There is nothing more important than the sales leader when it comes to driving revenue and creating successful sales organizations. Sales teams live and die on the strength and ability of its leaders. There are all types of sales leadership styles and approaches to motivating and leading teams.
But in spite of all the different styles they all can be boiled down into 5 sales leader types:
- The Asshole
- The Supporter
- The Fixer
- The Enabler
- The “Ah, You Can Do it”
The first sales leadership style is the Asshole. The asshole is the sales leader who manages through fear. Think Alec Baldwin from Glengarry Glen Ross. Assholes manage strictly by the numbers. If you don’t make your number, you’re gone — no ifs, ands or buts. The Asshole spends almost no time working with salespeople. There is almost NO coaching in an Asshole’s sales organization. To Assholes, coaching wastes time and gets in the way. Salespeople are supposed to come prepared and take care of themselves.
The Asshole will provide a modicum of sales support, but he/she determines what the team needs. They are completely resistant to sales team feedback. They see salespeople feedback as an excuse for not being able to sell or make quota.
Asshole sales organizations are extremely competitive. It is not uncommon to see contests running regularly. The Asshole organization is hierarchical and contentious. Top salespeople are treated like gods, given special privilege and accolades. Under-performers are mocked and given a short rope to correct or be ejected. Asshole organizations have low moral, except for the top performers. Turnover is high. Numbers can have a tendency to be frenetic, bouncing between high and low. Asshole organizations are had to work in, and they are rarely fulfilling. The people don’t mater, just the number.
The good news is, it looks like the Asshole is a dying breed. If you’re an Asshole, stop it. How do you know if you’re an asshole, start with looking at turnover, if it’s high, you’re most likely an Asshole. Almost all of us know or have worked for an asshole before. It sucks. Don’t be an asshole.
Sales Leadership style number 2 is the supporter. The supporter is a player’s coach, they are liked by their teams. Supporters are very empathetic and “supportive” of their teams. They are constantly looking for ways to give the team what they need, from new sales collateral to product support. There is very little the Supporter won’t do for their team. Supporters believe their job is to support the team with what it needs to be successful. Supporters are great advocates for the sales team and almost always take their side.
Supporters can be seen arguing cross functionally when sales isn’t getting it’s due, needs more budget or is getting the blame for failing revenue (whether it’s sales fault or not).
What supporters don’t do is challenge their teams. They are slow to call out the elephant in the room if it means upsetting the applecart. The supporter is such an advocate of the sales team, they struggle at calling out weaknesses, challenging poor performance and holding the team accountable. Supporters, don’t accept poor performance, however they struggle at hitting problems head on. They find it difficult to discipline or push back. Supporters tend not to be very good coaches as they struggle with identifying and calling out individual’s weaknesses and development areas.
Supporters are not comfortable making others uncomfortable. Supporters constantly focus on the opportunity and the positive which endears them to the team, but allows problems to fester longer than they should and does little to address the weaknesses of the team.
Supporter organizations are fun to work in, however, problems can persist and if things get off track, it can take a long time before they are corrected.
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The fixer is sales leadership style 3. The fixer is similar to the supporter in that they are popular with their team and they are excellent advocates of the team. The difference is, fixers do little on the front end. They are not proactive. Fixers “fix” everything. Fixers are very reactive. They spend most of their time and effort fixing what a sales person has broken or where the organization has sprung a leak. If a big deal has been lost or is about to go into the toilet, the fixer springs into action and in most cases can and will save the deal.
If the sales organization has been missing it’s number and the CEO is getting restless with performance, the fixer will go into “fix it” mode and turn things around. Fixers are not good planners, they don’t have great vision, but they are excellent problem solvers. They can see the connections, they can see what is broken, and know what it takes to “fix it.” Fixers like to play the super hero role and this is what makes them popular with their team.
The team knows that if things get ugly or something goes sideways, the Fixer will take care of it. This is approach is good to an extent but it does little to create accountability and ownership within the team.
