Leader of the Pack?
There are many popular misconceptions about wolf packs, especially when we over-simplify phrases like “alpha male” or “alpha female” and use them to explain human interaction and teamwork. However, that doesn’t mean we can’t learn something from the way hunting animals rely on each other to survive and even thrive.
Case in point: The photo in the Snopes piece is from a BBC documentary that points to the alpha female clearing a path through the snow, to save energy, making it easier for the rest of the pack to get through. She’s clearing the path. That example of literally “leading the pack” is a good metaphor for sales teams.
The job of a leader is to to be the trailblazer, going ahead clearing a path to make sure the rest of the pack—I mean team—can focus on their job. Not to do their job for them. Not to watch from behind, as some have misinterpreted the BBC photo, but to make sure they have all the tools and skills they need.
As a sales manager, you win when your sales team wins. So you want to make sure your team has all the tools they need: phone, lead list, leave behinds, etc., before they need it. To make sure they have someone to call when their laptop dies. To make sure the CRM is customized to the way the salesperson works – to optimize their workflow. So they can sell quicker, better, smarter. But what about what they are selling? And how they selling? They need a way to practice and sharpen their skills and knowledge. Here are some areas to consider:
Not everyone on a sales team is an ace closer. Someone has to know how to get a laptop fixed, schedule a complex meeting, pull a custom CRM report, vet an outbound call script, write a blog, you name it. A good team leader will identify who does these tasks well, make sure they get lots of practice and recognition, and “clear the path” for them to work unhindered.
In B2B sales, deals are hardly ever the result of a single person’s effort. Even the final presentation is usually a group effort. No matter how persuasive your top salespeople are, a leader’s job is to coach them and help hone their skills. Practice runs, role-playing, feedback, and even friendly competitive scoring play an important role. A good leader always keeps open the opportunity for “pre-game” and “post-game” activities.
A defensive, “CYA” management style is disastrous when applied to sales teams. This includes the over-use of process statistics (numbers of emails, calls, and meetings) and constant reminders, meeting minutes, and endless hypothetical discussions. To return to our wolf pack metaphor, these process details are like the snow that needs to be cleared efficiently, not studied for its own sake. Because results (closes) are the only meaningful measure, you need to trust your people, allow them to “fail faster” and learn from their mistakes.
Sales rock stars are notoriously single-minded and self-focused—which is a gross generalization, I know. The good ones appreciate supporting team members, but often they just don’t have time to mentor their juniors. A leader’s job is not to stifle high-performance players, but to foster emulation. “Clearing the path,” in this case means finding ways to showcase star performances—maybe even capture them on video!—and get others to follow suit.
Being a “pack leader” does not mean micro-managing from behind, or trying to to everyone’s job for them. Instead, set the direction, give them the tools and skills they need… And then let them run.