Too many sales leaders fail to leverage the most powerful competence that allows them to grow and scale their business: managing their involvement in sales cycles. A sales leader’s greatest value is to improve the performance of their sellers and build sales capability. But, because most leaders were promoted due to their successful sales careers,  a common error is to simply go on as many sales calls as possible and do all they can to close business. Over time this approach fails, since it does little to help the seller grow and multiply the effect of the manager.

In a previous article about the characteristics of great sales leaders, I highlighted the importance of being clear on your role in the selling process and knowing when and how to get involved. In this post, I’ll go into further detail. There are essentially four ways for leaders to be involved in sales calls. Model—you run the call, Observer—you observe only with an intent to coach following the call, Teammate— you engage in joint selling with clearly defined responsibilities to take on specific topics during the call, and Strategist—you provide pre-call planning guidance and post-call support.

Model: When you are working with new salespeople in particular, there are plenty of reasons why you may choose to run the sales cycle or a sales call entirely. That may be with the intent to illustrate a certain skill set like asking strategic questions, or to demonstrate how to manage a particular kind of client. When you are the model, it is important to discuss prior to the call the specific behaviors you will be modeling, and to have a post-call discussion about how they were used and to what effect. Even with senior sellers, model calls can be effective as a means to show the use of a new skill set or to highlight a subtle change in their technique that would lead to greater effectiveness.

Observer: It is incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to be a seller and a coach at the same time. So if you are going to coach, then as much as possible, you ought to be in the observer role and allow your salesperson to manage the entire client interaction- even if that means making some mistakes.  There is nothing harder than watching someone struggle with something that you know how to do, but allowing her to do so will enable her to learn and grow. Of course, I’d never suggest being an observer on a high-profile call with a great deal of business at stake. Do observation calls with low-risk clients or with accounts that don’t represent a significant opportunity.

Teammate: There are appropriate times for joint selling, and that is when you fulfill the role of the teammate. When you are both in selling mode it is crucial to be clear on who is responsible for what topics, what questions each of you will ask, and what issues each of you plan to handle. Team selling is powerful when both members of the team are coordinated, but without the appropriate pre-call planning, you run the risk of stepping on each others’ toes and looking unprofessional in front of potential clients. Think of the kayak with rowers in sync with each other and the velocity they achieve, versus the kayak where both rowers are out of rhythm. The latter can even be counterproductive, so take the time to carefully plan your calls.

Strategist: You can’t go on every call, and you shouldn’t try to. There are times when you are needed to help your sellers by providing strategic input on an account or client situation. In this capacity you provide guidance and coaching before and after client interactions in order to help your team advance opportunities. Helping them plan calls effectively, developing strategies to move prospects through the pipeline, and getting clear on how they intend to create value and uncover needs, are just some of the ways you can help without actually going on the call.

Of course, there will be sales situations in which you must make exceptions, and on appropriate occasions you may be in the role of super-closer. That is when you need to use your judgment. But the majority of time, you should be developing the talent on your team and fulfilling one of these four selling roles. Do that effectively and you will be on your way to building a world class sales team.

Edinger Consulting