The inevitable change in buyer behavior due to an increased level of technical acuity and digital engagement has bred a new type of sales management leaders. This new crop is something to behold, bringing technical expertise and strategic thinking to the fold while spearheading sales management to new levels of success. Fewer field sales (and marketing too) and a substantial move to subscription-based business models have radically changed the outlook of customer relationships. Modern digital sales leaders understand that a B2B sale is not a one-and-done deal, especially in the growing environment of recurring revenues. Rather, there are monthly, quarterly, and yearly goals to achieve sale-wise, adding long-term value to the customer relationship.
The end result of these changes is a data-driven and digitally-enabled sales process that puts the sole focus on the customer. Understanding what makes your clients tick is the name of the game, treading into science, you can carefully underpin each aspect of the buyer’s business with actionable data. As the leader of sales management, here are 5 attributes you need to have in order to join the high-performing bunch.
1. Active leadership
Almost by default, sales managers need to be strong army-like leaders, firmly in command of their troops. The truth is, your salespeople will be looking to you for leadership, to set clear direction and guide them toward targets, especially in times of intensified pressure and turbulence. There’s no other way to put it - you simply need to be a strong leader. One of the key distinguishing attributes that separate the overachievers from underperformers is the active role in leadership and strategic thinking that lead the sales transformation instead of waiting for it to happen.
Great sales leaders have the knowledge and expertise to devise the best course of action, be it maximizing sales through a most cost-effective model, segmenting and prioritizing the market into different verticals, deploying sales teams by product, service or customer type when needed, holding the team to a higher level of accountability, and so on. They must also demonstrate active leadership, with clarity of vision for their team. Crucial to the role are the skill and willingness to help sales reps embrace this vision and keep them focused on achieving it. Commitment, as well, is what sets the tone for the entire sales team and paints the big picture; only a deeply committed sales management leader has the power to reverse internal politics and set focus on the optimal solution, regardless how it might differ from past strategies and practices.
2. Understanding how customers want to be engaged
As we move further toward a decentralized sales process with a goal of customer engagement, a multi channel strategy driven by astute digital investments that will serve the variety of needs both new and repeat customers have is essential.
According to McKinsey & Company, the fastest-growing companies, led by top-performing sales managers, utilize digital tools to help their sales teams address first-time customers’ needs during every stage of their buyer’s journey. The range of available tools goes in every direction: there are sales insights platforms that help sales reps uncover and engage prospects in the research stage of their journey, CRM software to keep tabs on customer inquiries and gather all the data into a centralized location, while a small percentage of companies is investing deeper in customer analytics to predict their behavior and empower salespeople with different insights.
Image credit: McKinsey&Company
When it comes to repeat customers, top businesses do everything in their power to make them comfortable online. By using digital tools, as well as inside sales, they keep this particular group of clients faithful and motivate them to spend an extra buck here and there, all the while speeding up the sales process and cutting unnecessary steps. This often includes creating online comparative reports of competitors’ offerings and augmenting these reviews with inside sales data. Those companies that are particularly confident in their sales and marketing cohesion use predictive algorithms that dispatch related recommendations of complementary products without the risk of being too salesy.
To put this into an example: using Sales Insights Platforms such as SimilarTech, a tech company has the ability to actively uncover prospects across multiple business fields, including companies who are potential users for their tech. They can gain insights into how many clients each company has, including top clients and their geographical spread, as well as get a peek at overlapping technologies potential customers are using. This information can help expand focus beyond initial boundaries and target new potential business verticals to tap into, as well as other technologies and geographies. On top of that, not only will a company learn that a prospect is actually using the technology, they can easily transform this information into a more personalized conversation with them.
3. Instill a winning culture
Along with leading essential sales processes as a key driver of growth, top sales management leaders are also the main force behind the culture of ongoing improvement, instigating changes within an entire organization. They have a keen understanding of the business’ agenda, prioritizing strategies and turning them into measurable and trackable information. In a B2B environment, changes happen around the clock. Every business needs to adjust accordingly and instilling a high-performance culture into a business’ genetic makeup is the only sure-fire way to achieve growth year in and year out.
This includes instituting specific tools and practices to shape the company and its behavior by creating new habits. Thel focus should, however, be on determining the right metrics and tracking them through digital dashboards in order to assess how quickly the company is reaching set goals. Otherwise, it’s not possible to precisely gauge what’s working and what isn’t. Sales management leaders are the ones who pull the strings when pointing out areas that require further development and upgrades, be it shortening the sales cycle, driving a multichannel customer engagement strategies, or else, by implementing new methods and tools to set a steady flow of best practices throughout the company. On that note…
4. They don’t just “do digital”
More often than not, embracing the trend of going digital means incorporating a few digital activities into everyday operations and just like that, the company is supposedly a part of the occurring digital movement. The end product is a mishmash of hard to follow practices that don’t align with the customers’ needs and demands, leaving them hanging dry. Successful leaders don’t embrace digital just for digital sake, rather, they formulate a coherent and consistent digital strategy that has all the requirements to transform and power the business for the long haul. The full scope of digital proficiency is utilized to raise the effectiveness to the next level and alter the buying experience according to the digital customer.
The cream of the crop of sales leaders go “all in” when it comes to digital strategy, focusing not only on customer engagement and converting sales to this new format, but also on gathering actionable data and assets and turning them into critical insights to enable and empower their salespeople to perform on a higher level. B2B sales reps are working harder than ever, jumping through multiple hoops and dealing with a number of decision makers, but they often lack the means to close deals. Top performers provide necessary firepower in terms of digital tools and real-time analytics to manage the process more efficiently by understanding the key aspect of the prospect and knowing which relevant position holder to reach in the long(er) chain of command.
“Companies fail to understand the implications of how quickly technology will transform their business. And they underestimate what it really means to their economic growth or that of their competitors.”
-John Chambers, executive chairman of Cisco Systems
This is where the aforementioned commitment to leadership and the ability to create and execute a crystal-clear strategic vision comes to play. In any case of true digital sales change, sales leaders need to be the key link that connects sales reps, motivates and guides them through. Successful sales teams have the ability to perform effectively across organizational limits to drive digital innovations in sales by working to enhance the digital customer experience and upgrade CRM and all kinds of customer data. By focusing on key digital practices that are closely tied to both customer and financial success, SMBs will be able to generate and carry notable long-term value.
5. They follow a closely-knit system
Every sales leader knows it’s their sole responsibility to improve both the efficiency and the effectiveness of their sales force. However, in order to do this, they need to follow a defined set of rules - a system, if you will, and try to avoid their individuality taking over. While top sales leaders wholeheartedly embrace the individual aspect of their responsibility, the systematic process needs to be consistent throughout the company and insist on accountability. It’s fairly easy to get fired up and thrilled about a certain opportunity or technology (especially with all the frequent technological advancements) or form a more personal bond to the prospect. By following a closely-knit and uniform process to gather relevant and objective information, sales management leaders can cooperate with their salesforce and assess the opportunity without getting hyped up about the “next big thing” or caught in arguments based on gut feeling.
Best sales managers do it by the book - determine key steps in the sales process, identify all the factors that make a prospect a good fit, and further establish criteria to qualify opportunities with most promise. Equally important, they encourage their team members to follow in the same footsteps in order to avoid a dissolution of the system into multiple subsystems for each sales rep. Furthermore, this doesn’t create a hive of mindless drones because, as I mentioned before - sales leaders embrace individuality to the fullest. They empower their salespeople to put their own individual stamp to the process while adhering to its narrow set of boundaries. Consistency is key to swiftly reveal opportunities, identify which ones to pursue and which to avoid.