Can better leadership contribute as much to the bottom line as good sales training? One of the biggest challenges of teaching leadership is how to directly and immediately increase sales and profits. I'm often told, "These leadership ideas sound great in a perfect world, but changing culture seems like a long, tough process. What can I do right now to improve my business?" Since increasing sales is the first and most obvious thing that most business owners look at when they want to grow the bottom line, I looked into what sales trainers were doing and found a gaping hole in conventional teachings. A hole that a good leader can immediately fill that will grow a company's sales and build infinitely more trust with customers.
In my work with companies and individuals, the one consistent trait in top- performing salespeople is a strong belief in the product or service that they are selling. If you want to increase your sales without resorting to high-pressure tactics or high stress incentives, simply ask your sales team if they believe they are selling the best product in your industry. If they don't believe that they are selling the best, it is extremely unlikely that they are performing at their highest potential. People naturally sell what they believe in, and while a slick salesman might be able to sell a product that he dislikes, it is extremely difficult to fake enthusiasm for extended periods of time without appearing transparent to clients. Think about it. Could you sell a product that you thought was inferior? Could you sell it well? Or perhaps more importantly, would you want to sell it at all? Many people assume salespeople are motivated by money, and while this is largely true, it's absurd to think they are motivated only by money. Salespeople are still human and while commission bonuses and sales spiffs will probably remain an important part of most sales compensation plans, studies consistently show that financial incentives never have the same lasting impact as an employee who is passionate about his work and it is a simply not possible to be passionate about something that you think is inferior.
Besides instilling natural passion into your sales team, a salesperson who truly believes in his product or service is far more likely to sell with integrity. Recently, I was discussing ways to increase sales with John Buerger, a client of mine who works in financial planning. John explained that in the financial services sector -- like many commission-based industries -- there is a huge conflict of interest created by the pressure to up-sell clients while still providing the best solutions for their needs. Since sales is not my core area of expertise, we looked at different sales training material -- but all of it was based on teaching the salesperson to push harder, talk smoother, close faster, and make more money. Not only did they assume that salespeople were essentially driven only by financial incentives, they also paid very little attention to product quality or even the customer's needs once sales resistance had been overcome. This kind of sales training only exacerbated the conflicts of interest faced by many salespeople.
Instead of adopting these methods, which would have turned him into another typical high-pressure salesman, we decided a better way for John to grow his business was to restructure it so that he honestly believed in all of his product offerings, the manner in which he serviced his clients, and even the colleagues with whom he shared his office. The result of these changes is that John's business is now growing with very little additional sales activity on his part, while past colleagues who continued to do business the conventional way find themselves in a constant state of trying to replace existing clients due to a high rate of churn.
There will always be a place for good sales training, and professionals should continually hone their skills by learning new ways to get past gatekeepers, find the decision makers, and overcome objections. But when it comes to building a truly motivated sales team, the first step is to find out if your people honestly have passion for their products. By definition, "soft skills" like leadership are difficult to measure, but passion is infectious, and by making sure that your salespeople believe in their offerings you can increase your sales while maintaining complete integrity.