Leadership & Management / Sales & Marketing

The art of sales and leadership and management

The art of sales and leadership and management

Defining sales performance and identifying the key factors that drive superior performance

Every business that sells product or services to other businesses or consumers is required to have a robust sales function. So how can we define sales performance and what are the elements that make for a well-oiled sales machine? Sales performance is often defined as the product of a sum of different moving parts, which can be challenging if not almost impossible to monitor, measure or manage. Take, for example:

Sales Performance = Ability x Motivation x Environment
Sales Performance = Capacity (Competencies x Resources x Opportunity) x Commitment

Based on experience, the one that works best is:
Sales Performance = Readiness x Productivity x Efficiency x Effectiveness

It captures all of the primary factors that actually do drive sales performance, and which include:

  1. Marketing capability – Readiness
  2. Superior people – Readiness, Productivity, Efficiency, Effectiveness
  3. Robust rewards, incentive schemes and structure – Productivity, Effectiveness
  4. Metrics – Efficiency, Productivity
  5. Pipeline management process – Effectiveness
  6. Account management process – Effectiveness
  7. Systems – Productivity, Efficiency
  8. Sales management and leadership team – Readiness, Effectiveness

The trick to managing a sales operation is knowing reliably the number of customers and the potential deal size in each stage of the sales cycle.”

john lincoln, author
Marketing capability

It goes without saying that you are not going to sell much if you do not have the right product or one that is not priced correctly or has no visibility in the market. A company might have the best sales team, but if the totality of the proposition including the experience is weak, then that business can forget about sales. It really is essential to have a superior marketing capability in place as well, when trying to develop a
company’s sales performance.

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Superior people

As in any business function, getting the right people on board is job number one. Hiring sales folks is more black art than a skill, and calls for an appreciation that there are peculiar personality traits that are imperatives to succeed in sales (as the table shows).

Self-confidence: Look for people who believe that they can achieve anything.
Ambition: Look for audacious, ambitious people who are often very competitive and do not like to lose.
People friendly: This is obvious. Anyone who is uncomfortable with strangers is definitely not cut for sales.
Empathy: Look for people who can connect and relate to their potential customers.
Tough mindedness: Look out for folks who can accept rejection (and often humiliation) from potential customers.
Composure: A seemingly calm, cool, composed and collected salesperson exudes confidence.
Control: Sales professionals need to be self-disciplined to achieve. They need to exercise self-control to manage and reach their targets.
Endurance: The ability to endure long, tedious and often unpleasant negotiations internally and externally is a critical requirement for any good salesperson.
Sense of urgency: Despite their calm exterior, a good sales professional needs have a sense of urgency – as if there is no tomorrow. This is often exhibited by good sales professionals as they do not want to take chances with any opportunity.
Individualistic: Good sales professionals are primarily motivated by rewards and nothing else.

Robust rewards, incentive schemes and structure

Sustaining a high-performance sales team requires a robust, dynamic and attractive reward and incentive structure. Without it, the sales performance will not be sustainable. We need to understand that the primary motivator for excellent sales professionals is money. This may sound crude and against conventional wisdom, which purports that there are other motivators beyond money. It could be so in other functions, but definitely not for the top sales performers. Applying the 80:20 rule requires that top performers are rewarded well. If 70 to 80% of sales come from 20 to 30% of the sales team, then it is important that the top sales performers are rewarded beyond the traditional incentive structure.


An essential requirement for any successful sales organization is to have appropriate metrics that are fair, simple and measurable and ones which add to the bottom line of the business. Some common metrics include a combination of customer acquisition, retention, up-selling, cross-selling and collection dimensions. The metrics should also include efficiency factors like the number of customer visits, lead times, new accounts added and others. Remember, what cannot be measured cannot be managed and if it cannot be managed then we have utterly failed in our responsibility as business leaders.

Pipeline management process

Managing the sales pipeline a.k.a. the sales funnel is an essential requirement to building a world-class sales organization. Many good sales professionals use a Qualify, Propose, Negotiate, Close process to ensure they are focusing on the right thing with each customer prospect at the right time.

