Third Prize, You’re Fired: Sales Leadership Strategies

Third Prize, You’re Fired: Sales Leadership Strategies

If you’re in sales, you know the classic sales-leadership technique from the movie Glengarry Glen Ross, meant to motivate the sales team into a frenzy of selling: First place in the monthly sales contest is a Cadillac Eldorado. Second place, steak knives. Third place, you’re fired.

All of which begs the following sales leadership question: How are you organizing your sales department to achieve its operational or business goals?

Talk to any VP of sales and you’ll hear about their organization’s sales methodology, such as Target Account Selling or Miller Heiman. But how many have a methodology for how they organize and manage their sales teams?

ABC: Always Be Closing…

The primary requirement for any sales strategy, of course, is to engage clients. But how do you also manage the entire process of choosing the right clients to pursue, managing your salespeople and coaching them to help close more deals? This is the discipline of sales leadership, which combines:

  • Functional strategy: Set and articulate a sales direction that prioritizes account attention and activity
  • Coaching: Monitor sales performance and provide feedback to get the most from your sales teams
  • Training: Using the right learning format, and instruct salespeople not just on products, but also processes and skills
  • Climate: Manage the environment to maximize motivation, accountability and performance

What Do Sales Leaders Do?

The sales leadership role isn’t just about sales managers doing ride-alongs to help salespeople close deals. That strategy doesn’t scale or help salespeople learn how to become closers.

Rather, you need to create an effective functional strategy for your sales team. One excellent technique for inculcating this strategy is via classes on a sales management methodology, such as Strategic Selling from Miller Heiman.

Measure Performance, Then Coach

To help your salespeople master the organizational and relationship-based aspects of selling, identify how they need help, then coach them accordingly.

For example, sales leaders at biotechnology firm Genzyme have distilled the strategies and techniques that they think make a sales rep successful at selling including “building rapport” and “showing value” into a 12-point competency model. The organization measures sales reps on these competencies during ride-alongs, and also measures individual sales reps against their sales targets, such as how many calls they’re making every week. All of that information goes into the CRM system, and gets fed back into the coaching process.

Don’t Waste Time

Behavioral psychologist B.F. Skinner posited that people are naturally predisposed to one of these four modes of learning: reading, listening, visual and kinesthetic. Most people, I’d argue, are kinesthetic learners they learn by doing. Don’t park them in a classroom to stare at a book.

Accordingly, the most effective training for sales reps is on-the-job training. Yet, most training for new salespeople today is done via boot camp: 1) Go to California; 2) Spend three days learning all about the different routers we sell; 3) Go out and sell.

But if at least 50% of selling is about relationships and some would argue it’s more like 90% then why spend the boot camp focused on speeds and feeds? Isn’t that why we have systems engineers?

Instead, why not take a page from pharmaceutical companies, which don’t have the luxury of spending a lot of time with doctors? Indeed, their sales reps are lucky to get a few minutes of face time with a doctor. But thanks to how pharmaceutical companies aggressively measure and improve their specific selling competencies, as well as meeting-planning skills, their sales reps know how to close deals regardless.

Create Climate Change

What makes Glengarry Glen Ross so riveting is the atmosphere of pure poison permeating the sales office, culminating after the pressure increases and increases in a robbery, in which the best leads go missing.

Few people want to work in that kind of environment. In fact, the best organizations use a more subtle sales climate to influence salespeople’s personal drive to succeed, keeping them motivated, productive and accountable.

At ABN AMRO, for example, when the financial services firm’s salespeople log into their CRM application, the first thing they see is a report about how they’re doing versus how their peers are doing. Of course, 90% of the firm’s salespeople won’t be in the top 10% of the rankings. The bank has found that showing people where they stand is a powerful tool backed by proper training and coaching for motivating them to sell more.

The bank is using the age-old sales leader board only with its CRM application to ensure that salespeople marshal the leads and keep closing. And who doesn’t want to be at the top of that list?


Adam Honig
Adam Honig 125 Posts

Adam Honig is a leader in CRM vision, strategy and operations, and he helps companies worldwide achieve business objectives through his CRM experience and expertise. Adam helped build, grow and manage numerous successful technology firms, including CRM consulting firm Innoveer Solutions (now part of Cloud Sherpas), Internet consulting firm C-bridge Internet Solutions and middleware software development firm Open Environment Corporation.