No matter how long you’ve been in sales – from a hot minute to a cool eternity – you can learn something new.
And why not? You don’t need to make all the mistakes to learn from them. You don’t have to feel blindfolded as a first-time leader. And you don’t need to live every sales experience to understand all of them.
Instead, you can learn from what some of the top sales experts have gathered in their careers. We’ve compiled many of their best lessons – some learned the hard way, some learned through mentors and others learned through trial and error.
Here’s what our gurus have to say:
‘Salt the hay’
Keynote speaker, trainer and author of The Joy in Business – Innovative Ideas to Find Positivity and Profit in Your Daily Work Life
“This leadership lesson is practically a family motto. My father used to say an expression that you’ve probably heard before: You can bring a horse to water, but you can’t…What? Make him drink.
Dad would say, ‘You know what you can do?’ And I would say, ‘There is no ‘can-do’ to that.’ He would say, ‘You can salt the hay… What happens when you salt the hay? If you salt the hay, the horse will get thirsty and drink.’
Salting the hay is finding a way. There’s always a way. Bottom line: Behind every two can’ts there’s a can. It’s just that most people never find it because, the first can’t stops them because they say, ‘I tried.’
And if they make it through that, the second can’t stop them because they say, ‘I tried again.’ What is better to say is, ‘If I can’t do this, and I can’t do that, then what can I do?’ This formula unblocks the thought-process. If you remember that behind every two can’ts is a can, you will discover that there usually is.”
Focus on bringing everyone up
Author of Not Taught: What It Takes to be Successful in the 21st Century That Nobody’s Teaching You, and CEO, President and Chief Antagonist at A Sales Guy
“Try to get the lowest players up as best as possible.
If you want to win in sales. If you want to win in marketing. If you want to win in business, focus on getting everybody up. You can’t win by having one, two, three, four or any small number of all-stars.
You must have a coaching culture. This includes hiring people who are coachable, having regular coaching meetings and being purposeful in having observable moments to coach from.”
Recruit the best possible talent
Founder, Inflexion-Point Strategy Partners
“If you’re a leader, you want to be leading a great team. And that starts with recruiting the best talent. My mentor in my early days at HP – the best sales manager I ever worked for or with – taught me that you must recruit for attitude and aptitude over experience.
Experience can be developed. But if you’ve got people on the team with the wrong attitudes and without the necessary aptitudes, you’re sunk before you’ve even started. When I work with clients to recruit the right people, we look for qualities like emotional intelligence, curiosity, humility, teamwork and a commitment to continuous personal development.”
Always be authentic
CEO of Bastion Elevate
“There is always a need to be authentic. Authenticity can make or break the success of any client relationship, any communication campaign and/or your company’s reputation.
The most important leadership lesson I was taught, and what I make sure my team focuses on, is making sure we are authentic with our clients, and that we are up front in what we can deliver. We really take the time to listen to our potential clients when we meet with them and build out new and specific proposals on each approach. We make sure we can match their goals and make sure their spend is working to grow their brand.
When selling a service, being authentic in your approach, what you can do, and how you will do it is key to selling and making sure there is a strong working relationship to build upon.”
Be the head of HR first and foremost
Co-author, Capturing Loyalty: How To Measure, Generate, and Profit from Highly Satisfied Customers, Senior Partner, John Larson & Co.
“I have a good friend who was a successful CEO of two Fortune 500 companies. He once told me, ‘I became a very effective CEO when I realized that my real job was being the head of Human Resources. When I had a good general manager in place at each of my business units everything worked like a charm – from sales to marketing to finance … you name it. When I did not have a good manager in place nothing seemed to work.'”
Get a personal brand on social media
Author, Social Selling: Techniques to Influence Buyers and Changemakers and Smarketing: How to Achieve Competitive Advantage through Blended Sales and Marketing, CEO and Co-founder, Digital Leadership Associates
“The best leadership lesson I had was to get a personal brand on social. The modern buyer wants to build a relationship with an expert, not a salesperson. While ‘social selling’ sounds like you sell on social, you don’t.
Nobody gets up in the morning and says ‘I need to talk with a salesperson.’ Social is a mechanism to enable you to get leads and meetings, and to do this, the first thing you need to do is to look like somebody your customer can trust and would want to do business with.”
Work with people you enjoy
“Seven years now, and I still say the best sales leadership advice is something I got from Eric Schmidt, executive chairman at Google. He said (roughly quoting), ‘I’m old enough now that I think I can say this: Life is short, work with people you enjoy.’
I know not everyone in the world has this choice. Too many in the US right now would be happy just to have a job, let alone be picky about who they work with and for. But if you’re lucky enough to have that choice, choosing based on people and cultural fit is about as important as it gets.
Who are the people you want to go to war with? Who are the people who share your values and priorities, who you know will think and make decisions based on principles that you share and value as well? Who are the people you trust when things get complicated, stressful and difficult? This goes for your team, boss, partners, investors and customers too.”
Guide to a more organized processes
VP Marketing at XUMO
“I always work to guide my team members toward a more organized thought process. Organization leads to success across sales, marketing, customer service, operations and every other area of the business. It leads to the ability to develop and think about goals at a macro level, be forward-thinking in your present-day decisions and understand how your processes impact and/or rely on other aspects of the business.