Most B2B sales engagement goes through a classic cycle. First targets are identified from the prospect list, contacts are established, needs are assessed and a proposal is given to a potential customer. Then negotiations occur before a sale is concluded as a firm order. The trick to managing a sales operation is knowing reliably the number of customers, and the potential deal size in each stage of the sales cycle. This needs be a robust process, which does not allow sales folks to arbitrarily assign probabilities at each stage of the sales cycle.

For example, if no contact has been established with a key decision-maker or key influencer in a target organization, assigning any probability beyond zero per cent is foolhardy and will only falsely inflate the size and value of the sales pipeline. Assigning predetermined and correct probabilities to the sales process will help in identifying risks, and in achieving the desired sales targets.

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To achieve your desired sales target, each stage of the pipeline must be tightly managed

Based on the market sector and experience, a sales professional having a quarterly target of say $400,000 will need at least 4x of their stated target in the ‘contact established’ stage of the sales pipeline to meet the quarter-end target goal.

Knowing the deal value of the pipeline of their team at any time is an essential responsibility for any sales manager. But that is only part of it. A critical aspect of pipeline management is to ensure that the sales team is dealing with companies that have the budget (B), that the person(s) they are dealing with have the authority (A) and there is a real need (N). Assigning a predetermined BAN score to pipeline management will ensure its validity.

Having a robust pipeline management framework is critical to identifying and knowing if the sales team is functioning to full capacity – and if the business is really going to make it or not.

It is too important a task to be left to others and calls for regular and structured discussions with the sales management team to confirm the constant accuracy of the pipeline. The pipeline should be shared across other business functions including marketing, finance and manufacturing, so there are no surprises at month-end.

If you don’t get noticed, you don’t have anything. You just have to be noticed, but the art is in getting noticed naturally, without screaming or without tricks.”

Leo Burnett, advertising pioneer
Account management process

A structured account management process has two primary components of the account planning and the account review process:

Account planning process:
Every good sales professional will have a structured account plan for all major accounts. The account plan should articulate the prospect’s business, its compelling rationale to consider the proposition on offer, its end-user needs and others. Sales professionals should know the nature of any compelling event that might trigger a sales opportunity (like M&A, right-sizing, cost reduction efforts, growth or lack of it, etc). The account plan will also clearly identify the opportunity size, possibilities for all products, and key competitor strengths and weaknesses review. Other pertinent factors in an account plan should clearly identify all the key decision-makers and influencers and the plans to engage with each of them. Knowing the account well will help any sales professional offer a compelling value proposition to each and every potential customer.

Account review process:
There needs to be review process at all levels of the hierarchy of the company. Of course the number of accounts that are reviewed at the highest levels will only be limited to the largest opportunities. Every sales manager, sales director or higher will need to conduct a review of the opportunities of their team, to identify potential weaknesses and identify areas where they could better support the sales folks. The account review of the largest opportunities needs be cross-functional, as it should intend to get all the functions in the company engaged to achieve a win for the sales team. A cross-functional account review of the largest
opportunities will also help identify risks and inconsistencies in the pipeline.

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The sales team is hired to sell, and should not be overloaded with bureaucratic paperwork and back-office duties. Any sales team that spends less than 75% of its time out selling, meeting customers and new prospects is not doing what it is supposed to. Automated sales support systems should be put in place, or cheap clerical support hired to carry out the back-office sales administration functions. There is a high opportunity cost for any business that uses its sales teams to do back-office work. To maintain the integrity of the sales pipeline, it is worthwhile investing in systems to automate opportunity management of the sales pipeline. There are much affordable pay per user monthly solutions available in the market.


Sales management and leadership teams

It is often misunderstood that a good sales manager has to be good sales professional. A good sales person often does not necessarily make a good sales manager. A good manager might make a good sales person. Beyond the traditional competencies required of a manager, the art of managing a sales team requires that the person leading the sales team must be inspiring, motivating and fair. The sales management team’s primary goal is to ensure that there are no risks to achieving the sales targets. It is the sales manager’s responsibility to ensure that the team is able to and can deliver the targets given to it. He or she will often be expected to be a fair arbiter of conflicts within their teams.

Even with a fantastic sales team, having a bad manager can de-motivate the top performers, resulting in the risk of them leaving the company. It is essential, therefore, to pay special attention to the person hired to lead this very critical and important function.

JohnLincoln.oneThe business growth hacker


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