It’s the third quarter and you are well behind in terms of meeting sales targets. It’s easy to blame the economy or people on your sales team for poor results. But take an objective step back and ask this question: Is it your sales team that is falling short, or are you at fault? The old saying, “The pace of the leader is the pace of the pack” comes to mind. Where could you improve to generate more sales and hit those targets?

Here are three specific areas in which your own leadership skills can affect results:

Recruit top quality players
The first place to start is by examining your hiring practices. It’s important to have the right people on the sales bus, if you want your life to be easier and more profitable. There’s nothing innovative about this idea, but too many sales managers still settle for “B” players instead of “A”s. Make sure you are not making these common mistakes:

  • Recruiting to fill openings. This is really the kiss of death. An open position or territory translates into an unmet quota and top management breathing down your neck. The result is inevitable: Desperation sets in and starts to make every frog look like a handsome prince. As a sales leader make recruiting, not deals, your personal prospecting activity. And, just like sales prospecting, recruiting is a continuous process, not an event. Best practice: Interview one or two candidates every month, even when you are not “in the market.” Follow the lead of top sports coaches and build bench strength before it’s needed. A clear benefit is that you will be less likely to hang on to people you don’ t need.
  • No formal hiring process. Bad hires typically don’t sync with the company’s core values. How often have you said something like, “He didn’t fit into our culture. She had a bad attitude. His work ethic was lousy”? Did you ask questions during the interview process that would surface issues that don’t dovetail with your company culture? For example, if teamwork is a core value, weed out the lone rangers by asking questions like, “Tell me about a situation when you helped a colleague close a sale. Give me an example of how you’ve worked with other departments to solve a customer service issue.”

Set the right example
Empathy is a fundamental people skill for sales and management. It’s the ability to read people and understand where they are coming from. It is the ability to respond to a change in tone of voice, an irritated gesture or other nonverbal cues.

Here’s a real-world example. One of the things that’s becoming far too common in our technology-obsessed age is that people are not present in conversations or meetings. As the sales manager, you need to model the behavior you want to see. In weekly sales meetings, are you all there? Or are you sneaking a look at your email? When you meet with reps on on one in your office, do you set your phone on “do not disturb” or allow calls to interrupt?

Consider what happens when reps observe this behavior. They’re likely to model it into their daily business life. At networking events, they check their electronics while talking to a potential referral partner. Or they set their smartphone on “vibrate” during a sales call. When a new message comes in, they break eye contact with the prospect and check their phone, sending the message that the incoming message is more important than the current meeting.

Lead by example and teach your sales team to be present. Focus is the new selling and leadership skill needed in today’s high tech business environment.

Tell it like it is
One way people attempt to gain approval or avoid conflict is by renaming things to soften the impact of observed behavior. How often do you hear it said that salespeople “fudge” on their pipeline data or the numbers they enter into the CRM software? Let’s call fudging what it is: lying. Perhaps a sales rep says she isn’t learning new selling skills because she is “too busy.” No, she is uncommitted and choosing to be average. When you “name the game,” a dramatic shift in behavior is the likely result.

Here’s another real-world example from a successful sales manager: One of his direct reports was always late for meetings with a wide range of excuses. The manager stopped him short and said that the next time he was late to a meeting he would have to share one of two reasons for being tardy: (1) He was arrogant and felt his schedule was more important than the others in the room, or (2) He simply didn’t care about keeping other people waiting.

Source: Adapted from a posting by sales trainer Colleen Francis. To learn more visit

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