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Top Attributes of Sales Leaders #5: Control Orientation

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Of the seven attributes of top sales leaders, this is the one that I think Martin has gotten most wrong. Or perhaps, rather, the one where he has most misinterpreted the data. Unlike the question of sales intuition, where the title seems like its a little bit nonsensical, but in practice it makes perfect sense, here I have the opposite problem. “Control orientation” sounds perfectly reasonable. A sales leader needs to lead. And that means giving orders. I think of a military chain of command. That makes sense to me. But Martin concludes,

Sales managers who closely monitor and strictly enforce a sales process are more likely to exceed their quotas, and the best sales leaders seek to control the daily behavior of their sales teams. Forty-three percent of high-performing sales managers responded that their sales process was closely monitored, strictly enforced, or automated, compared to 29% of underperforming sales managers. Forty-four percent of underperforming sales managers indicated they had a nonexistent or an informal structured sales process.

On the one hand, I’m all for measuring. However, I think there are two problems with the data and the conclusions presented above. First, there are different kinds of sales. If you’re running on inside sales team that’s dialing for dollars, that I think daily, strictly enforced sales processes — perhaps even automated ones — are critical. But for purposes of the readers of my blog, that’s almost certainly not what you’re after. I’ve argued before against exactly this sort of thing. There’s a big difference between leading and managing. Second, if you’re building a rockstar team, they just aren’t going to respond well to this kind of micromanagement. You’re not hiring them to be robots. If you were, I’m sure you could find some actual robots to do that job. You’re hiring them for their exceptional skills and judgement, and you want them to employ both — not be tied down to some rigid process and rule book.

So, I don’t concur with the findings. That said, I do believe that a control orientation is critical for sales leadership. Just not the kind of control orientation described above. I’ll go back to my military metaphor. If you were building out an infantry regiment, you’d want exactly what’s described. But you’re not. Your building Delta Force, or the SEALs, or Rangers. You’re building something special. Now, if you go look at the special forces, you’ll find that they do things a lot differently than the regular military. They’re given a lot of latitude. But, there’s still a command structure. Going back to another metaphor I use frequently, you’re still the coach and they’re still the team.

If you want to be successful as a sales leader, your team has to respect you and know that you’re in charge. You do need control orientation. You need to give orders when necessary, and you need to expect those orders to be followed. But that doesn’t mean you need to be micromanaging every step of the sales process. Let your team do what they do best, most of the time. But when you give an order, make sure it’s clear that it’s not optional.