Are you a seller or a leader? Maybe it’s not an either/or
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Are you a seller or a leader? Maybe it’s not an either/or

Generally speaking, salespeople aren’t trained to think of themselves as leaders as they go about the practice of their craft. Sure, some salespeople exhibit more leadership qualities than others. When you’re trying to figure out how to approach a specific sales challenge, though, you probably don’t think about it as a leadership issue.

But what if successful selling WERE, in fact, largely a matter of leadership?

Organizational behavior consultant Deb Calvert contends that it is. Here’s how Calvert describes some of the leadership attributes that apply to sales:

“Sellers who lead the pack … work with others, including their buyers, to build consensus around a compelling image of the future. They paint a picture of what buyers aspire to accomplish and include, in that picture, how the seller will support the realization of the vision created together. They see higher meaning and purpose in their work, fueled by their own core values.”

Building it in

Sounds like a behavior-altering vision of leadership in sales, all right. But if you want to build more leadership into the way you approach your day-to-day selling tasks, how can you go about it?

Calvert, who has co-authored the book “Stop Selling and Start Leading” with leadership gurus Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner, points to five behavioral practices that Kouzes and Posner recommend.A

Align your actions with your core values.

In the daily cut-and-thrust of the sales arena, it’s easy to get lost in tactics and forget about higher considerations. But in the long run, if you focus purely on what you’re going to do next to get that sale, you put yourself at risk of straying off the ethical path. And that can be poison for your reputation and that of your organization. Calvert reminds us that leaders sell with integrity, meaning that they’re clear about what they stand for, and seek to find out how they can best serve buyers within that value system.

Inspire change and enlist others in your vision.

When a leader does discovery, she isn’t just trying to find out how to match what she’s selling with what the prospect might buy. She’s seeking, rather, “to inspire change that shows buyers how their long-term interests can be realized,” as Calvert puts it, and inquiring about future trends and goals as part of that change. Such sales leaders “engage their buyers by asking questions that get the buyer to participate in shaping a dream that specifies exactly what they want and need.”

Innovate and experiment.

Leaders don’t get into ruts, and if they do, they don’t stay there long. Similarly, the salesperson who constantly challenges himself to find new solutions, rather than falling back on the same old, same old all the time, is well positioned to inspire buyers to do the same.

Build trust through collaboration and cooperation.

Leaders in sales don’t do things either to buyers or for them. Rather, they act with buyers to create the appropriate solution together. This, of course, means a lot of questions and a lot of listening on the seller’s part. When buyers see that they’re being listened to and engaged in such acts of creation, their trust in the salesperson grows strong.

Strengthen the courage and commitment of others.

This has to do with giving buyers legitimate praise when they’ve made a breakthrough in terms of understanding or clarity, or even when they’ve taken the time to contribute meaningfully to the sales dialogue. You’re not flattering them or buttering them up — you’re acting like a leader in noticing and appreciating their efforts.

To be sure, leadership techniques can’t take the place of sales knowledge. You still need to work on your prospecting techniques, the way you organize presentations, the language you use to close. But by reframing your sales practices in this kind of leadership framework, you can give them more power and meaning than you might have thought possible.


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