I’ve seen it repeated over and over again. Sales managers managing their agents. Or more accurately, sales managers “trying” to manage their agents. And it never works. This is especially fruitless with respect to teams of independent sales agents.
You see… people can’t be “managed”. Things get managed. People get led. It’s not simply a matter of semantics. There’s a fundamental difference between trying to manage agents and effectively leading them. Let’s start by examining how managers attempt to “manage” their agents, and then explore what effective sales leadership looks like.
In a nutshell, we’re managing agents when we try to get them to do things or reach goals that are our own or those of the company. These generally take the form of production or activity goals. There’s nothing wrong with these goals, and your goals along with those of the company are important. But when we try to impose our goals on other people, “management” occurs. We generally sit down with each of our agents and tell them what we want them to achieve.
We might encourage them, offer to mentor them, or even threaten them. But I think you’ll agree that these “management” techniques generally are ineffective. It’s not that your agents turn you away. No… they’ll agree with you and offer to do something beyond what they’ve been doing, but at the end of the day, nothing changes.
This pattern seems to hold true even if you’re running a promotion or conducting year-end goal-setting meetings. Sure, you’ll have a few agents respond to a promotion, but generally the majority of agents don’t respond at all. There’s very little lift in production. The same holds true for year-end “business plans”. Often the plans are credible, do-able, and promise the results you want, but by the end of the year not much has changed. “Managing” agents just doesn’t work.
In the alternative, sales “leadership” is much more effective. There are a number of components to effective sales leadership, but before getting into the specifics, it pays to understand the whole idea of leadership and how it makes a difference. Pretty much everyone agrees that good leadership is important, but very few of the people I’ve asked about it can explain why leadership makes a difference. Over the years, I’ve distilled the purpose and effect of leadership down to one simple sentence.
Effective leadership inspires the best effort in others.
When effective leadership is present, people work to do the best they can, they take pride in being part of the team, and they take pride in advancing. Not only that, but in the presence of effective leadership, people become all those things because they want to, not because they’re being “managed”.
It’s within this concept of inspiring people that the dynamics and strategies of leadership become apparent. Effective sales leadership begins with the “culture” of your sales team. Culture determines how you recruit, who you recruit, and what your new agents’ expectations are. The culture of a team is created by the leader and goes beyond the simple mechanics of what gets done. It defines how things are done and it establishes the character and values of the team, its members, and its leader.
This concept of inspiring leadership is also embodied within the leader. After all, like it or not, we all lead by example – good or bad. An effective sales leader must strive to enhance personal leadership skills and then learn to communicate them effectively. Effectively communicating or projecting oneself as a leader is a study in public relations. Everything that a leader does or says makes an impression.
The final piece to creating inspiring leadership is that of working one-on-one with agents. Having the first two pieces in place (culture and personal presence) can especially leverage this effort. Leading your team to higher production starts by acknowledging an important truth. This truth is that regardless of what your team production goals are, each individual agent has his or her own personal goals. And these goals will determine how much more an agent will be willing to do, if anything. These goals can be spoken or unspoken, acknowledged or unacknowledged. But make no mistake, they exist. Our task, as inspiring leaders, is to bring these goals to the surface, bring them to life, and then help our agents overcome their personal “roadblocks” in order to achieve these goals.
Unfortunately, the reality is that for most agents, other situations also exist. The first situation is that an agent may have given up on their dream. They may have vocalized their dream at one time, but now feel that it’s unattainable. Our job as a leader is to re-kindle the fire of that dream and goal. An adept leader can inspire an agent to once again strive to reach their goal.
The second situation is that an agent may not truly believe they can succeed. Our role as leader is to develop each agent so they can realize their full potential. Leaders develop people.
And the third situation is that regardless of what we’d like for our agents, some agents are satisfied with their present level of accomplishment. No amount of poking, prodding, pleading, or threatening will cause them to change.
An effective leader will avoid attempting to reach their team goals by working with each and every agent. Instead, they’ll identify the agents who have higher aspirations and are open to improvement, and then focus on working with them.
By becoming an inspiring sales leader for your team and your agents, you can have greater impact, accomplish more with less effort, and produce better results – not to mention being looked up to and having a great time.