Developing future sales leaders – lessons from IBM

Developing Sales Leaders

Being in a sales leadership position is demanding in any organization – at any time.  The last two to three years have made that proposition abundantly clear.  As a matter of consequence, the current economic environment has ushered in an additional set of expectations that must be met.

If desired growth and margins are to be maintained, sales leaders who have guided their organizations during good times must establish a new environment to meet the challenges presented by today’s more austere conditions.

This scenario means companies must be more rigorous than ever in selecting and training the new people added to the leadership team.  Recently Fortune conducted an interview with Randy MacDonald, IBM’s worldwide HR czar, about how to be a leader at IBM.

In reading the piece, several key themes appeared:

  • Focus on execution – be accountable for what you say you’ll deliver
  • Create an atmosphere of creativity and innovation
  • Focus on the customer
  • Understand your business
  • Find ways to collaborate
  • Maintain a sense of pride in what you do

Although the interview was about IBM and about leadership across functions, we thought the ideas particularly relevant for any sales leadership positions from Sales Manager to VP of Sales in today’s environment.  The point is not so much that the skill sets are new – it the level of excellence required that makes for the challenge.

So suspending disbelieve and assuming the ideas from IBM are worth consideration, how do you go about developing a cadre of sales leaders that measure up? Here are two thoughts.

  • First, acknowledge that everyone is not naturally a high performer on these skill sets – they are not only important but also challenging to master and today mastery is required.
  • Second, get everyone to come to the party.  HR thinks about it in terms of selection – training steps up to the plate – and top management recognize and reinforces those that perform well.

It is fairly safe to assume that the new normal is here to stay.  It is just as safe to assume that what it takes to be a great sales leader today is not identical to yesterday’s profile.

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©2011 Sales Horizons, LLC

About Richard Ruff

For more than 30 years Dr. Richard Ruff and Dr. Janet Spirer - the founders of Sales Horizons - have worked with the Fortune 1000 - such as UPS, Canon USA, Smith & Nephew, Boston Scientific, Owens & Minor, Textron - to design and develop sales training programs. During his career Dick has authored numerous articles related to sales effectiveness and co-authored "Managing Major Sales", a book about sales management, "Parlez-Vous Business" which helps sales people integrate the language of business into the sales process, and "Getting Partnering Right" – a research based work on the best practices for forming strategic selling alliances. Dr. Ruff received his Ph.D. in Organizational Psychology from the University of Tennessee and a B.S. from Rennsselaer Polytechnic Institute.
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