By Andy Paul, Author, Speaker, Sales Acceleration Strategist, Zero-Time Selling, Incorporated

Sales leadership doesn’t originate with sales managers or the C-Suite. It begins with the salesperson.

I remember reading an article in Sky, the Delta Airlines inflight magazine, in which it said that Delta’s inflight crews exhibit leadership by being able to adapt to changing circumstances. “Each of Delta’s nearly 80,000 people around the globe have the opportunity to be leaders in how we handle unpredictable situations, how we use Delta resources, how we take care of each other and how we take care of you.”

To me that is also a great definition of sales leadership. Salespeople must be able to adapt to the changing requirements of the prospect and be able to help them by leading them to make a good decision.

This doesn’t mean leading buyers by the nose. I’m talking about the classic definition of leadership that revolves around the idea of inspiring others to take actions based on the actions of the leader. Or, as the great American thinker Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “What you do speaks so loudly, I cannot hear what you say.”

Leadership and the Customer

Too often we conflate the idea of leadership with management. But the battle in sales doesn’t take place at that level. It occurs with the prospect; in that intimate setting of person-to-person selling. And it is the responsibility of the salesperson to inspire the prospect to follow the path to a solution that they have laid out.

This inspiration comes in the form of serving the customer to help them to make a good decision quickly. Sales is not something we do to a customer. It is an interactive, iterative process we undertake in collaboration with the customer. The end result is a shared goal and shared outcome.

If we are just selling to a prospect, instead of inspiring and leading them, then they will be painfully aware that our goal is all about the order. In other words, our goal is all about us. Buyers don’t respond well to feeling pushed to do something that they feel is primarily for the benefit of the seller.

When salespeople are fully invested in the process of helping customers make good decisions quickly, then the customer will be fully cognizant of that and orders will be a logical and inevitable outcome.

Certainly, we should have a well-defined sales process. But, buyers rarely follow our predictable script. It is what a salesperson does when they are forced to deviate from the script that demonstrates whether they possess the qualities of a sales leader or not.

How do we react when the customer’s stated requirements change? Do we despair? Or do we roll up our sleeves and work with the customer to better understand their modified requirements and apply our knowledge, expertise and insights to synthesize these into an even more valuable solution for them?

Note to Sales Managers

Lastly, in a separate note to sales managers, how often do you list “sales leadership” among the qualifications you include in a job description for a salesperson? Managers often list the stereotypical “heroic” qualities in job descriptions for new salespeople: hunter, closer, extrovert. But, the fact is that not one of those qualities will help you in your search for the extraordinary salesperson that can inspire customers to make decisions. Sales is a journey. Do you have salespeople on your team who can inspire and lead their customers to take that journey with them?

Andy Paul is the founder of and strategist for Zero-Time Selling, Incorporated. In this role he shows sales teams how to maximize the value and power of their selling. He coaches and advises CEOs, entrepreneurs and sales executives, providing them with strategies that help them optimize their sales performances by empowering their customers to accelerate their decision cycles.

Andy has a daily podcast, Accelerate! With the help of frequent guest experts, he explores topics crucial to the success of any sales rep. He is also the author of two award-winning, bestselling books, Amp Up Your Sales and Zero-Time Selling, about how to build the trust, respect and value that helps your prospects choose you instead of the competition.

Andy Paul will be a keynote speaker at Sales Team Alpine Retreat (STAR): A Frost & Sullivan Executive MindXchange in February.

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