healthy Pressure to Their Teams

For many people, pressure has negative connotations. The very idea of pressure — a continuous physical force, expectation or even intimidation directed at us is unpleasant.

What emotions do you feel when you hear the word ‘pressure’?

For many people, pressure has negative connotations. The very idea of pressure — a continuous physical force, expectation or even intimidation directed at us is unpleasant.

Pressure can be positive though. A healthy amount of pressure is the opposite of intimidation — it’s persuasive. I call it subtle tension. Where each individual ‘feels’ the importance and responsibility to deliver on their part of the sales target.

Sales leadership is different to ‘normal’ leadership

This is controversial, but it shouldn’t be. People argue with me over the point, but I’m convinced sales leadership really is different when compared to regular leadership.

I came to that view after spending time with a client who was having issues in their sales force. This was a large organisation with billions in revenue, yet their sales teams were complacent and underperforming.

While we looked at what the sales leaders were doing that led to underperformance, our client asked us to benchmark what a sales leader actually does. At the time, that was a curious question to answer. Conventional wisdom was, “Leaders are all the same. There’s no real difference, therefore we should develop these sales leaders in the same way we develop others.”

The clear themes of sales leadership

The expectations on sales teams are high — the need to bring in revenue is constant. For that reason, we tightly measure performance in sales functions. There’s no scope for complacency or coasting. We discovered effective sales leaders do the following.

They create a pacesetting environment

A good sales leader creates a pacesetting environment more frequently. Pacesetting is a style of leadership we normally associate with going at pace, always looking forward, never slowing down and creating a tension in the business.

An ‘always-on’ need to perform over time can be negative to morale. That’s why we discourage ‘normal’ leaders from using too much of the pacesetting style.

However, with sales leaders, they must use it fairly frequently. They need to spot when to apply healthy pressure to their teams. This subtle sales tension, when used correctly, can get the best out of salespeople and unlock their potential.

They spend time outside the office

We found top sales leaders left the office to spend at least half their time in the field with their people. What were they doing? Coaching, supporting and developing them. These leaders watch their people in client meetings without interfering then give them immediate feedback while travelling to the next meeting.

The sales leaders who spent most of their time in their office, typically were running sales teams who were underperforming.

They think ahead to solve problems

Effective sales leaders must constantly think ahead to solve problems. This does not sound too different to regular leadership. ‘Normal’ leaders are often approached with problems too, but they rightly push back to coach people to come up with their own solutions.

However, in sales leadership you never leave the table until a solution has been found. Yes, you still teach your team to think critically and solve their own problems, but you and your team need resolution because it involves winning a bid or successfully converting business with a customer.

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