A Note to Sales Leadership- Leading from the Bottom Up

As a person in sales leadership, do you have the guts to lead from the bottom up? Does your sales team feel safe coming to you with product problems, market concerns, and competitive challenges? Do you actively solicit the ideas and advice of your front line sales people?

If your team tells you quota is too high, do you dismiss them as winers or do you embrace their concern as a real concern of the business? When sales tells you the price is too high, do you listen with concern that you may be missing something in the market and therefore losing deals, or do you blame sales for not being able to sell? When sales approaches you with concern about the product not being competitive any longer, do you thank them for identifying it and bring it to your attention or do you assume they don’t know how to sell it and that they lack product knowledge?

The commander in the field is always right and the rear echelon is wrong unless proved otherwise.

–Colin Powel

Building a competitive, highly functional sales team requires a collaborative and engaged team. The days of hierarchical, sell or hit the bricks are over. The selling world has changed. Buyers are more informed. Competitors are better armed. Customers are more vocal. Technology moves faster. Opportunities are more complex and product competitive advantages don’t last as long. Selling in today’s environment requires a team approach, top down AND bottom up.

Qualities of a Bottom-up Sales Leader

To be a bottom-up leader takes guts. You have to be willing to know you’re wrong more often than you are right. You have to have the humility to know that those under you will have as many good ideas as you and are right just as often. You have to accept each member of your team as an intellectual contributor, not just a numbers contributor.

The only way bottom-up sales leadership works is if you create an environment that embraces dialog. It’s easy to “say” you are open to insight and ideas, but it’s another thing entirely to create an environment where people feel safe.

It’s easy for your management team to lean towards your way of thinking; it’s the safe route to listen to people who agree with you. But compliance and agreement don’t bubble up great ideas, new information or alert you when things are going wrong. The goals is to make people feel safe in expressing their opinions and sharing their insight, even if it is contrary to what you think. Safety is the key word in a bottom-up sales leadership approach; your team must feel safe to disagree or have alternative view points.

It’s not enough to say you’re not always right and that you want other opinions. You have to create an environment that makes it safe for people to say it.

Accepting you don’t have all the answers, embracing the fact you will be wrong 50% of the time requires humility and takes guts. Do you have the guts to be the type of leader required today? It’s not easy. But it works.

Sales Leadership

For more insights about how to be a superstar gap sales leader, check out my book Gap Selling. it could be the best $27 you ever invest in your sales leadership skills.

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