Growing as a Sales Leader
Kevin Sieck is a go-to-market expert and mentor for the MIT Venture Mentoring Service. Kevin has built professional sales teams from the ground up for both Fortune 500 companies and VC-backed startups. Most recently, Kevin has developed expertise in predictive analytics and enterprise data strategy.
We sat down with Kevin to get his take on the impacts of COVID-19, automation, and how best to grow as a sales manager.
What are some of the effects that the COVID-19 pandemic will have on the sales function going forward?
This crisis has made everybody somewhat of an inside salesperson. Short-term what I’m seeing right now is survival—keeping the lights on; preventing the need to have a reduction in force. Right now, companies should do whatever they need to do to keep revenue coming in, and I think that requires working with your salespeople. Evaluating your product and pricing model is really important. If you can normally sell a $200,000 software product, but you can make it available for $1,500 per seat, you may get a sale of five or ten seats, but at least you’ve gotten your foot in the door and taken on a customer. So, in short-term, keep the lights on, and maybe change the business model and make it easy for the reps to sell the product in this kind of an environment.
Through this pandemic, I think most companies have realized that tools like video chat are efficient. Longer-term, I think companies will continue to use video-chat tools for meetings to help qualify prospects before traveling to visit them. As a result, I think there will be a long-term effect that sees the B2B sales cycle become more efficient. However, at some point, when we get a vaccine, selling will mostly return to the one-on-one meetings and dinners. I think that’s a good thing because there’s only so much you could do in terms of human interaction over video.
What are the risks or downsides of adding automation to a sales process?
I think the risk you run with automation is actually limiting someone’s productivity, both for sales reps and managers. You could make the argument that if a rep is spending a certain number of hours working with an automation tool, they’re not spending those hours actually speaking to customers. For a manager, they could be spending time on a sales tool instead of mentoring or coaching reps.
I’ve also seen a lot of companies struggle with bad data from years and years of accumulation. So, I think it’s really important to keep your data updated and accurate. If you don’t, you’re going to wind up with bad insights into what’s really going on. The other risk from a data standpoint is that you might be inadvertently building silos within your business—perhaps within marketing or sales. You really need to think about how the other parts of the company can be integrated into your process and have access to your data. For example, if you have a sales forecast, make sure the finance team has access to this data, so they know what’s coming down the pipe.
How should sales managers think about maintaining data integrity?
You need to develop a central data source as the “source of truth.” Although you have data coming in from various places, there should be checks and balances between those sources. The single source of truth is golden because it permeates decisions that are made within the organization. So, if I’m a manager using automation, I can rest assured that the forecast I’m giving is backed up by really good data. If you can create a single source of truth, everybody can be on board and know what’s going on, which can be a really powerful force for an organization.
What are some of the biggest mistakes that are being made by sales managers today?
I think that managers need to become better coaches and mentors by looking at what really drives individual performance. What I see in the sales world is a lot of managers who focus on the logical part of the brain but miss the emotional part. Especially for sales reps, you need to help them build up their self-esteem because they have to be able to accept and deal with rejection on a daily basis. Those human factors are really important for the coach and the mentor to be aware of. I think the whole idea is for a manager to lower the time spent looking at numbers and to spend more time building the self-esteem of their reps.
I also see a lot of managers who are not sensitive to a sales rep’s goal of making money. Sales reps like to make money. So, as a manager, if you put in place a new system or a process, make sure you position it as a way to help your sales reps make more this year than they did last year in order to get more buy-in.
So, I think it’s important to be a person who’s looking out for others’ benefit and looking out for those individuals on your team. I think that would go a long way to help build trust and also eventually build a great company.
Thanks, Kevin, for some great advice on sales management and improving sales efficiency! Check out the BuyerSight Blog for more interviews with other sales experts and stay tuned for additional Sales Leader Interviews coming soon.