This column is part of Globe Careers' Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about leadership and management. Follow us at @Globe_Careers. Find all Leadership Lab stories at tgam.ca/leadershiplab
I've had the privilege of working with a few start-ups and entrepreneurs over the years and one thing they have in common is how they build their business from the ground up. When starting a company, you're it – you build the relationships, reach out to your network and do all the selling. But once the business has been established, leaders will often step back, hire a sales team and the cold-calling begins. Poof. In an instant, the relationships that helped build a company are put on the back burner. It's a huge mistake and it can cost your company its growth, reputation and longevity.
If you're a leader in a sales-driven organization, or if your people are responsible for bringing in new business, it's up to you to help shape your selling process. Here's how:
Adjust your priorities
As a leader, you're likely being pulled in many different directions with competing priorities and a myriad of responsibilities. Interactions with your customers should not be at the bottom of your priority list. Think about it – sales people are the face of your company; they are selling your product, and your vision. But if you are not engaged in the lifeblood of your business and leaving it to someone else, you are failing as a leader.
Staying involved with your sales team isn't micromanaging. It's taking your company's pulse on a daily basis and understanding what customers are saying about your product and how your company is being positioned in the marketplace. I'm not suggesting that as a leader you should focus all your time on sales, but make it a priority. Being directly involved in sales means that you will have a better understanding of your customers and your people.
Is selling beneath you?
If the thought of attending a sales call makes your squirm, maybe its time to question why that is. Part of being a leader in a sales organization means that you may have to attend a sales meeting occasionally, even if it's not your favourite thing to do. Depending on the needs of your client or prospect, it may be important for you to join a sales meeting to bring some experience and seniority to the table and speak the same 'language' as the other executives. This is not to undermine your sales team, but to complement the work they are doing. Ensure your sales team knows that you are available to them if they need you.
Do you introduce your sales people to your network?
Do you believe in your people? How about your product – do you stand behind it? Part of your job as a leader is to increase your companies rate of success, and introductions to other leaders is one of the fastest ways to help. If you don't have confidence in your sales people or your product, it's time to address that. Hire the people that you would be confident to introduce to anyone in your network, teach your team the skills they need in order to succeed, and continually listen on ways to improve your product. It will benefit your company in the long run and it is essential to your company's long-term success.
Customers are always right, right? Wrong.
Some sales professionals have been taught that every interaction they have with a client should be about making the customer feel comfortable and the relationship is all that matters. I don't think that's true for every business. If you care about your customer and you genuinely want to improve their situation then sometimes you need to challenge them when they were doing something that isn't beneficial. Developing relationships doesn't mean pandering to customers it is about helping them achieve their goals. Sales professionals must use the information and context they have about their clients in order to give tough advice and help lead them down the right path. As a leader, you should make it okay for your sales teams to challenge their customers when they are wrong. When done with genuine interest, customers will respect the advice and trust that you have their best interests in mind.
Life is full of teachable moments
Everything is teachable, provided that professionals are willing to learn and someone is willing to teach them. It's important that as a leader you create an environment where people can ask for help and want to grow. Leaders are often involved with the back end of sales processes, but they play a critical role in shaping their front line – the sales professionals. The success and future of your company depends on it.
Brian Church is country manager for Canada and head of sales solutions for North America at LinkedIn (@LinkedIn).