Archives for 4th May 2012

Sales Leadership Styles

Here is the tongue-twister of the day ……… there is nothing so unequal as the equal treatment of “un-equals!” Read it again as it is a little confusing, to say the least.

What it means is that we are not all the same – we are not all equal. In the workplace there are a number of “ism’s” that should not be tolerated, of course. Over the years, racism, sexism and ageism have all had their day …….. literally. But there are two things in the workplace that do make people “un-equal” and we need to recognise them and change our leadership style to deal with them. So what are they?

  1. People offer different levels of COMPETENCE – knowledge, skills and experience
  2. People offer different levels of COMMITMENT – passion, energy and support

Leaders who say “I treat my people all the same” are poor leaders!

Time for a four-square matrix:


High Low Table

Think of a typical sales task – making calls to new prospects. If your salesperson is top left on the matrix (high on commitment but low on competence) then they deserve a GUIDING style of leadership. You would probably say something like this:

  • “This is what I suggest you do ………………………….”
  • Or……”Why don’t you have a word with Sue. She ran a very effective new business campaign last year. She will really be able to help you.”

When you are guiding a salesperson, you listen to the problem and the various options but then make the final decision in a friendly and supportive manner.

If your salesperson is top-right on the matrix with high levels of competence and commitment when making calls to new prospects then a different style is needed. You need to adopt a RELEASING style, let go of the reins, delegate, trust them to get on with it and don’t interfere. You are not abdicating from the task in hand – you would still monitor from a distance and invite the salesperson to report back on their plan and their progress. You would probably say something like:

  • “You know what you are doing here Trevor and I can see that you are “up for it.” You decide what the new business campaign should look like and tell me about it next week.”
  • Or ……… ”Ann, I know you will have no problem with this – just let me know when you have completed it and how it went.”

If your salesperson is bottom-right on the matrix once again a different style is needed. If they are able to do the task and have the competence but are not showing any signs of commitment then they need INVOLVING. You can’t pull them out of their mental state with “Come on, it will be alright” type of comments. Also, you can’t push them out of their state with “Just get on with it” type of comments. You need to find out why their commitment levels are low and the only way you can do that is by asking questions:

  • “Why are you looking like that Sheila?”
  • Or …….”You have made many new business calls in the past but you are not looking happy today, Pete. What’s the problem here?”

Finally, let’s move to bottom-left on the matrix. If you have a salesperson who lacks both competence and commitment in relation to making calls to new prospects then you need to adopt a DIRECTING style. This is not aggression. This is simply being clear. As the sales leader you are not negotiating here – you identify the problem, provide clear directions, offer support, supervise and evaluate the result.

  • “These are the three things that need to be done this week.”
  • Or…… “Before you do that, you need to do this.”

Some key points to remember:

  1. No one single style is better than another. They are all appropriate at certain times ………  depending on the competence and commitment of the other person.
  2. You don’t put the person in the box – you put the task they are performing in the box. For example, you may have a review meeting with a salesperson and have four items on the agenda. Depending where the four items appear on the matrix you might find yourself using an involving style when talking about admin and paperwork, guiding style when talking about new business campaigns, a releasing style when talking about the new product launch and a directing style when talking about timekeeping. The styles are “situational”
  3. As a sales leader you will have a natural anchor-point on the grid. You may have to stretch like a rubber band across the grid and really focus on delivering the appropriate style……even though it is not really you. Leaders who have a strong, natural directing style often find it difficult to stretch into releasing and vice versa .
  4. If you use the wrong style it will often cause de-motivation and friction. Think of your own career. You can probably think of an occasion when all you wanted was some quick guidance but what you got was some hands-off releasing. You can probably think of another occasion when what you wanted was to be set free and released but were bolted down and directed in an aggressive manner.
  5. It is sometimes tempting to say to ourselves “I am not going to change my style until I see some different behaviour from Tom.” But as an effective, inspirational sales leader, if you want to change Tom’s behaviour, you probably have to change first!

“Good Leadership Styles Never Go Out of Fashion!”

All Change

CHANGE MANAGEMENT:  Change is not what it used to be – we now live in a turbulent, constantly changing world. Expect the unexpected. There is no such thing as “business as usual” When you are leading a sales team there is no point waiting for the storm to blow over – you just have to become much better at working in the rain!

Bearing in mind that there are few certainties on this planet apart from life, death and change, salespeople often struggle coming to terms with change and its implications. The trouble with change, for many people, is that it arrives before they are ready for it. Although the outcome of change is often uncertain, the process, outlined below, is very predictable.

Some Managers and staff will react favourably to change, of course, and move swiftly to support a new idea or policy and take the necessary action to make it part of their everyday life. The top three boxes and the horizontal green arrows illustrate this process as people move quickly from CHANGE to SUPPORT to COMMITMENT.



