It takes a special kind of person to succeed as a front-line sales leader. I was in that role for three years and found it to be both the hardest and most rewarding thing that I’ve ever done, outside of having children. A lot is asked of you, from recruiting, to training, to retention, to driving revenue, to negotiating deals, to creating executive relationships, to knocking down internal obstacles, to account strategy. As a sales leader, you carry a lot of responsibility on your shoulders.

A good sales leader is someone who can multitask and stay cool under stressful circumstances, who can be very focused on execution but at the same time take a broader, organization wide view. And you have to transition from caring just about yourself; it's like when you become a parent. You are now responsible for the success of a team of account executives (AEs), not just your own success.

If you're looking for more autonomy, being the quarterback, and the thrill of crushing your number, then remaining an account executive is an incredible option. But if you're looking to challenge yourself and broaden your impact on the organization, front-line sales leadership is the way to go. In the end, amidst all of the noise that comes at you as a sales leader, success will come down to your ability to focus on these three things: deeply knowing your AEs, your customers, and your deals.

Your AEs are the engine that runs your business. The quality of the AEs, as well as how well you understand them and their strengths and weaknesses, is vital to the level of performance of your team. You need to know when they can run with something and when you need to complement their work with coaching or involvement. You also need to understand how they qualify their deals, so that when they give you a forecast, you adjust for “happy ears” or sandbaggers. This allows you to provide accurate forecasts up the chain.

With less-experienced AEs, you will assert yourself more directly during negotiations, lead executive connections, and drive more of the account strategy. If one of your AEs is an experienced, performing veteran, you may be less prescriptive and serve more as a sounding board for strategy and help block and tackle any larger internal issues, while still supporting executive connections.

Your accounts are your customers. You need to deeply understand your customers and how they define success, so that you can better align with them, solve their problems, and ultimately drive more business. You need to know who is driving decisions and making change happen, the company culture, their buying process, and the health of the business.

When you have a strong relationship with your customer, he or she will tell you how you can help and what’s not a priority. This information is gold. The more you’ve dug in and understand their cadence and what's important to them, the better you and your AE know where to spend your time and with whom to align.

As the sales leader, this means you have to know about every AE’s accounts multiplied by the number of AEs. It’s a lot to retain and understand. The best way to do it is to get on-site often, meet with as many executives as you can, and stay on top of their latest news. This deep knowledge helps you, as the front-line sales leader, to work with your AEs on account strategy and enables you to give “headlines” and background color on the accounts when discussing deals with your management chain.

When you do the consistent hard work of investing in your AEs and customers, you will “see” deals much more easily. You will have a good “nose” about whether the deal aligns with the customer and whether the AE is able to execute the plan. This allows you to drive and execute deals with confidence and a high probability of success.

You are responsible for understanding why a customer will buy, which executive is motivated to make sure it happens, who else has influence over the decision, the buying cycle and process for signature, and competitive pressures in the deal. The sales leader is ultimately responsible for driving the deal execution.  

It can seem overwhelming to be responsible for staying on top of all of the sales cycles; where you used to be responsible for just one or two deals, you are now responsible for every deal in your region across all of your AEs. This is how you show your salt as a leader: your ability to perform, forecast, attract, retain, and motivate your talent. It’s a lot, but for the right personality, it’s a blast.  

You have to transition from caring just about yourself; it's like when you become a parent.”

Jennifer Lagaly | AVP, Enterprise Sales, Salesforce
 
 
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