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[Message to Management]: Why Great Sales Leaders Listen

MessagetoManagementGuest blogger, Todd McCormick, shares three reasons listening matters in sales management.

It was your typical sales conference—except the speaker wasn’t typical. He spoke about the power of personal connections and seeing “the whites” of people’s eyes. I was particularly intrigued that he was a sales leader for a marketing firm, which gave him a unique understanding of both customer-centric professions.

That’s how I was first introduced to Todd McCormick, now senior vice president of sales for Silverpop. We’ve stayed in touch over the last few years, sharing research, exchanging ideas on increasing sales, and even disagreeing with each other’s points of view.

But there’s one thing we’ve always agreed on: A high-touch strategy drives sales.

So when I read Todd’s post about how leaders lose out when they fail to listen—to their customers and their teams—I knew it was something worth sharing.

Here’s Todd’s take on how much the personal touch matters—not only in sales, but also in sales leadership:

“If you’re a leader, chances are you’re smart, strategic and great at your job. There’s a reason you have a corner office. But the greatest executives know their employees have even more valuable insights and ideas to offer: They’re the ones who talk to customers on a daily basis.

Do you really live that belief out, though? One in three U.S. employees say their bosses rarely or never listen to their work-related concerns, according to research from DDI and Harris Interactive. And nearly half say their bosses rarely or never ask for their ideas about how to solve problems.

What a waste of valuable brain power!

If you’re not listening to your team, and even asking for their feedback, you’re throwing away opportunities to better engage your customers, make more strategic decisions and inspire higher levels of performance from your team.

I see this management mistake all too often, and I wish I didn’t. These non-listening leaders are missing out on incredible potential, for three reasons:

1) Your team knows your customers better than you do.

My wife once met Gary Kelly, CEO of Southwest Airlines, in one of the last places you’d expect to see a business mogul: checking in customers at LAX. Gary often steps out of the boardroom and onto the front lines to help his team greet customers, load bags, and hand out peanuts. As a winning business leader, he knows it’s much easier to hear from customers when he’s on the front lines, rather than isolated in the C-Suite.

How often do you interact directly with your customer pool in the way your employees do? When you talk to customers, you hear their complaints and their praises. They can help you identify challenges and create solutions you never even considered.

2) Your team knows things you don’t.

Often executives make decisions without fully understanding their organization’s pulse, which makes them miss critical nuances. In contrast, front line employees live in these nuances every day: They know customers intimately. They also know how competitors are positioning themselves, where gaps exist in your team’s sales process and marketing campaigns, and what changes would most positively impact customers.

This kind of insight could be yours, if only you asked. What are you scared of? We all have blind spots, no matter how great we are at what we do. We can’t know what we don’t know … until we ask. So, ask. Then, listen up.

3) Your team will work harder for you when you listen.

When asked what makes ‘the best leaders the best,’ respondents in the DDI survey ranked ‘listened to me’ as one of the top attributes. It’s comfortable to talk about how great and right you are, but that cuts your team’s potential off at the knees. Ask for help, listen, collaborate—and you’ll inspire transformational teamwork and ridiculous results. In the process, you’ll earn your team’s respect and deep loyalty.

One of the ways I try to apply this principle is with regular, one-on-one meetings with my high performers. I ask questions. We discuss their challenges and how I can support them. I can’t tell you how rich these meetings are for me in terms of the insights I get. My team’s also told me these meetings reassure them that I have their backs, which I do. My only regret is that I didn’t start having these meetings sooner.

Tell your team your door is always open. Invite them to your office to chat. Take someone different out to lunch every week. Or, take a page from Gary Kelly’s playbook and spend a day in their shoes. Knowing your team and your customers better than most is a powerful advantage for any leader.”

Comment Here

What important insights have you gleaned just by listening closely to your team?

todd_mccormickAbout the Author

Todd McCormick brings 15 years of experience in executive sales management and team development to his role of senior vice president of sales at Silverpop. Prior to joining Silverpop, McCormick served as vice president of sales for PGi, where he led all sales efforts to bring PGi’s innovative technology to market, teaching companies to leverage best-in-class video conferencing tools to grow their business. He previously spent 12 years at CareerBuilder.com, where as senior vice president of sales he developed national sales teams and strategies to grow business in the U.S. staffing sector and the company’s Canadian division.

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