Sales Management: Intangibles of Sales Leadership

Last week, we were talking to a newly appointed sales manager – we will call him William. William had just received a double promotion in one of the largest software companies in the world – moving from individual contributor to a sales management role. He also inherited a newly formed (and hand-picked team) custom-built to sell to executives. In essence, William and his team were a sales experiment assembled from scratch. He was 3-days into leading a brand-new “skunkworks” sales team, and his job was to crack the code to making executive sales conversations more consistent.


From his view, William had moved from high performing seller to a leader of high performers with the goal of – “Hey William, you need to figure it out!”He has always been extremely focused on communicating value to his customers, or he wouldn’t have been promoted into this position. The challenge before him isn't simple, and there is a lot at stake.


That challenge?


Help the company evolve the sales conversation to match the capabilities we have built in our cloud-based services model. He’s asked to sell higher and sell more “all-encompassing” solutions to customers.


And that got us to thinking.  For William's success, he has to have a lot of customer empathy, and he has to use what he's leveraged in the past to be successful in his own right. Indeed, he can figure out what needs to happen to help his people drive the right results.


But the question is, “While William possesses the right know-how—does he have the ability to affect the changes in his people? And more importantly, can he affect the changes necessary in the organization that supports his team?”


What will that take?


If some managers have the right abilities to succeed, and they have access to the sales management tools provided by the company, what else do they need? In other words, if a new sales manager has the skills, the passions, and the tools, are there some other intangibles that will help them be successful?


Here are four key intangibles that sales managers need to possess to overcome the tough internal challenges


Intangible 1: Grit


  • Grit is the passion and perseverance over the long haul. It is unremitting long term tenacity over a long period (over months and even years). When sales managers are successful, we often find they possess grit.

  • It’s important to note that their grit isn’t about “making money.” Instead, it’s the grit to “make the customer successful.” This way of thinking is a paradigm-shifting statement that many top-performing sales managers internalize, believe in, and live out. They have gone “all in” on their customer’s success. They are so incredibly focused on the customer that they don’t worry about how much money they are making. They break down internal barriers and build relationships to help the customer succeed in solving their problem. It seems that they would expend every last drop of human effort to move things ahead for their customer. They expect difficulty but believe they can overcome it.

  • Question: Do the sales managers in the organization have grit? Are they willing to do the work for their customer? Or do they find themselves wishing things were easier? To develop grit and achieve sales success, sales managers must enter into tough situations and overcome the internal friction to help their customers succeed.

Intangible 2: Problem Solving

  • Businesses are changing. Customers are changing. That creates many problems that need to be solved. Problem-solving is an incredibly impactful skill for new sales managers because it allows them to overcome internal complexity and add the right kind of unique value to customers. When paired with grit, problem-solving is a considerable success accelerator.  

  • Problem-solving never goes unnoticed by the customer (even though it usually goes unnoticed internally). Problem-solving with customers requires an ability to learn quickly and repeatedly. This type of “learning agility” is something that many sales managers don’t proactively do. But, we have found that when sales managers (and their teams) focus on solving customer problems and working together on those problems, their passion drives revenue.

  • Learning agility is often fueled by endless curiosity about customers. Sales managers who succeed often make it a point to learn something new about specific customers daily. And when it comes to solving problems for those customers, they become collaborators, Tweakers, and idea generators internally to find workarounds, come up with new approaches, and look for solutions that might work for the customer.

  • Successful sales managers use the problem solving intangible to face what seems like an insurmountable obstacle and work with it and figure it out. Better than that, they become addicted to learning about customers, the customer’s industry, and their solutions. So much that they believe their success is dependent on learning enough about their customers to overcome problems.

  • Do sales managers in your organization embrace the gray, confusing, broken, or insurmountable situations and figure them out? What problems do they believe exist with their customers and company? What can their team do to become more successful? Sales teams need more sales managers with this intangible.

Intangible 3: Self-Awareness

  • The economy has changed, and many businesses are struggling to grow. As a result, some sales managers have found themselves in positions where their past approaches don’t work. Today’s successful sales manager has taken the time to assess their strengths and weaknesses in leading their team. And most of them realize their past results haven’t necessarily set them up for future success. They have also figured out how to get out of their own way.

  • From our perspective, we find sales managers are the most successful when they: a) Focus on impressing the customer (Not impressing some important person in their life. for example, their parents or themselves). b) Help their customers succeed (not trying to help themselves, or ONLY their company). Embrace productive friction, where people may disagree, or multiple perspectives don’t align (not seeking to “make everyone happy”) c) Cope with stress. The question that the most successful managers ask themselves is a pretty simple one, but it requires some humility. The question they ask: “Is there is a gap in understanding?” Additionally, they realize and embrace the fact that they likely have no idea their blind spots exist. So, they build a network of trusted support and demand realistic feedback. Since the enemy of self-awareness if overconfidence, successful sales managers look ruthlessly for blind spots and root them out. They understand that those blind spots can be detrimental to their growth, so they take proactive action to inspect their limitations.

Intangible 4: Self-Sacrificing Concern for People

  • Since today’s customer is more demanding than in the past, the sales environment is more demanding. Successful sales managers realize their people will likely need help to make the leap to the next level. More specifically, they must close the gap between their solutions and the customer’s definition of value – when that gap seems to be growing daily.

  • To be successful, sales managers realize they must make themselves available to their people and build trusting coaching relationships so they can train, empower, and inspire their people to overcome complexity at the point of sale. More importantly, they take the time to help align individual salesperson passions to business outcomes and goals. Successful sellers realize that their team consists of human beings and express genuine concern for each person. Sales leaders with this intangible serve their team. They invest in them. And more importantly, they empower them to solve customer problems.

  • Sales managers accelerate success when they lead out deeper respect for their people

So, there are four hidden intangibles of sales management success. If sales managers can live out these intangibles, their team will tell them how well they're doing -- through their collective performance.


Good luck. And good selling!

About Growth Matters

Growth Matters is an international business founded in 2011. This consulting and services organization focusses on the development and practice of sales management and sales enablement. Our team of world-renowned experts spans the globe enabling businesses to improve sales conversations through services and solutions aligned to sales strategy. Charlotte, NC (USA) is the headquarter of our Americas operation. With dedicated offices in South Africa (EMEA), and Sydney (APAC), we regularly facilitate senior-level workshops in 17+ cities and countries. For more information on equipping sales managers, and aligning to sales leadership, contact the Growth Matters team at http://www.growthmatters.today


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