For others, change you want to introduce will be more menacing. The problem with change, for many salespeople, is that it usually arrives before they are ready for it.  Typically, people head “south” into the DENIAL box muttering “it won’t happen” or “I’ll believe it when I see it” or “it doesn’t apply to us – it’s just for other departments.”

A period of RESISTANCE often follows as emotions start to build up. “Which bloody idiot thought of this idea?” and “Why can’t we go back to how we used to do it before” and “It will never work – it’s impossible to achieve it!” will be comments you will hear – if you are lucky! If you are unlucky you won’t hear them – but these comments might still be gnawing away at the business if people decide to offer public support but fight a private, negative and subversive battle behind the scenes.

Eventually, many salespeople can be persuaded to at least EXPERIMENT with the required new ideas, actions and behaviour. Some will still sound reluctant and will say things like “I’ll give it a go but I’m not sure it’s right!” or “You will have to give me some help if you want me to do this” and “We will only achieve this if we all pull together!” This experimentation will start with small steps that then become slightly larger steps. At times, it will seem painfully slow but at least some action is now taking place.


“A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step!”

Old Chinese Proverb

For many salespeople, “seeing is believing” of course and when the results start to come in they realise that the new change is not quite as difficult or as frightening as they originally thought. Some members of the team will now offer their full COMMITMENT However, don’t expect to see delight on everyone’s faces – some people might offer comments like “Looking back I can see why Steve wanted us to do this” or “I still don’t like it, but I now accept it” and “I am comfortable with it now and have learned a few things along the way!”





As an effective and inspirational sales leader, there are a number of things that you can do to help your people deal with the growing pains of change:


  1. Sell it, don’t tell it! Explain where you are today on a particular issue, what is happening, why the business can’t carry on as it is, where you are going, how you intend to get there and the benefits of change to your customers, your staff and your business.
  2. Don’t be afraid to spin the coin over and also stress the consequences of not making the changes work – the damage it will do to customers, the company and the job security of your staff. This “loss language” will make people sit up and think. When the Piper Alpha oil rig exploded, a number of people survived by jumping 150 ft into a flame-red, stormy sea. They did it because the certain dangers of staying on the platform outweighed the probable dangers of leaping into the unknown. This “burning platform” story illustrates that change has to take place, however uncomfortable it may be. Trying to stay where you are is like trying to stay on a burning platform. For many people, jumping has dangers but carries with it the chance of success. Remember that during the eighties 46% of the top 500 companies disappeared because they failed to change quickly enough and “jump” when they needed to.
  3. Emphasise that change management is crucial – it is about the business changing internally before the external trading environment forces it to change. Remember that if ever the rate of change outside your business is faster than the rate of change inside your business you will be heading for serious trouble.
  4. Consider a well-timed leak of information – it often helps people get their heads around the issue (which is then not as bad as they thought it would be). Look at the way that successive Governments use this technique (i.e. a “leak”) to condition us before a new piece of legislation becomes official.   (If you want to see people behave badly then surprise them– if you want to see them behave well then give them a head start!!”)
  5. Be genuinely open with your people – you need their trust.
  6. Communicate regularly even if you say “I’ve got nothing to report this week”
  7. Don’t suppress peoples’ emotions. Give them time to come to terms with their feelings and provide opportunities for them to express them.
  8. Don’t “herd” people out of Denial and Resistance too early. We can’t make people change – each of us guards a “gate of change” that can only be opened from the inside. We cannot open the gate of another – don’t kick it down either – they will open it when they are ready. (Change is not something that managers do – it is what others allow!)
  9. Offer coaching and training to help people come to terms with change – the problem is rarely getting new, innovative thoughts into someone’s mind but how to get the old ones out. Make the training fun – get some smiles back into the team.
  10. Try and win over “Mr. Difficult” within your team. If you can get him (or her) on your side it could have a dramatic impact on others. Remember that the 80-20 rule applies everywhere in business………20% of your team will have a dramatic impact on the other 80%.
  11. Managers and Directors suffer less stress than their people – this is because they have more control over their destiny. Try and give people as much control as possible during times of change. They may not be able to determine your policy destinations but they can certainly take part in determining the route to those destinations. ( If people help plan the battle they won’t battle the plan! )
  12. Avoid talking too much about the longer term – it will be too far away for people to see it. During a time of change go for short-term objectives – “these are the three things we need to do today” and enlist support for short trials – “let’s give this a go and review it on Friday”.
  13. Be positive and upbeat – people will want to see that you are up for it! Even if you disagree with the proposed change, don’t let your feelings show. Remain loyal to the company. As Michael Heseltine once said, you have “Cabinet responsibility” once you are outside the meeting room. All eyes will be on you. What is it that your people will detect?
  14. Provide any training and development before results are expected, not afterwards. (“Man in the middle of the road gets hit by two rickshaws!” – Chinese Proverb)
  15. Maintain momentum towards the new course – avoid frequent amendments or U-turns as they will breed uncertainty. Be swift, be assertive and don’t dither.