And, at the end of the day, if you are organized, you are able to efficiently take on additional projects that might lead to sales growth or serve broader business objectives.
Visibility within the company goes hand-in-hand with organization; understanding stakeholders for each project, communicating to them, securing buy-in and – with that – support. It’s easy to imagine that once you’ve properly organized your team, landing and closing deals will come easier and more naturally. RFPs can be answered in a timely manner: beautiful and impressive materials will be disseminated; and sales charts will begin to climb upward and to the right. On a core level, being organized allows you to pave a clear path forward for your team, delegating becomes second nature and the gears fit together.”
Demonstrate the behavior you want to inspire
Author of Basho Email, Your SalesMBA and Why You? Why You Now? sales programs, speaker, trainer and writer
“Be eager to demonstrate your sales skills in front of reps – particularly prospecting.
Your success as a manager can be best measured by what your reps do when you’re not in the room. Starting off as a sales manager you want to be eager to demonstrate your sales skills in front of your team. Pick up the phone and demonstrate the activity levels you’d like to see from your reps.
Encourage your reps to be patient with their prospects, but impatient with their pipelines. Showing your own commitment to goals, activity levels and timelines comes across far better than talking at your reps about your expectations. You’ll also start to foster a sense of pride in their team leader as someone who puts in the work and closes deals.”
Coach before you train
Author, Quit Whining and Start SELLING! A Step-by-Step Guide to a Hall of Fame Career in Sales and Counter Mentor Leadership: How to Unlock the Potential of the 4-Generation Workplace, Founder & President, The Business LockerRoom
“The one thing I have learned in leadership – and share with the leaders I work with – is that training is grossly ineffective for creating changes in performance because training tends to be a one-off experience – a one-day sales training conference, showing a new procedure once or sending a lengthy email detailing a new procedure.
Nowhere is this more common than sales.
The reason training typically doesn’t produce the results you anticipate is because changing behavior is difficult. Spending four hours in a classroom, taking notes on a dozen new ideas, usually does not translate into changes in performance, even for individuals with the best intentions.
Instead, what sales leaders need to grasp is that changes in behavior can be consistently accomplished utilizing the concepts of coaching: Repetition. Hands-on application. Observation. Critical review. Practice, practice, practice. Test for competence. The next time you’re tempted to train, ask yourself how you expect to coach your people into the behavior change you expect.”
Engage and empower your team
Author, Velocity Selling: How to Attract, Engage and Empower Buyers to Buy and Motivate Your Team in 30 Days (co-authored with Dave Urichuck), Founder, Bob Urichuck Management Inc.
“My best leadership lesson is to engage and empower your sales team. Help them develop an owner’s mentality: It is the sales person’s business, as if on commission, not a job on salary.
Engage them to define their territory, strategies, revenue targets and goals. This way they own it. Then empower them to carry it out. The leader’s job is then to demonstrate appropriate behaviors and make sure the salesperson does what they said what they would do.
It takes discipline doing what you have to do even when you don’t want to do it! The leader needs to demonstrate recognition and rewards as a method to maintaining discipline – otherwise punishment for not doing it. It’s best to engage the sales person or team in all three areas of recognition, rewards and punishment. People will only own what they commit to do, so engage for commitment and empower for results.”
Be the conduit, not the roadblock
“I learned the importance of believing in the people on my team, and how as a leader I can either be a roadblock or conduit to their job effectiveness and growth.
Encouraging each person to come up with what they think the solution is, and frequently asking for their advice will build a confident and competent team.”
Refine your skills along the leadership journey
H. John Oechsle
CEO/President of Swiftpage
“The best business lesson I ever learned was that leadership and a solid team are the keys to success. Growing up, I was involved in sports and that is where, from an early age, I developed and refined the leadership skills that I still use today.
Leadership is a journey – in order to be a good leader, you must have a strong vision to be able to tell a story and inspire confidence from your team. You must also have the credibility to demonstrate that you’ve been there and done that. Finally, you have to have the right people around you for the business to grow and succeed. You must be able to build or rebuild a team and make sure that your team possesses the qualities or strengths that you may be lacking. You’re only as strong as your weakest team member.”
Be a champion of your team
Vice President at Gartner
“The best leadership lesson I’ve received and try to share with other current and aspiring leaders is that your number one goal is to make your people better by supporting and investing time in them. It’s been described differently from different people such as “servant leadership” to “supportive” to simply being a “coach.”
But time and time again, the best leaders want their teams to be better than them.
They empower, support, coach and give their time to individuals. They are champions for them. Not surprisingly, Gartner research supports this very point: the best sales managers coach, share best-practices and increase their team’s network, connecting them to others.”
Show your character
Sales and leadership speaker, author and trainer, CEO of Brian Tracy International
“The best leadership lesson I’ve learned is that leadership requires character.
Leadership is more about who you are than what you do. Your ability to develop the qualities of effective leadership, the essence of what it takes to be a leader, is more important to your success as an executive than any other factor.
One of the great principles of personal development is Whatever you dwell upon grows and expands in your experience and personality. You become more effective, day by day, when you think and act on the basis of the key qualities of effective leaders throughout the ages. You program these leadership qualities into your personality and behavior by dwelling on them continually.
You learn these qualities by practicing them in your daily activities as a person and as a leader in your organization. You become more of a leader by thinking the same way that top leaders think.”