The Human Aspects of Sales
Jeff Becker is a seasoned sales professional and leader turned investor. After selling at Xerox and almost nine years rising through the ranks at LinkedIn, Jeff is now Managing Director at Acceleprise, a VC fund and SaaS accelerator.
We sat down with Jeff to get his take on sales technology and managing sales teams in a pandemic era.
What are some of the impacts of the increasing use of technology in sales?
Sales isn’t really a sexy sport. People are trying to figure out how to automate everything, and as a result, a lot of admin tools hog the time of sales reps. Although it does make us more efficient—we send more emails and follow-up more frequently—it has turned sales into somewhat of a math equation.
As a result, buyers on the other side are feeling this. People can tell when a sales rep doesn’t truly care about their company or customers; therefore understanding how to blend systems with genuine value is what truly sets good apart from great. That’s how I approach sales management and leadership, too—starting with compassion, understanding, and genuine curiosity. Treat your customers the same way, and you’ll stand heads and shoulders above the rest of the field.
How did things change in sales when the pandemic hit?
In my experience, there has been a massive shift from deal strategy to employee engagement. My job when I was in an office was all about deals and strategy to win customers. As soon as the pandemic hit, it went to, “how do I make sure everyone’s okay?”
The sales profession is such an emotional rollercoaster, a psychological game, that if you’re not in it, you’ve already lost. Your team won’t be successful if they’re not emotionally and mentally on the court. As a manager, you want people to be happy, healthy, and feeling rewarded so that they will go the extra mile and plow through any obstacle in their way. That’s why it’s more important than ever to be thinking about culture and keeping sales reps engaged. It’s tough, especially now; there are only so many Zoom meetings you can have or cooking events you can host. We’re still figuring it out, but that’s one thing I’m constantly thinking about in this pandemic era.
What are some of the aspects of a healthy sales team culture?
You have to create real customer value. Buyers can smell “commission breath” from a mile away. Commission breath is when reps don’t actually care about the person or business on the other side, they just care about closing as fast as possible. You don’t want to build an organization with a culture where you’re not considering the human on the other side, nor explicitly creating value for them.
Organizations that think about customer value ahead of sales team efficiency are going to be the ones that win. Try asking your sales reps questions like, “Who is the customer of your customers? How are they operating? How are they measuring ROI on the products and services your customer is selling them?” As sales reps, if we’re not answering these basic questions, then we have no business being in the room with executives telling them how to manage their company.
What are some common mistakes you see sales managers making?
There are two interconnected mistakes I see most often, one is not signposting expectations of autonomy, and the other is micromanaging and crowding out latent genius.
As a manager, I think it’s important to signpost. Said differently, tell people your intentions and expectations. In the example of autonomy, without a signpost, salespeople often think “hit my number = total freedom.” For me, though, autonomy is not a gift you get for bringing in customers, it’s actually a responsibility you always carry—to do your job better than anyone else because you are inventing new ways to do it well.
The other mistake I see is when managers get too in the weeds with their reps, which can paralyze sellers. The manager thinks they can do the job better, so they put up unnecessary guardrails and oversight such that the rep begins to feel like they can’t do anything without being judged. They can’t embody the qualities that come with autonomy and improving upon the business, which is ultimately what you hired them to do, and that’s not what you want. It takes a couple of cycles to build a team with this kind of culture and charter, but in time it’s worth it.
Thanks, Jeff, for the great advice on important aspects of sales management. Stay tuned for another post in our Sales Leader Interview Series, and check out the rest of the BuyerSight Blog for additional interviews on sales, leadership, and more!