5 Things Sales Leaders Need to Keep in Mind When Taking Over New Sales Teams
Whether you’re joining at the entry level, as a manager, or even as an executive, starting a new job can be intimidating. I would know. After 20 years at TrueCar overseeing a team responsible for more than 500 accounts across the US, I recently made the transition to VP of Sales at Constellation Agency— a SaaS company offering tech-enabled digital marketing solutions. It’s often very scary for a sales team when a new leader comes in, and in the world of sales, first impressions are everything. Through the years, I’ve experienced seamless transitions and those that were…well, a bit rocky.
Below are five key learnings from my career that any sales manager can implement to make the most of their newfound opportunity and hit the ground running.
1. Address the Elephant in the Room
Questions are bound to arise, even before you start— “Who is this person?”, “Where do I fit in?”, “Am I going to lose my job?”. Expect this. It’s an understandable reaction to uncertainty and one that any good leader can relate to.
Each team member feels as though they need to start all over again to prove themselves. This leaves you exposed to employee turnover, which is costly for your new company. Not to mention, turnover also comes with the loss of legacy knowledge that won’t be passed down.
I’ve experienced multiple new managers over my career. The best ones sat us down as a group to assuage our fears with a plan for growth that everyone can contribute to. Sales is a team sport, not a dictatorship. I’ve had plenty of new bosses that have used fear to set the tone; “This is how it’s going to be. Get on-board. If you don’t like it you can leave”. I learned early on to never lay down the law this way. Being a manager of people requires collaboration.
2. Talent Assessment:
It’s time to take stock. Get to know your team members and discover what drives each of them. This isn’t just a “what do you do on the weekends” conversation. Really dig in and find out which stars they’re shooting for. It could be money, personal growth, or even validation, but whatever the case may be, each team member should be managed uniquely to align with their passion.
Some will thrive with positive feedback, while others may need a more hands off approach. But there’s only one way to find out. No one wants to expose their weaknesses in a team setting— heck they may not even want to ask a single question. The simplest answer is often the best one, and I’ve found that there’s no substitute for one-on-one meetings to determine strengths and weaknesses.
You have to earn their trust by letting them know that their growth is your priority.
3. Setting the Bar:
Setting the bar starts with sharing your vision for the team. That vision may look different for different organizations, but at the core your vision should encourage your folks to step outside of their comfort zone and reach for more.
You’ve inspired them with a rousing speech? Fantastic. It’s time to talk money.
Company objectives and revenue goals are not a burden meant to be shouldered by the leader alone. Being open and honest about what is expected of the team collectively, and from each individual contributor, will benefit the company greatly in the long run.
Establishing those expectations early is key to guiding the team forward. If you shirk the responsibility of expectation setting, your team will establish them for you. This might work out but more often than not, it won’t.
4. Soup to Nuts Sales Process Review:
Gather your new team and have a “Start & Stop” session. “What should we stop doing immediately?”, “Why?”, “What should we start doing?”, “Why?”.
Process without purpose breeds a fragmented and confusing sales onboarding process, so listen carefully. “This is how we’ve always done it” is the most expensive statement for any business. During my account management days, I had so many tasks to complete and limited time to do it. Finding efficiencies practically became a survival skill, which is good because it is paramount for success at scale.
For example, a previous employer of mine had an internal form to calculate commissions— a critical part of any sales process. But this one required way too many steps. I asked our team to streamline the form to just a couple of clicks so that we could be paid quicker. This may seem small but these small wins add up.
Every team member is a stakeholder in this game, and their feedback is critical to making lasting change. Establishing a standardized sales process will also make onboarding and execution seamless across departments.
5. Cross-Departmental Harmony:
You need the help of other teams to be successful. Similar to your sales process review, a meeting with other department heads will give you a look into where things can improve. Solicit feedback and turn those into actionable items.
Sales and Accounts go hand-in-hand. We both need each other. Sales feeds Accounts and Accounts maintains the revenue that enables the top line to grow. Use Accounts to identify additional sales opportunities.
The Account team is my go to department for everything! It is the life-cycle of the customer that is the most critical in maintaining revenue and reducing churn. “Where are the obstacles?”, “Are we easy to do business with?”, “Are our processes too complicated for the customer?”.
One department that is often overlooked is the billing department. Soliciting their feedback on process improvements is vital. If a customer can’t pay us due to system limitations, they may not be customers for very long. Once you lose a customer due to friction in the billing process, they will not return.
Feed your people with the knowledge they need to succeed and they will in turn give you everything they have. The most important thing I have learned in my career is that tough conversations need to happen. In the past, I held back for fear that it would be uncomfortable or potentially hurt an employee’s feelings. In the end what good did that do? As a leader you have a responsibility to bring out the best in your employees.
The absolute best part about being a leader is watching your team grow professionally and personally. Telling a team member they have been promoted to the next level is one of my favorite things in the world. You can change a life or a family’s life in the time it takes to make a phone call. That is what drives my day-to-day. Make a good first impression, and the rest will follow.
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