Being a sales leader is challenging. You constantly face demands from every corner of your life, and it's easy to lose track of what’s important. At Salesforce, our top value is trust. And it's been that way all 13 years I've been with the company. While trust may be an absolute, how it looks in practice differs slightly depending on your role. I believe sales leaders can demonstrate trust by meeting commitments to the business and their direct reports in these areas:
Providing the best customer experience
Maximizing revenue and shareholder value
Developing employee talent
Identifying a better career for an employee who is not experiencing success
Let’s take a closer look at how trust impacts each of these areas.
1. Providing the best customer experience
If we don't have the trust of our customers, we don't have anything because:
People buy from people they trust.
Trust is earned, not given.
Solving customer issues earns trust.
As leaders, we are responsible for the actions of our employees.
I’d like to emphasize that last point a little more. What we model for our employees, they will take to customers. Employees need a sense of confidence that only comes from knowing their manager trusts their abilities and will coach them through their mistakes. I conduct leader reviews, and sadly I consistently hear this feedback: My manager doesn’t listen to me and doesn’t let me try things on my own and give me the chance to fail and learn, or "skin my knee." Teaching by modeling the way and giving sales reps enough time to practice a skill and figure it out is key before giving more coaching. Listening, learning, and asking good questions are critical in helping your people grow and trust you.
I’ve had some remarkable and high-performing years, followed by subpar and frustrating experiences. I have learned to grind through challenging experiences and come out on the other side a better seller and leader. Share your life lessons and failures and let your employees know that one month or one experience does not define a career. When they know you are there to support their growth, you will get the most out of them and build trust.
2. Maximizing revenue and shareholder value
We maximize revenue by earning our customers’ trust. Customers trust us when they notice we take the time to understand their challenges and operate our business with the highest ethics. We:
Speak the language customers understand and solve their problems.
Customize our roles and training to meet our customers’ needs.
Do good in the world and are a growth company.
Empower our salespeople to act as the CEO of their business.
I remember the first time I engaged with a financial services company. I had considerable experience in technology, education, and media, but I truly didn't understand the challenges they were solving for. I brought in a partner to help translate for both the CIO and for me. What did I have going for me? I was running my territory like I was the GM of my business — meaning I was using all the resources I could to turn this new potential customer into a customer hero. I had people who could speak their language, I shared the impact we had with similar customers, I connected them with their peers in the marketplace, and I worked really hard to build trust by doing what I said I would do.
3. Developing employee talent
Every sales rep is on a development plan from their first day. Every person, no matter how good they are, has things they can improve. In my experience, even the most talented and driven reps need to work on the operational components of logging activities and consistently using the CRM system. Reps tend to keep too much information in their head, not where it's visible to the managers who have experience and can help. Reps who need more guidance and mentorship on what good looks like will need a good roadmap from the start. Stay consistent with your direct reports to develop their talent and earn their trust.
Early in my leadership career, I had a poor-performing rep on my team. After three months of providing verbal direction and course correction from me in our weekly meetings, I finally took my leader's advice and started documenting what is required for a newer sales rep. I shared verbally what my expectations were and followed up each weekly meeting with an email recapping what we discussed and what my expectations were. Only after I changed my approach did my employee say, “I didn’t realize you were serious until I saw it in writing.”
What did I learn from this? People learn in different ways, and I have found that over-communication is key.
4. Identifying a better career for an employee who is not experiencing success
I can’t tell you how many great leaders have told me, “When you are a caretaker for people’s careers, no matter if they are an A player or C player, you can do right by your employee and the company.”
Dan Ross, SVP, SMB Commercial Sales at Salesforce, says, “It’s our responsibility as a leader to look inward first and make sure that we have doubled down and done our best to reach down and pull them up by modeling the way and being very clear on expectations. Once I have done that and my conscience is clear, I feel comfortable that my managers can move forward with a more assertive approach.” Acting based on principles and treating everyone fairly earns trust and respect from your team and co-workers.
While it is important to treat everyone fairly, it doesn't mean everyone gets equal treatment. The best sales leaders say you should handle only one performance issue at a time. It's important to act quickly and decisively in situations where the change needed is more serious, like when someone is on a coaching plan and you are documenting in depth. Emotions can run high in these situations. Work with your leader so they can give you guidance and share from their experiences and talk to a leader and mentor in a different group or department who can help you be objective and hold you accountable for your actions. With more objectivity and accountability comes confidence in your actions. Learn to embrace tough personal conversations early. The only thing that will hold your own career back is avoiding taking action, or passing that responsibility to someone else.
In a changing world, when working in a complicated job, it’s important to know your most important principles to stay anchored. I believe trust is the most important value. By building a foundation of trust with both your employees and your customers, you can drive a culture of high performance and growth.
“Employees need a sense of confidence that only comes from knowing their manager trusts their abilities and will coach them through their mistakes.”