Accelerating innovation, efficiency and productivity within teams

As leaders in business, we constantly strive to accelerate innovation, efficiency and productivity within our teams. With over two decades of experience behind me I’ve had the opportunity to reflect on what’s made me the leader I am today, what I saw in others that impacted the way I work, and why I have ultimately come to understand that creating a culture of coaching is the primary driver of success.

Learning the essence of leadership

Serving in The British Army taught me a lot about leadership, and in particular, the concept of service to the people that one leads. Above all, this one concept captures the essence of the leadership I aspire to and best describes the most effective leaders I have worked with.

After leaving the Army I started my civilian career making 100 dials a day. My job was to source vacancies for a sales recruitment company and it was far from glamorous. I had my desk, my desk phone, the Kompass directory and, if I got in before everyone else, I also had copies of all the local papers and their job sections. I worked hard, got promoted within 7 months, and within another 6 months secured my first field sales role.

If you’d asked me when I left the Army what I wanted to do, sales would probably have been at the bottom of the list. But I loved it. It gave me freedom and it rewarded hard work, as well as innovation and good communication. Within five years, I found myself leading once again, except this time it was Sales teams, and the shots being fired were across the Board Room table where I became involved in devising and executing go-to-market strategies.

In an environment where ambiguity is inevitable and opportunity is only limited by the ability to attract and grow talent, I’ve been fortunate to work for some inspirational leaders. My hope is that one day others may say the same of me.

Learning from ineffective leadership

It’s not easy being a leader and, after my time in the forces, some of the most valuable lessons I learned were from watching others lead.

Looking back at my early sales career, I struggled with cold calling. At the time, I didn’t really understand why in the same way I do now.  Suffice it to say it made it hard for me to always have the pipeline coverage versus quota that I needed.

I recall raising this with my manager and asking him if we could do a 1:1 best practice session. He agreed and one week later I found myself sitting at a desk with him with a list of people that we planned to call. I had no idea what good looked or sounded like and so I asked him to help me with a blueprint, or perhaps role model a call or two so I could listen and learn. 

He refused and we spent the next three hours with me basically doing what I could have done on my own, whilst he drank coffee and listened somewhat inattentively from the other side of the office.

I learned a valuable lesson that day - one I am truly grateful for. He taught me to never ask of others what I am not prepared to do myself. Leadership requires respect and respect has to be earned.  There are few better ways of earning it than being all in with your people, working alongside them and being exposed to the realities of their everyday work.

Becoming the leader I am today

Through these experiences, I’ve learnt that sales coaching is a fundamental component of modern revenue leadership. While one-off training sessions can address gaps in skills and knowledge, without the right coaching to reinforce new skills, 87% of training is forgotten within a month. The most effective programmes are, therefore, focused on equipping, training and coaching salespeople to learn and embed the skills and behaviours they need in those precious few moments in front of the customer or prospective customer.

Sales enablement is the strategic, ongoing process by which sales teams are equipped with the content, and then coached on what to know, say, show and do to effectively engage buyers with that content. When done well, enablement also tracks and analyses engagement with and the influence of content and training to isolate and learn from what is and is not working. Analytics is critical; it drives operational rigour and provides leading indicators of success, so leaders can get out ahead of problems and avoid having to mitigate them after the fact. Use analytics to create a virtuous circle where impactful behaviours and content are identified and amplified.

In many ways, sales enablement is to salespeople what Google is to search, and as sales leaders, we must pay close attention to this. In a time where efficiency and productivity are key to not just a company’s survival, but to their growth on the other side, smart companies are investing in enablement for the long-term. For sales, this comes in the form of fostering an ongoing culture of coaching; after all, it’s a sales leader's duty to implement the right tools and culture to assist teams in performing at their best and keep the ship afloat to weather any economic storms.