5 Common Mistakes Sales Leaders Make & What to do About it

After working with sales leaders for over 20 years, I’ve discovered that more honest communication is the key to consistently achieving higher sales performance.

Even so, most sales teams don’t get the unsaid said. In fact, a lack of honest communication is the biggest problem in sales today.

Does your sales organization get the unsaid said?

Sales leaders often can’t answer this question with confidence. These same leaders often feel stuck at their current performance level and aren’t sure how to energize their team.

If you need more honest communication at your organization today, you’re not alone.

Here are 5 common mistakes sales leaders make — and what to do about it:

1. DRIVING BLIND. As a sales leader, bringing honest communication to your team means sharing your vision for success. Without this vision, you’re driving blind — and asking your salespeople to follow you without a roadmap.

Some sales leaders don’t realize how important it is to share their vision and get everyone on board. Others aren’t honest about their vision because they’re afraid salespeople wouldn’t be on board with it if they knew.

But a specific vision of success is the glue that holds the team together and makes people want to be part of the organization. This is especially important in a business environment where people have many options to go to other companies.

Without buy-in from your team, it’s nearly impossible to bring your vision to life. Be honest and clear about your goals for individuals, the team, and the company as a whole. Regardless of what direction you take, your vision should have the following four ingredients:

  1. It must be specific and measurable.
  2. It must be very easy to understand, and shouldn’t exceed one or two sentences.
  3. It must be positive, not negative. For example, not “stop losing sales” but rather “increase sales by x percent.”
  4. It must be inspiring and get people excited.

Your vision for success might be to become the number one record-breaking sales team in the industry, to own your market, or to have your customers say you are their go-to company. Your vision might also be a major financial goal with a specific dollar amount.

Openly sharing your vision for success will increase team cohesion and inspire people to follow your lead. The greatest leaders of our time all created a wonderful vision — and shared it with others. If they kept that vision to themselves, or weren’t fully honest about what they wanted, they would have remained footnotes in history.

2. NOTHING PERSONAL. What’s in it for the people around you? How is success personal for them? As a sales leader, you should be asking questions to get these answers.

Your vision for success can’t just be about bottom-line results. It must also have a specific personal benefit to both salespeople and prospects.

Few people are motivated purely by money. Money is an enabler, not a core motivator; money enables us to do other things. (There are actually 6 core drivers of human behavior; if you would like to see an article on them, email us at info@steven gaffney.com.)

The key is to make sure your vision is beneficial to others based on what’s personally important to them — not what’s important to you. This may sound obvious, but people often project what they think would be valuable for someone if they were in their shoes. The problem is, they’re not.

Instead of projecting your own ideas of what people want, ask them to get honest answers about what they care about. This isn’t always easy. Sometimes you have to dig deep to understand what’s in it for those around you.

I once worked with a sales leader who had a great approach to this. He would ask each individual on his sales team, “What are your personal goals?” Then he would periodically check in with each person and ask, “How are you doing on that particular goal you told me about?”

This created a strong rapport with the team while helping the leader to connect his own vision with the goals of individual salespeople.

When it comes to prospects, sales leaders should think about their personal objectives, too. Why does the prospect really want to solve the problem at hand? Are they telling you the whole story? What will your product or solution bring to the prospect on a personal level?

3. STAMPING OUT CONFLICT. Honest communication requires embracing conflict. In their quest to keep things running smoothly, many sales leaders make the mistake of stamping out conflict instead of embracing it.

For example, if there are people on your team who aren’t on board with your vision for success, don’t silence them. Non-believers in your vision might have a good reason for doubting you.

The fact is that a whopping 70% of organizational changes fail to meet their original objectives. Chances are, your salespeople or prospects have experienced scenarios where they were let down and disappointed.

So, why are you different? It’s your job to convince nonbelievers that they can believe in you.

The key to doing this is to make people feel emotionally safe. While people are usually afraid to open up at first, when they feel emotionally safe, they’re more likely to share the truth. The simple reason for this is that it takes much more psychological energy to keep something inside than it does to let it out. People are often just waiting to feel safe enough to open up.

Create an environment where people feel free to get the unsaid said by giving you honest feedback. Don’t back down from conflict. Instead, make good conflict with the people who don’t believe in you, and encourage them to share their misgivings. Remember, conflict is often good. It’s unresolved conflict that’s bad.

4. LOSING IT INSTEAD OF USING IT. If you don’t use honest feedback, you’ll end up losing it. The most successful sales leaders actively encourage honest feedback — and then actually use the ideas they hear.

The most effective way to encourage honest feedback is to ask great questions of your sales team. These questions should get the unsaid said, not reinforce ideas you already have. Some examples include:

  1. What are we not saying to each other that we need to say or discuss?
  2. What are the biggest capabilities we’re not utilizing?
  3. If I gave you a magic wand and you could change any one thing in the organization, what would it be?
  4. What would it take for us to go from an ordinary team to an extraordinary team?
  5. If you were king or queen for a time, what would you make happen with this team/organization to make it the best possible?

Open-ended questions like these allow people to open up without feeling compelled to answer in a certain way. When you get answers that conflict with your own opinion, don’t be defensive. Rather, make sure those people feel heard and valued. Then, actually use what they tell you.

The best motivator to get people to tell the truth is to show them that you will use at least some of their ideas and give them credit. The same is true for prospects. Encourage your sales team to ask great questions of prospects to discover what they really want from your company, your product, or your service.

In my own business, some of the best concepts I’ve developed have come from what my clients truly wanted, versus what I thought they initially might need. For example, my Reboot program was born from the seed of an idea from a client who wanted to take my honest communication strategies and apply them to his team. It has now become one of the biggest areas of growth for my business.

5. FORGETTING THE GOOD STUFF. While it’s important to get the unsaid said about what needs improving, it’s equally important to shed light on what’s working well. In particular, sales leaders need to consistently share the positives and appreciate their employees.

This is something that many sales leaders overlook at the expense of low team morale and losing some of their top performers. Sales leaders often think, “If I’m honest with my strongest performers about how good they are, then it will go to their heads — and they’ll leave for a better job.”

But in all my years consulting with Fortune 500 and other top-tier companies, I’ve never once seen an employee leave a job because they felt too appreciated. It simply doesn’t happen.

Instead, sales leaders often under-appreciate their top performers. They might give lots of feedback and respectful criticism to help performers improve, but they hardly ever give them appreciation for what they do right.

It’s human nature to feel bonded with people who truly appreciate our talents. Day in and day out, it’s important for sales leaders to show appreciation to their team. Remember, whatever we focus on, grows.

Don’t let these five common mistakes drag your organization down. Instead, avoid them to achieve breakthrough communication, consistently high performance, and profound innovation on your sales team.

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