Great Sales Leadership is Magic

I do magic tricks.

Sleight-of-hand-card-trick-illusionist-escape-artist magic tricks. For the purposes of commerce and being able to submit a client invoice that survives audit, we call it “Deal Coaching,” “Strategic Seat at the Table” and “Program Support,” but trust me, it’s magic.

This part of the job requires all of the creativity, risk-taking, strategy, experience and play-maker talent that I have, and I love it. I’m not alone- most of the sales leaders, regardless of title, love this part of the job the most.

As you might imagine, magic can be a bit elusive in description and challenging in implementation. It’s the right-brain counterpart to the left-brain management process. One of these is an Excel™ spreadsheet, and the other is finger painting on vodka.

As to description, there are three major categories for thinking about sales leaders magic and they include:

  • Strategy – The big pieces- market, product, big-account sales, budget, key account management. These are all areas where experience, insight, instincts and that last piece of je ne c’est quoi come together.
  • Coaching – Shaping the “how” and the “what” that will be executed in the strategy created. It shows up as tactics, however, which tactic to use when is where the value is.
  • Troubleshooting – The ability to decide what to do when you are out of tricks in the bag and have to conjure answers from thin air.

They all require a deep understanding of people, what is possible with your own company and your prospect’s company. Of course there is also the sales leader’s own broad background from a hundred plus other sales experiences, winning and losing, to frame the ideas and answers in relevant examples.

Guidelines for Great Sales Leadership Magicians

  1. Battles are won before they’re begun. The best sales leaders do their work in the planning phase of each step in a managed process. This means that the important sales calls and meetings are road-mapped and role-played well in advance. It means that the reactions are anticipated and a guideline has been established. What people, what information, what challenges and objections are all considered and determined before the meeting ever takes place. Great strategy is not done on the fly- and even though it may be methodical, it is no less magic.
  2. Coaches are on the sidelines.I have worked with many Sales Leaders who have only one trick in their trick bag- “Take Me.” They themselves are the magic, which means that they can only see themselves as the solution to any particular challenge. Many times they are right, the best solution is for them to go. If they do, they’ll be amazing and the prospect will close. However, it develops nothing in the organization. Besides, the role of sales leadership is to develop others, not just do. The best Sales Leaders stay on the sidelines most of the time. For one Sales Leader I worked with, we set up a simple set of rules:
    • If an opportunity was <$100,000 in revenue, he could only provide insight when asked. He could not talk to the client by phone nor participate in meetings.
    • If an opportunity was between $100,000 and $250,000 in revenue, he could participate in client calls by phone, but not in sales calls.
    • If an opportunity was over $250,000 in revenue, he could participate in meetings.

    The point of this example is not prescriptive. It is, however, illustrative that if the organization’s sales people are going to develop and the company is going to grow, magic has to be sparingly used.

  3. Show your work. No matter what magic it is that a Sales Leader has performed, a sales rep will try to imitate the same trick at another time in another place. For this reason, you need to explain your magic, why you did what you did this time and why it was the right thing to do this time but not every time.  If you don’t, they have a high potential of messing it up. You’re your lesson stick? Who knows- but you have a better chance of passing on the limitations of what you are doing by explaining it than you do by hoping that they guess correctly.
  4. Do the same trick twice. Magicians will tell you to never do the same trick twice because it becomes easier to figure out with repetition. For that reason alone, do the same trick twice and more so that people figure out why you are picking the strategies, coaching their behaviors, and troubleshooting according to a model. You want them to get better because it makes them better and increases the quality of problems you get to do your magic on.
  5. Cluster your best tricks. When I am working with sales teams and we develop a strategy or troubleshoot a problem, my immediate question is, “Who else has a client or prospect for whom this approach would be a fit right now?” Through leveraging up my efforts with other sales people’s issues, we get more impact and greater long-term traction.
  6. When to do magic. In my past blog, “Great Sales Management Isn’t Pretty”, I wrote about following a sales meeting process. The process tells you what accounts require magic. It is my strong recommendation that you do not try to do magic in that meeting. Rather, schedule another time when you can bring the right people, information and mindset to the discussion. If you try to do magic in the moment during that meeting, you will muck it up. You will not have all of the information that you need, you may not have all of the people that you need and you will not have the right-brain mindset. This is a recipe that will produce less than magical results.

Sales management is about process, sales leadership is about application. As my dad taught me, if you do your process correctly you earn the right to do your magic.