I recently spent two days with about 40 sales leaders from across the country who primarily lead outside sales teams. It was exhilarating, intense, fun and, yes, I was exhausted!

Our theme was “Adapt or Die.” And for sales leaders this can be difficult – for they have tried and true ways of doing things.

Generally, sales managers come from the ranks of the sales staff. They know what worked for them when they were in the trenches. But, guess what? The marketplace, the people being hired, and the technology are no longer the same and will continue to change into the future.

To support my assertion that sales leaders must adapt…or die, I share this statistic: The single biggest indicator of success in sales, based on the Objective Management Group’s searchable database of salespeople stats, is their ability to grow, change, and be agile. In short: They must be able and willing to adapt.

This holds true for sales leaders as well!

The Case for Adapting:

1.   The marketplace is changing.

The way buyers buy is continually shifting. In the “good old days” buyers needed to talk to a salesperson to learn about products and solutions. We all know that just about any piece of information is now available online.

“Okay, so what?” you might say. “They can’t buy OUR services online. Our sale is far more complex.”

Yeah, but the buyer might think they already know everything they need to know about your product or service. As they think they are now the expert, they will want to buy your products and services as a commodity.

This is why if you allow your sellers to just focus on features and benefits, they will end up selling on price. They must differentiate themselves by being relevant.

So, as the leader of a sales team, how well have you adapted? Are you leading the way, or have you closed your eyes to the vast amount of change occurring around you?

2.   The candidate pool is changing.

Much has been published and discussed about the millennial mindset, to the point that I believe non-millennial managers are turning a deaf ear. If you are of an older generation it might be easy to denigrate the younger generation. It might make you feel protected to stick to your old beliefs that the only way to sell is your way.

But you are missing out on the true power of the people. The typical millennial may operate differently than you and may not illustrate the behaviors you did when you were in sales. You would be negligent in your duties as a leader if you tried to treat them the way you were treated when you were a salesperson.

As a matter of fact, recent data from Objective Management Group indicates that 73% of salespeople are NOT money motivated. Rather, this vast majority is motivated by internal reasons such as gaining satisfaction from helping their customers, doing the right thing, or even being the best at their craft.

So, the old ways of motivating, based primarily on a compensation plan, are not going to inspire many salespeople, your salespeople, the way it did in the past. If you want to get the most out of your team, it will require individually inspiring each team member. You can read more on this topic by picking up a copy of my friend Danita Bye’s book, Millennials Matter.

3.   The technology available to aid in sales is advancing exponentially.

This might be obvious to some, especially those that lead inside sales teams, but I am intrigued every day to learn how many sales leaders are unaware of the vast number of sales technology applications available. Applications that are intended to make their job and that of their reps’ easier and more efficient. Today’s CRM systems are far more robust and customizable than prior generations, and many are designed to assist the salesperson in following a predictive repeatable process.

The CRM of old just collected data and provided only lagging indicators. However, if customized correctly, they now can aid in your sellers’ execution. The system can be an extension of your coaching, with guidance on what to do next, and how to do it.

A great example is Membrain, which is a system built for sales by folks who actually understand selling. The term “sales enablement” did not exist until recently and entire positions and departments have been created specifically for this function.

Why? Because it is critically important that the sales team remain as nimble as possible and as effective as possible, in the most efficient manner possible, since the marketplace has changed so dramatically and will continue to do so. This is especially true for more complex sales where salespeople face a tougher battle to reach prospective buyers and navigate the more complex buying structure that most organizations possess.

And, as the leader you likely do not have eyes and ears on each seller all the time. Therefore, you must rely on systems to help you do your job most effectively. This includes the use of a CRM that supports sellers, AI where applicable to assist in coaching or at least in diagnosing where coaching is required, and analysis of data to help target your team’s selling efforts.

If you want to see a comprehensive list of all the sales tech that is available, visit Smart Selling Tools but be careful. It can be overwhelming.

And, please do not misinterpret my position. Technology does not replace a sales staff. There isn’t a silver bullet that will enable you to eliminate people and relationships from the complex selling equation. Rather, there are tools that can aid in efficiency.

What can you do?

  1. You must have a commitment to continuous improvement of your skills as a sales leader. Do not rely on telling your reps how you did it. If you want a place to start, evaluate your sales leadership skills objectively. Contact us.
  2. Focus on the priorities rather than lingering down in the weeds. The more you can establish repeatable predictive processes, the more time you can spend on higher-level strategic thought, and the more time you can spend actually helping your team execute at a higher level. If you want assistance in focus and maintaining your priorities, check out this Quarterly Strategic Sales Action Plan form.
  3. Command the same from each member on your team. Each must be committed to continuous improvement and each must focus on a repeatable process.

If you want to run a quick and FREE analysis of your sales force compared to others in your industry, jump in with this Sales Force Stats tool.

Credit goes to Sony Pictures Entertainment for inspiration from the movie Moneyball. Adapt or Die!