Leadership...and Sales

Posted by Jack Derby, Head Coach on Thu, Jun 25, 2015

There's so much written about sales leadership, my eyes gloss over.  

By now, I've listened to countless speakers, including the legendary Zig Ziglar, viewed hundreds of videos, and probably read a couple of hundred books and who knows how many blogs on the subject of sales leadership.  The problem is that most of the training advice focuses on the motivational, which too often disappears into the wind as soon as the speech or the chapter has ended other than the notes taken and the highlights yellowed.

Sales_Motivation-1Speaking of motivational speakers, who also have real content, the picture to the left is Gerhard Gschwandtner, the founder and CEO of Selling Power. If you are not a regular reader of Selling Power or at least its blogs, you and your sales team are missing out.  Lots of motivational stuff, but, most importantly, solid "getting-back-to-basics" reminders.  In most cases, as a sales manager, you'll find yourself saying, "yep, I knew that", and then thinking, "that's something I can use with my sales team next Monday when we're together on the weekly call"   

As a student of the profession of Sales, what I do know is that real-world leadership in sales management is at the core of the success of any company.  

When quotas are met quarter after quarter, it's always due to two activities:.

  1. The hands-on, hard work of the front line sales manager
These are the unsung heros of sales management. They're the sargents working with the troops directly in the accounts, behind the windshield traveling in the car with their reps on Thursdays and then back in the office on Friday afternoon reviewing detailed CRM data face-to-face with the account managers.

These are the Player/Coaches who are using all of their tools, their experiences and their detailed planning mechanisms with their team members, while often getting suited up to get on the floor and play in the game themselves.

2. Consistent, real world, training that sales management not only provides, but requires to be both scored and certified.  Think "Bronze, Silver and Gold Team Certified",  If the service techs for your car are repeatedly tested and then factory-certified following the consistent training that they receive, there's no excuse for not doing the same with your professional salespeople.  

Grading is the toughest task that I do as a marketing professor, so now I'm asking you to do the same. Right now, take out a piece of paper or open an Excel file, write down the names of your sales (or service) team in the first column and then put a letter grade in the next column, using pluses and minuses, beside each name based on their actual quota results for this quarter and for last.  Then in the next column, create a grade that defines their general level of selling skills and finally in the last column, note down the one sales skill that they are most deficient in.

In Sales, the success of true leadership is not about simple motivational talks...  

It's about training...

  • ...to be excellent, not just average
  • ...to stand out and demonstrate remarkable skills 
  • ...to comfortably move uncomfortably beyond the set standards
  • ...to be obsessed and obsessive about achieving success

No one rises to the occasion, they fall to their level of training... (U.S. Navy Seals folklore)

With that said, when we look at the stats for training dollars spent, the 2014 Sales Management Optimization study found found that 48.7% of firms that provided training were investing $1,500 or less per year. This year that number decreased to 41.2%.


sales_training_2014When we then look at the data regarding training investments in the actual sales managers, at both the regional and national management levels, the chart to the left should result in a dope slap to the forehead with the accompanying words of...

"Ok, now I get it"    



  • That's why we missed the quarter
  • That's why only 55% of my guys were on quota...again
  • That's why our customer churn is so high
  • That's why [you fill in the blanks]


With total comp structures for a B2B salesperson averaging $150K, and that of a manager averaging $200K, to think that over 50% of the companies surveyed are investing only $500-$2,500 a year in training makes little sense relative to the cost of the investment and the potential of the results that could be achieved.  When you're doing the math here, make sure that you add 20% to those comp numbers for benefits, and then more for travel and a couple of pencils, and the equation only becomes worse.

  • Professional salespeople are professional athletes,
  • They're highly trained mechanics
  • Some subset of them are your U.S.Navy Seals.

Isn't that the idea?  

Aren't we looking for and expecting these professionals to be the "A" level ballplayers that we interviewed and tested for and then hired them to be?  

Then, if that's the case, which, of course it is, let's spend a couple of more bucks and a commitment to an allocation of time to fully and consistently train them.

Jacks_ToolboxAs you move through the final days of the quarter, take 60 minutes out to...

  • ...do the grading exercise I recommended.  Hard to decide, but it only takes 10 minutes.  Go with your instinct here. 
  • ...ask your reps to identify, prioritize and vote on the skills and tools they feel they need
  • ...plan out a 3rd and 4th quarter training plan.  Just slot in time blocks each month

None of this process is that hard, and, more importantly this is the perfect time of year to do this and make sure that you're going to make those 4th Quarter numbers that you committed to when you were numbed out back in the snowy and cold months of January.    

Best of success this week, bringing in the rest of the quarter!

BTW, thank you very much for all of your marketing project submissions for this coming semester at Tufts !  We;ve received some great projects.   I'll be back asking the same questions in December for the spring semester

Have specific sales questions that you want to bounce off me or any of our other coaches, just email me, and we'll set up a time to talk.


  Jack Derby 

Head Coach  

Derby Management...for 25 years
-Sales & Marketing Productivity Experts
-Business & Strategy Planning Specialists
-Senior Management Coaching

Box 171322, Boston, MA 02117
Jack's Cell: 617-504-4222 

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