In Fixer organizations, problems don’t persist, but the team can become dependent on the Fixer and progress is made through repair and reaction not through planning and vision. Fixers need problems, it’s what they do, they fix ’em.
The fourth sales leadership style is the enabler. The enabler isn’t always the most popular sales leader within team. He or she can be extremely popular with some and despised by others. The enabler sees their job as to enable the team and the teams individual members to do things themselves and to create their own success (or failure). Like supporters, enablers provide tremendous support for their team. They give the team all the tools they need to be successful.
Enablers are very good at understanding what is required to be successful and they go to extreme lengths to make sure the team has what it needs. Unlike supporters however, Enablers are quick to challenge an approach, behaviors or issues that are affecting a sales person or sales leader. Enablers expect their team to understand their strengths and weaknesses and constantly be working on them. Enablers are excellent coaches. They see coaching as the most critical aspect of their job. Enablers understand that they can’t do it all and therefore build highly effective teams that are capable of getting it done without them.
Enablers have excellent vision and are good at setting expectations. They try to avoid problems by setting vision and clear expectations of what’s expected of each individual and the team as a whole. Enablers, unlike fixers, are proactive, they prefer to avoid problems. They see success as getting to the goal with as few problems as possible.
Enablers aren’t as popular as Fixers and Supporters, they expect their team to be accountable and to own their business. They challenge their teams and call out the elephant in the room. For people who struggle with being challenged or don’t like to be held accountable, Enablers can be difficult to work for. For those who like to be challenged, embrace honesty, openness and accountability, the Enabler is a dream. Under Enablers, people are developed, problems are averted, creativity is fostered, accountability flourishes and organizations grow.
The “Ah, You Can Do It”
The final sales leadership style is the “Ah, you can do it.” The “Ah, You Can Do It” is a rare breed, but there are sightings. The “Ah, You Can Do It” has tremendous faith in their team, unfortunately it’s blind faith. The “Ah, You Can Do It” provides almost no support and offers little guidance. The “Ah, You Can Do It” leader provides little structure. They see salespeople as independent businesses and just set them free to go “figure it out.” The “Ah, You Can Do It” gives their team autonomy, too much autonomy.
The “Ah, You Can Do It” looks for their teams to come up with their own strategies, tools, ideas, support etc. Common, but not limited to commission only environments “Ah, You Can Do Its” create free for all environments, with Darwinian underpinnings. The strong survive, the weak get eaten alive. The “Ah, You Can Do It” doesn’t abdicate their role as a leader, they see their role as a referee. If approached with a problem they will make a “ruling” and move on. The “Ah, You Can Do It” is different than a fixer, because they aren’t good fixers. They abdicate more than fixers, and don’t want to be a super hero.
The “Ah, You Can Do It” believes they should be hands off and provide their team with the “space” to be successful. Unfortunately, they provide little support. “Ah, You Can Do Its” can be great coaches, but they will rarely if ever be proactive coaches. They administer coaching if approached. Again, they see it as their teams job to approach them if they need coaching. They don’t want to “get in the way.”
The “Ah, You Can Do It” environment is very loose. It has an old west style. Lone wolf salespeople do well in these organizations. People are left to their own devices. Problems and issues are addressed as they arise. There is little structure, or proactive support. People are expected to figure it out own their own. The “Ah, You Can Do It” environment can be volatile and difficult, and hard to manage, but rewarding for self-starters and Lone Wolf types.
Each of these sales leadership styles has its own merits, well except for the Asshole. Each sales leadership role brings unique benefits to an organization. Sales organizations can posses all of these types of leaders at all different levels. It’s also not uncommon for leaders to work from all of these styles, particularly if they haven’t committed to one style. I’ve seen “Ah, You Can Do It’s” jump into fix it mode and I’ve seen Fixer’s play the Supporter role. However, most of us operate from one of these leadership styles most of the time and we operate from that. The key is to commit to a style and own it.
What is best leadership style for sales managers? To me there is only one clear choice, but it’s not the easiest one. Which sales leadership style is yours? How do you lead your team?
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