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B2B Sales

Is your 'Sales Leader' destroying your business?

The sales leader role is not only the most important, but it's also the most difficult role in every business. 

The role of the sales leader has always been an important one, but now it’s a role that can either make or break a business. In the global, digital, connected economy, the sales leader, and the go-to-market plan that he/she executes, is now so critical that failure to appoint the right person is this role can be catastrophic. Consider the following:

  • Strategy Execution - in the absence of a separate 'sales enablement' function, the role of executing the business strategy falls largely in the domain for the Sales Leader. A good business strategy means nothing if you don't have the right people in place to execute, and the Sales Leader is key to business execution - always has been.
  • Product-Market Fit – It doesn’t matter if you’re selling a product or a service, you need to be clear about how much demand is in the market and how that demand is evolving. An effective Sales Leader will always have one eye on the market - collecting, synthesizing and disseminating the all-important market intel that helps shape strategy, product innovation, and go-to-market plans required to create a great customer experience.
  • Forecasting - all business planning begins and ends with the sales forecast. According to SiriusDecisions, 79% of sales organisations miss their forecasts by more than 10%. CSO Insights reported in their most recent annual survey that 54% of the deals forecast by reps never close. So what? Unless your Sales Leader can predict with at least some degree of accuracy how many units will be sold in a given period, and at what price point, it’s virtually impossible to run a business with any level of predictability. Forecast accuracy is more important now than ever, and yet most senior leaders have very little confidence in the forecast that is provided to them by the Sales Leader.
  • Cash flow – as it pertains to point 3 above, cash flow is the lifeblood of business. As the velocity of business increases, disruptive innovation pervades, product life-cycles decrease, and competition intensifies, cash-flow management is more and more critical. When Sales Leaders get the revenue forecast wrong it creates major cash-flow risk, and this can (obviously) have dire consequences!
  • Cost of Customer Acquisition (COCA) – obviously, if your sales team is unable to win new business in a cost-effective manner then you are likely facing eroding margins, profits and ultimately shareholder value. Out-dated sales execution approaches normally carry high COGS (cost of goods sold), and in 2017, this means that you are now at risk of disruption, or that you are now losing market share to those inevitable low-cost competitors that have found a more cost effective way to serve your customers.

So having stated the bleeding obvious in the 5 points above – now imagine a world where your Sales Leader is asleep at the wheel…….

…..executing the same tired old sales strategies that your business was executing 5, or even 3 years ago. If this is the case, then not only is your profitability on the decline, but you are now also misaligned with the new era of educated and self-directed buyers whom now prefer to self-serve. Is your Sales Leader actually listening to the buyer, and creating an engagement model that the buyer actually wants? Or is he/she just rolling out the same old process because “that’s what we have always done”?

Well intentioned and hardworking though he/she may be, your Sales Leader has the future of your business fairly and squarely in their hands - now more than ever before. One misstep in today’s high velocity VUCA business world can mean disaster, and if said Sales Leader is a 'change resistor', or if you suspect that he/she is now performing some all too common “ass covering” (which nearly always accompanies declining team performance) then beware that it could take 6 or even 12 months for your senior management to uncover the potentially diabolical situation that you are now in – and by then it may be too late to take corrective action. In simple terms, if your Sales Leader is either unwilling or unable to acknowledge and embrace change then this scenario must be raised immediately on your risk register.

In defense of the hapless Sales Leader:

This post sounds like it’s a harsh critique of Sales Leaders (and it is – because many of them need to wake-up), but it’s not entirely fair to blame the sales leader for all of these above-mentioned issues.

The Sales Leader is often placed into a no-win situation. That is, they often have no seat at the strategic planning table or input into go-to-market planning (that’s done by someone up the line) and then they are simply given their annual revenue quota and told: “do whatever you need to do, just make sure you hit the number….oh, and btw, you have less resource this year than you did last year”.

Faced with this scenario, most Sales Leaders have only one option: keep cranking the same old model harder and faster in the hope that they might be able to extract an incremental gain on last year’s numbers. Thus, history repeats with the same outdated approach….with the Sales Leader having no empowerment to drive the much needed change.

So, the role of Sales Leader has always been a role that has high levels of responsibility and accountability, and like it or not, it now also comes with some serious challenges if you are working for outdated or short sighted senior leaders. Sales transformation is no longer optional, and if the sales leader is not empowered to make the changes necessary then business failure is a foregone conclusion

For those sales leaders that keep pace with the enormous changes that we are now witnessing there are great rewards on offer. However, get it wrong, and the Sales Leader role becomes a high-risk to your business sustainability.

Put simply, if you suspect that your sales leader is running his/her department with the old: "this is the way we have always done things”, then start looking for a replacement - PRONTO. That person is now placing your business is grave danger.

On the other hand, if you are a Sales Leader trying to make important changes and not getting the senior management support that you need, then my suggestion is to give your masters an ultimatum: “either you support a much needed sales transformation, or find another sales leader”.

I would love to hear your experiences with the Sales Leader role? Please comment and let me know your thoughts.

By Graham Hawkins