My name is c.j., your trusted Sales Advisor, and here's the August 2009 issue of Psyche-Selling TM eNewsletter.
It’s good news that the economy seems to be recovering, and many companies are looking to hiring more sales staff, or getting their sales staff trained. This is to make sure that the sales force is well-prepared for the “lift-off” that occurs in many recoveries.
However, merely increasing the size of the sales force, or merely providing selling skills training, may not be sufficient for you to improve sales performance. You will need strong and effective sales leadership to lead your sales team to greater success. Once again, we borrow some ideas from one of the earliest “consultants” in history, Sun Tzu （孙子）.
Hence, this month's topics:
This issue's main article is on "Sun Tzu and the Art of Sales Leadership", and it gives sales managers and leaders a framework on how they can get optimal sales results from their teams.
Sun Tzu and the Art of Sales Leadership
by c.j. Ng
As the saying goes, if you fail to plan, you have planned to fail (多算胜少算，而况于无算乎). This is especially true for sales leaders who are looking to boost performances of their sales teams.
While most sales managers do implement some level of planning, most of such planning involve the day-to-day scheduling of meeting customers (i.e. the sales activities) so as to achieve the numbers. There is little or no planning, in many cases, in the areas of strategising, competitive anaylsis, leadership and skills upgrading of their respective sales teams.
To achieve better sales performances, Sun Tzu (or Sūn Zǐ in pinyin, 孙子 in simplied Chinese, or 孫子 in traditional Chinese) offer some insights on how we can plan better to become effective leaders for our teams. After all, if today’s business is akin to war, then there’s much we can learn from the Art of War.
The Elements of Strategy
Long before we have strategic planning tools such as PEST (Political, Economic, Social, Technological) analysis or SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) analysis, Sun Tzu had devised 5 elements in strategic planning that helped many generals to gain victories in battles. These are:
These 5 elements can be adapted into today’s business environment, and can also incorporate modern strategic planning tools such as the PEST and SWOT analysis.
In ancient times, going to war is risky business – you risk losing your lives, and those of your loved ones, along with your properties and resources. It may be easy to coerce some peasants to form an army for you to conquer foreign lands. However, the best armies are those with soldiers and generals who are committed to the Way (or Vision or Goal in today’s terminology). If the goals of the rulers (or management) and the objectives of the soldiers (or sales people) are aligned, you win (上下同欲者胜).
Hence, as a sales leader or manager, you may have to communicate your expectations and align your goals with your sales teams frequently to make sure everybody is moving in the same direction (the same Way). Many a time, companies experience high staff turnover in the sales force largely due to sales staff NOT buying into management’s vision and goals. And in most cases, this was caused by sales leaders not communicating their vision and goals to their team enough.
It is insufficient to just have a common goal to win battles and improve performances. You will also have to be aware of your surrounding environment. Sun Tzu categorised the environment into the Climate 天 and the Ground 地.
While the Climate in ancient times mean just the weather, the Climate in today’s business terms can also mean the economic climate, market trends and technological improvements. It is important that sales leaders take into account of the Climate when setting sales targets such that targets are set high in good times, and then can be adjusted when times are bad. Sales leaders will also have to identify emerging trends to capitalize on market opportunities.
The Ground in ancient times mean the terrain of which armies will travel upon. For today’s businesses, the Ground means all that is happening on the ground, in the market place. This includes specific customer behaviours and responses, pressure from competition, our strengths and weaknesses with responding to such situations. When sales leaders understand the Ground, they can provide adequate coaching and mentoring to their teams, and guide them to greater successes.
The Qualities of a Leader
Sun Tzu also provided a set of qualities that leaders (将) should have. These are:
According to HR Chally, the 2 aspects of intelligence that a sales leader should have are:
Analytical intelligence refers to how a sales leader can analyse issues ranging from market trends to individual sales situations, and then formulate strategies to overcome challenges. Practical intelligence refers to how the sales leader can apply concepts learnt from other fields and industries onto their sales teams to generate better results. Both aspects of intelligence are critical in enabling the sales leader to plan ahead and beat competitive pressures. Sales leaders will have to balance the discipline of getting things done with the creativity to think out-of-the-box to beat the competition (以正合，以奇胜)
Sun Tzu mentioned that winning armies have capable generals whose actions their lords (their bosses) don’t interfere with (将能而君不御者胜). This applies to the sales leaders’ bosses, just as it applies to how sales leaders treat their subordinates as well. In most cases, the reason that sales leaders are not able to empower their team members to perform their best independently are due to a lack of clear expectations. That is to say, many sales leaders don’t communicate their expectations with their team members clearly enough, and hence team members don’t really know what the sales leaders want. As a result, sales leaders will have to constantly monitor and control team members, giving team members an impression that their leaders don’t trust them. If team members don’t feel they are trusted, they will not perform at their best.
Having compassion doesn’t mean being “nice”. Rather, it means how the sales leader sincerely has the interests of the team member at heart, and works hard to help the team member achieve her full potential. Being “nice” may mean giving the team member better leads or preferential treatment. At best, this may be just giving the team member the “fish”, rather than teaching her “how to fish”. In worse situations, this may lead to favouritism, and may divide rather than unite your team. Team members may thus lose their trust in you as a leader.
However, if you are driving you team to greater performances, you are developing them to be better sales people. While this means that you will achieve better sales performances, it also means that each team member will become better sales people in their own right.
In war, generals need courage to face surmounting adversity. The same applies to today’s sales leaders. If the sales leader does not show confidence and self-belief in face of tough challenges, the team will easily lose their morale.
Courage also means making tough or unpopular decisions. Many sales leaders are afraid to take corrective actions against their top sales people, fearing that these top sales people may bring their customers to a competitor. In doing so, other sales people will feel they have been unfairly treated, and will lose their trust as respect in you as their leader.
Finally, discipline is NOT always about catching what your team members have done wrong. It is just as important, if not more important, to give recognition and sincere praises when your team have perform to expectations too. In fact, the focus of “discipline” isn’t so much about avoiding mistakes, but rather it’s about achieving optimal performances.
Being Accountable as a Leader
When a sales team is not achieving its targets, chances are some members of the team will be fired to make room for new and hopefully better performing sales people.
However, in sports (especially in team sports such as football or basketball), if the team is not performing well, the manager or coach gets fired first! In ancient times, when an army loses a battle, the general might be executed too.
While it is easy to blame a few non-performing team members for not performing to expectations, the leader has a great amount of influence over the team that may well determine the success or failure of the team. In short, just like in ancient times, sales leaders must be held accountable for their teams’ performances. That should be one of the disciplines that a sales leader must have.
To paraphrase how Sun Tzu’s core beliefs about war can be applied to business, here’s the modern-day version:
“Sales... ...the lifeblood of a company, a matter of ‘life and death’, survival or extinction. Indeed, something that needs to be studied, applied and re-modified consistently” (业绩……企业之命脉，死生之地，存亡之道，不可不察也).
To understand how Sun Tzu's observations can help you improve sales leadership, e-mail email@example.com or call +86-136 7190 2505 or Skype: cydj001 and arrange to buy me a some Chinese tea. All information shall be kept in confidence.