Early in my career, I heard the CSO of a client organization declare, “My sales people don’t have to like me, they just have to respect me.” Even as a young professional with no sales leadership experience, I suspected that logic was flawed. Today, I am sure it is. But what emotions should we as sales leaders try to cultivate among the sales professionals who are on our team?
First, we should consider the attributes we need in every member of our sales team. Commitment, competence and integrity have to be among the foundational elements for sales success. A big part of our responsibility as sales leaders is to assess individual sales people for gaps in each of these areas. A lack of competence can often be remedied with training or coaching. A lack of integrity is nearly impossible to overcome; probably best to remove that element from your team.
What about commitment? This is the area in which sales leaders can have the greatest impact, and it is arguably our most important function – to motivate our team members such that we achieve the maximum commitment from each individual. Thinking back to the comments of the misguided CSO, it is clear he was confusing “respect” with “fear,” and fear is simply not a viable long-term motivator for any human being living in a free society. With fear comes loathing, and how can we ever expect to bring out the best in sales professionals who hate us?
Does that mean we should seek to have our sales team members love us? This is one of the most common downfalls of sales leaders. Like fear/loathing, managing for popularity will garner only short-term benefits at the expense of our long-term effectiveness as leaders. Certainly, it is important to build a trusting relationship with each member of the sales team; but there is a difference between a friendship and a business relationship. If popularity is our top priority, it becomes impossible to hold team members accountable or provide candid feedback when it is needed.
Sales team members with the highest levels of motivation and loyalty are those who view their sales leader with a sense of confidence and trust, and who view their individual goals as common goals shared by their leader and the rest of the organization. As leaders, we can cultivate these emotions by modeling the attributes and behaviors we want to see in our sales professionals. By displaying competence, commitment and integrity every single day, we show ownership of our message, which paves the way for building confidence and trust among our sales team members. With these elements in place, heightened commitment, motivation and loyalty will be natural consequences.