As a VP of Sales here at Salesforce, I've always wanted my legacy to be that my teams believe that they did the best work of their careers when they worked for me. I want to be the leader who inspires people to grow and to challenge themselves and others. I want to be the one to propel them to success.
Like a typical leader, I once believed that I could be great simply by knowing how to do the sales job and passing that knowledge on. While I still believe that "leading the way" is certainly important, it doesn't cover everything a good sales manager needs to achieve. I've learned that there’s a science to attracting the best possible candidates and getting the most out of them. While many leaders believe that their role is one of "command and control," the truth is that this strategy does not get the best out of people. Typically, teams find that this type of leader drains their energy, confidence, and sometimes even their desire to perform in the role.
I found the best distillation of advice in a book called Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter. Multiplier's taught me how to empower my employees, challenging them to push out of their comfort zones. I learned that a great leader needs to create the right type of environment within every interaction so that people can formulate their own points of view and hone their decision-making skills. Rather than solve problems for our people, we need to build an environment where they learn to trust their own abilities, resource their own challenges, and be a part of the decision-making team. Here are a few tips learned on the front lines on how to do that.
1. Build careers, not empires
The first lesson I learned is that it's important to get comfortable with building careers, not empires. Many new managers get greedy with talent when they find it, stunting careers in hopes of keeping top performers on their teams longer in the hopes of building their own success. Great managers should get comfortable with pushing their people to grow and then promoting them as soon as they are ready. While the short-term pain of losing an AE is tough, your reputation as a career advancing leader will draw the new freshman class to you.
Additionally, what I've found is that many people that I have invested in and promoted have come back to work for me time and time again throughout the course of their careers. I've hired and “promoted out” AEs who have returned years later to become strong leaders, and AEs who have asked to be on my new teams when I moved into new, more senior roles. It’s a strategy that pays dividends in the long term!
Secondly, I learned that people do their best work when you create a safe space for them to perform at their best, rather than cultivating a culture of fear where they’re afraid to make mistakes. I've learned that giving people ideas but letting them make their own decisions is key to building confidence and skills. Listening and asking questions is more powerful than directing someone, even when I believe I have the right answer. Giving them the answer just means they come to depend on others, and not themselves. There is no growth in that, and believe me, as a management tactic, it definitely doesn't scale. Plus, I learn so much about my people when I ask questions. I learn how they think, how they approach problems, and what their strengths are.
Third, I've learned how powerful it is to distinguish someone's work from the outcomes. Especially in sales, we are all about the final outcome: annual contract value (ACV). While "ACV is king," measuring only ACV does not develop the skills and long-term success of your team. I try to be a leader who holds people accountable for their execution versus just their results. For example, many sales leaders withhold any positive feedback about a person's work until they determine whether they succeeded or not (i.e. closed the sale). But it is possible to do the right things and get the wrong results — and vice versa. The best way to scale our teams and get the most out of our people is to reinforce the right behaviors, regardless of the outcome.
For example, one of the best run mutual plans I've seen recently was on a deal that we did not win. We learned hard lessons in other areas of execution, but the fact remained that the AE executed at the highest level in this area. His skills of driving the deal would serve him well in future deals, and therefore I made sure he understood what he did right in the cycle. We have all had the boss who shamed us for our entire effort when we lost a deal, which only crushes confidence and throws out the positive lessons learned. I don't want to be that kind of leader, and I know from experience that it doesn’t foster long-term success.
Lastly, I've (hopefully) learned not to be a know-it-all. Being directive (i.e. I know what to do, so do what I say) is not scalable, doesn't empower people, and frankly, it's exhausting. Drop your ego at door, forget trying to look like you're the smartest person in the room, and give people the opportunity to discover for themselves the optimal path to the best outcomes. You definitely should freely give people a starting point; your experience is valuable. But then ask hard questions, challenge them to think it through themselves, weigh in on their thought process, challenge further, and then watch what happens. Just today, an AE told me he had hit a dead-end. While I knew the answer, I didn't give it to him. I shared what I had done in a similar account and challenged him to find a way to develop a stronger, deeper perspective on his customer. Only an hour later, this AE had built a plan unlike any he had ever created before. He came over to high five me, proud of his work. If I had to bet, I believe he is going to run that play over and over in his career and benefit immensely from it.
The job of sales manager can be a daunting one, but one that can inspire you on a daily basis if your teams are learning, growing, and experiencing success. If you’re interested in more practical advice on how to make your team smarter and more successful, check out our eBook, “Sales experts answer your toughest sales management questions.”