Pivoting from Successful Selling to Sales Leader

Being a great salesperson doesn't mean you're going to be a great sales leader.

Edward Gately, Senior News Editor

November 1, 2023

6 Min Read
Sales leadership at CFLS 2023

CHANNEL FUTURES LEADERSHIP SUMMIT — Determining your goals and finding the right talent are some of the keys for sales reps who have started their own businesses to pivot to sales leaders and building their sales team.

Experts with partner, TSD and supplier organizations tackled this difficult challenge during a Channel Futures Leadership Summit keynote.

While these business owners bring their own talents to the table, they need to understand how to scale their sales force in order expand their customer base, paving the way for success.

The following panelists (pictured above, left to right) were featured in "How Agents Can Leap from Successful Selling to Sales Leadership":

Strong Sales Leadership Includes Goal Setting

Qashu Young said you have to consider what the goals are for the business in order to determine what you're going to hire and where you're going to put those investments.

"So definitely goals for the business first and then the cost," she said.

The single biggest consideration you have is do you want to grow the business, Schmidtmann said.

"And if you do, I say you go all in on attracting, hiring, training and mentoring salespeople and get out of the business," he said. "When I did this back in 1998, I had that entrepreneurial seizure. I went off on my own and I did not sell anything. So I started with one person. In nine years, we were at a $30 million business, I had 15 salespeople, 55 employees, but I chose not to sell myself. I went all in on attracting, training and hiring salespeople."

Being a great salesperson doesn't mean you're going to be a great sales leader, Allen said.

"I think we have to be a little bit introspective, too," he said. "Am I capable of deferring to other people, allowing them to dance in the end zone a little bit, being more of a coach than a player in that scenario?"

Timing Is Important

Also if your goal is to build enterprise value because you're thinking about an exit at some point, you have to think about the timing of things like hiring, Allen said.

"If you believe your business will be worth six times EBITDA at exit, with all these private equity-backed companies running around making noise, if you believe that's in your future, then if you spend $200,000 on salespeople today, will they be worth $1.2 million to you and enterprise value at exit?" he said. "And will the opportunity cost of that $200,000 a year today impact your ability to build the business in other ways. So be really mindful about whether you have the mindset to be a sales leader and be really thoughtful about that investment, both for the business today, your own cash flow and for potential enterprise value."

A lot of business owners still want to sell and they want to be a part of it, Bana Qashu said.

"And you can't do both because you do have to coach," she said. "And so we come up with KPIs that are based on what they're trying to achieve."

And you have the right to "fire fast" if someone hired isn't achieving your goals, Bana Qashu said.

"How many of you in the audience have hired someone, and you just felt bad and kept them on the payroll, but they were producing none of the revenue that was promised?" she said. "We all have. And so I believe in an activity model and a cadence when you are ready to pull the trigger, if that still leads you to ... hire someone or bring on a sales team."

Forward-Looking and Backward-Looking Sales Metrics

Schmidtmann said there's forward-looking and backward-looking sales metrics.

"Most of us, what we count is the monthly recurring revenue (MRR) that's generated, so how many new contracts and what's the MRR, but that's a backward-looking metric because for something to become a commission to you it has to get implemented," he said. "And before that it has to get sold, and before that has to get proposed, and before that has to have a leading assessment, etc. So if you're measuring MRR, that's reflecting an event that happened maybe six months ago. So it's also important to look at forward-looking metrics, which are how many meetings are you getting? How many customer engagements are you getting? How deep are these in the qualifying tools that they can tell you how good these opportunities really are? But I do think the balance of forward-looking and backward-looking metrics are both important."

Qashu Young said hiring someone from outside the channel, and outside of IT and telecom, can lead to positive results.

"I have been in technology now for 12 years," she said. "I came from nonprofit management, and if someone didn't give me a shot based on just hustle and heart, and hard work, then I wouldn't be sitting in this chair today. And so it's very important to determine what characteristics you're looking for. At Avant, we actually find the talent and then create the position because it's hard to find talented people that have a lot of hustle and the work ethic these days to really take the ball across the finish line. And so I urge you to take a look at the culture you want to create, even in a small environment like a one, two or three-man or-woman shop and create this assessment of what does that look like. What does your ideal profile of a talented salesperson look like?"

Hire for Talent, Train for Skill

Southwest Airlines' mantra has been hire for talent and train for skill, Schmidtmann said.

"I've always subscribed to that over the years," he said. "The most attractive candidate for many of you is going to be somebody who already knows the business. You say, well, it's one thing I don't have to do, they already did telecom, they know how to do it and they've got maybe a customer set, but those are retreads. You can see that they've gone from job to job, to job to job. They've never really built a career arc. And so we call them retreads in the industry. How can you put the rubber to the road when all you hire is retreads?"

Other highlights of the keynote include:

  • If your salespeople don't have technical resources or experts to back them, lean on outside resources to "add credibility to the business that you're bringing to the table, Qashu Young said.

  • There's two reasons to emphasize cross-sell and upsell, Schmidtmann said. In addition to making more money, it creates stickier customers who will stay with you.

  • Starting with what's the base pay going to be and how much is the commissions going to be is backwards, Allen said. Instead, start with what you expect them to sell.

Read more about:

AgentsFall MSP Summit

About the Author(s)

Edward Gately

Senior News Editor, Channel Futures

As news editor, Edward Gately covers cybersecurity, new channel programs and program changes, M&A and other IT channel trends. Prior to Informa, he spent 26 years as a newspaper journalist in Texas, Louisiana and Arizona.

Free Newsletters for the Channel
Register for Your Free Newsletter Now

You May Also Like