Leadership in uncertain times

In December 2012, like in the previous years, we published the 12 Sales Trends Report for 2013 and released a brief summary of each trend. Throughout the year we will look into each of them a little deeper. This month we are focusing on the sales trend “Leadership in uncertain times”.

Extreme uncertainty is the new norm. Living in a constant state of fear and anxiety only leads to more fear and anxiety. Research shows that highly distracted or stressed people don’t and can’t innovate and change, and without purposeful leadership and reason to change, people will stand still and be left behind, trampled in the rush to the future.

In times of uncertainty, leadership is required more than ever; leadership that can take us into the unknown, pioneering if you will.

This sales trend predicts managers of all persuasions, especially sales managers, will have to take on leadership roles and reduce their dependence on ‘processes only management’ and technical gadgets to ‘fix’ sales and business productivity issues.

In uncertain times managing processes will only get you so far and then what? No more hiding behind the desk and Excel spreadsheets; no more looking for shortcuts so you don’t have to deal with people; no more leaving good sales performers alone and booting out the poor performers with no interventions. It’s time to lead. And this means taking risks – calculated risks.

Smart companies realise that great leaders are great enablers. The rules have fundamentally changed. What was once the norm is now obsolete; there’s no playing it safe.

Sales leadership needs to be founded on sound thinking around new sales strategies and ways of operating, personal courage and conviction in adversity, and willingness to experiment and pilot new ideas supported by learning and relearning. Taking risks to design and develop sales teams of the future will be the hallmark of these new sales leaders along with building and earning trust and respect for all the right reasons.

Rethinking sales strategy

According to a recent international survey conducted by UK consulting firm Value Partnership there are some real issues facing businesses, especially big business when it comes to taking a One Company global approach. Many large, complex global companies were taking a ‘one company’ approach but were struggling with what aspects of their business should be global and what should remain local.

Still confused, many were trying to solve this dilemma by still focusing on structure instead of mindset and behaviours. One company said it was shifting from hopelessly local to mindlessly global: which continues to highlight the crisis in leadership we are facing.

Ownership of sales strategy

Effective sales leaders know only too well that their challenge it to take the overarching strategy of their organisation (global &/or national) and localise it to their markets and country so their sales teams can make it work. Giving sales leaders the freedom to make the overarching strategy work in their domain is critical especially for international and global businesses.

Cultivating effective leaders and sales leaders will be the key; training them in ‘how to think’ about their business, market and value chain not just telling them ‘what to think’ is critical. Developing their capabilities around creating and delivering sales strategies; being effective sales leaders; applying sales management functions; sales coaching; account planning; mapping sales force structure; finding and managing sales talent; monitoring and managing sales performance; as well as creating a climate of trust, collaboration and action.

Effective sales leaders need to develop their own leadership style and have courage to be themselves. They establish their own vision and purpose as a leader and understand and respect that each person is different and accordingly adapt themselves and their leadership approach based on the levels of maturity of their sales people and teams.

Smart companies are realising they need their sales mangers to shift from being ‘super salesmen’ (as many are still today) to being effective sales leaders. Training, coaching and educating sales managers to become effective sales leaders is complex yet doable and will be on the agenda of smart companies in 2013 and beyond.

Remember, everybody lives by selling something.

Sue Barrett is a sales expert, business speaker, adviser, sales facilitator and entrepreneur and founded Barrett Consulting to provide expert sales consulting, sales training, sales coaching and assessments. Her business Barrett P/L partners with its clients to improve their sales operations.

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