Remember the P.I.E. recipe for change – feed people lots of Participation, Information and Enthusiasm!


SUMMARY. In the future leadership of your sales team, some of your people will love change, some will deny the need for it and some will resist it. There will be those who want to change but don’t know how, those who can’t change and, even worse, those who could change but don’t want to.

The needs of your business and the pressures of a very competitive marketplace leave one very powerful conclusion. We all have to change – constantly! The stakes have never been higher and if you can’t change your people then you must consider changing your people!

The Annual Appraisal

Why bother? The appraisal process is designed to:

  1. Create an awareness of how individuals are performing against their objectives
  2. Review and evaluate training carried out during the previous appraisal period
  3. Openly discuss things that may have been “parked” or gone underground
  4. Produce training plans for the future
  5. Encourage self-appraisal and self-development
  6. Improve the relationship between job holder and manager
  7. Identify potential for a different future role within the organisation and discuss other longer-term issues.

Everyone benefits although, sadly, our research confirms that many people think of annual appraisals as the least influential component in their personal and career development!

At my appraisal I got together with my sales manager, was told that I was “developing nicely,” told how much potential I had if I really applied myself and told that I would have to accept a 20% reduction in salary as we were hitting hard times. In fact, I was just “told!”

Let’s get back to benefits:

  • The job holder has an opportunity to clear the air, is recognised and praised for a job well done and can discuss personal matters and career aspirations.
  • The manager carrying out the appraisal (the appraiser) is able to identify and remove barriers to performance, has an opportunity to reinforce company policy, values and beliefs and also has an opportunity to clear the air and learn how s/he is perceived by the job holder. Yes, it is official – appraisals are designed to give managers feedback on their performance!
  • The manager of the appraiser (the grandfather/grandmother figure) has an opportunity to monitor the appraiser’s skills, identify emerging talent that can be deployed in the organisation’s interest in the future and attempt to remove any friction between the job holder and his/her manager.
  • Your organisation is able to audit the health of its people-resource, build succession plans and co-ordinate its training spend more effectively. Staff retention will improve and your image and reputation as a good employer will be further enhanced. You may even be seen as a contender for the “Top 100 to work for”.
  • Your customers will also benefit – they will be handled by well-trained, well-motivated staff.


Things to Do Before the Appraisal

  • Have a pre-appraisal discussion with the job holder. Sell the benefits of the process, tell them that you are looking forward to the meeting and that you want it to be two-way, open and constructive.
  • Encourage them to prepare for the meeting – asking them for their “agenda” would probably be too formal but, in everyday language, ask them what they want to get out of the meeting.
  • Book the room, arrange refreshments etc


Things To Do During The Appraisal

  • Create the right environment – relaxed, comfortable, no barriers
  • As a general rule, encourage the job holder to comment first – you go second.
  • Always invite comment on the support that you provide – “upward appraisal” is a feature of healthy organisations. Don’t ask manipulative questions like “Presumably you are happy with the support you get from me?” Keep your questions as open and “neutral” as possible e.g. “How do you feel about the support you get from me?”
  • Try and stay SMART – work jointly towards things that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and timed.
  • When being “constructively critical” discuss the job holder’s behaviour, not their personality – they can change behaviour easily (if they want to) but they can’t change their personality.
  • Remember that it is better to provide light, not heat!
  • During the appraisal, work with the job holder, not the paperwork. Don’t look down, filling out a form – look up, enjoy the meeting and update the system later.
  • Be honest – if you are not happy with the job holder, then say so. Try and communicate how you feel  (e.g. “I feel really disappointed with that Gerry”) and encourage the job holder to come up with the behavioural changes needed.
  • Towards the end of the meeting, ask the job holder to summarise their feelings and their main conclusions and actions.
  • Always finish on a high – find some “good news” at the end. Leave people feeling good.

Things To Do After The Appraisal


  • Complete all “paperwork” to the satisfaction of both parties.
  • Don’t re-write the appraisal after the job holder has gone.
  • Be truthful. Don’t write “Easy going” if you think that the job holder is lazy. Don’t write “Better at practical work” if you really mean that the job holder has performed badly when working with ideas.
  • Remember that the appraisal process is not the end, but the beginning. Follow up regularly to ensure that you, and the job holder, are making progress with your agreed joint action plan.
  • With appraisals, remember that you are “up against it”. Our survey revealed that most people see Appraisals as “annual rituals, more paperwork, form filling and an opportunity for the manager to say “Gotcha!!” once again.”
  • In fact, only 4% of people surveyed said that their appraisals had ever had a positive impact on their careers. For many, the best use for the appraisal form would have been to re-line their child’s hamster cage with it!
  • Dare to be different – all of your people should enjoy their appraisals, look forward to them and receive some real value and a buzz from the process. They should get so much out of it that they will knock on your door and ask you when their next appraisal is due!

Praise, like diamonds and gold, owes its value due to scarcity!