Today I want to explore the sales cycle and how leadership can help an organization improve its sales cycle and thereby the bottom line. It is more than simply leadership from the top as my guests today advocate a full 360-degree approach to leadership. I am joined in this exploration by Lee Smith, the founder/CEO of SalesFuel. Smith founded the company in 1989. He is first and foremost an expert in data-driven talent development, selling with research, executive leadership and a Jeffrey Gitomer Certified Advisor. Audrey Strong is the company’s the Director of Communications, heading all external and internal communications for the company, including public relations – which she has directed since 2014. Prior to joining SalesFuel, she founded her own public relations firm and served years as an award-winning journalist in television news. They are both uber sales gurus and both their passion and expertise around sales can help to transform your leadership skill.
From the management perspective, they believe that while there may be good ideas generated around sales in the C-Suite, by the time such initiative gets down into the front lines, the message becomes quite muddled. Most insightfully, Smith said that people usually do not leave their company but rather “they leave managers and 50 percent of people not just salespeople leave companies because of issues with their direct managers or incompetence.” This really picks up on something Vanessa Rossi, compliance professional at BakerHughes continually stresses, that leadership in an organization for most employees is their direct supervisor. Smith believes that the rank and file at most companies never really hear from a CEO unless there is a crisis. This means the identity of the leadership of the company “is what the employees know and what they see almost every day or every week or something like that which is normally their direct boss maybe their boss’s boss.”
Smith, another key leadership tool is what Dun & Bradstreet Chief Compliance Officer, Louis Sapirman calls a 360-degree approach to communication. However, Smith says that is equally important for a leader to use this tool to make them a better leader. Smith explained that under outdated management theory, employees were intoned to only come in and talk to their managers when they were in trouble, had a problem or need a question answered. This one-way street of communication misses an entire source of data, your employees. Smith believes you are “missing great opportunities to connect with the millennials and the younger generations because they are used to constant feedback, whether it be on their cell phone, a video game, a chat box or something like that, they are simply used to that type of feedback and communication.” With more and better feedback, both up and down the chain, you can create better value.
Smith believes such an approach can open communications channels which were not fully utilized under prior management theory and practices. It allows you to form a connection through which both sides have the opportunity for greater understanding. This allows for not only greater communication but greater feeding back of that same information into the leadership decision-making process.
Smith also brought the concepts articulated in Michael Lewis’ book Moneyball into his thoughts around leadership. Obviously, in the sales cycle, one measure is raw sales. However, that is only a starting point. Smith related that if you are not using metrics, you are simply leading by feel and touch. He said, “You don’t just look at the revenue generated, or a number of widgets produced or anything like that because those are lagging indicators like what is a leading indicator is what is the attitude and the psychological safety of your employee.” Such an approach will not only positively impact your sales but also help you to get the most out of your employees because (channeling his inner Atticus Finch) “if they could put themselves in another person’s shoes you are much less likely to have drama internally. If you are a salesperson, then you are working externally as the representative of the company and in any company, this is incredibly important.”
Perhaps not too surprisingly given her role, Audrey Strong advocates a strong leadership policy of transparency in communications. She believes that leaders should push themselves to more regularly communicate with “a certain level of transparency that is new and will increase the engagement of your employee and will improve your company culture.” She added that as a corporate function, communications needs to have a seat at the management table to help not only prepare messaging but also to help management be ready in times of a crisis. After your company’s name appears on the front page of the New York Times, Wall Street Journal or Financial Times is not the right time to put a crisis management plan in place.
The leadership strategies advocated by Smith and Strong can give any business leader more tools to help them navigate from the routine day-to-day matters in running a business to a full crisis when it all hits the fan. I would suggest you check them both out on the SalesFuel website, www.salesfuel.com . It will well be worth your time.