You coach your reps on engagement, strategy and messaging. But do you coach them on leadership?
Leadership development, in my experience, is one of the most overlooked aspects of rep coaching and training—despite being one of the best ways to keep reps engaged and drive sales success.
As Vice President of LinkedIn’s Sales Solutions business for North America, I’m passionate about building teams, developing people, and leading high-performing sales organizations.
Effective sales leaders share some common characteristics, including:
- Openness to feedback
- Investment in others
At LinkedIn, we work hard to develop these qualities in our people—both our sales managers and our reps—through our leadership program.
In the video below, I explain how our leadership development program continues to play an instrumental role at LinkedIn, and why it’s especially important during this global pandemic. But, I also want to share some of the reasons why I believe—and research shows—that leadership development is critical for sales success.
Leadership Development Drives Engagement and Productivity
Good leaders recognize each rep’s potential and help them grow, energizing their teams, and raising their productivity levels in the process. Poor sales managers create a culture where reps feel unsafe to be their true selves at work. This leads to lower employee engagement and productivity.
At LinkedIn, we want our people to grow to their fullest potential. We foster a culture where people can be vulnerable and have real, constructive conversations about development areas. In the last year, we rolled out a one-day leadership development program to 300 sales leaders and reps. People were able to openly share elements of their personal histories and upbringings that might be holding them back professionally. These are conversations we don’t often have in the corporate world, let alone the sales world.
It can be easy to dismiss this kind of training as the soft part of the workplace—with the implication that the investment might be wasted. But, research suggests these programs can be quite powerful. For instance, a study from Deloitte shows that opportunities for growth, such as our leadership development investment, are a major driver of employee engagement.
And, engaged teams are more productive. In fact, Gallup reports that engaged business units achieve a 10% increase in customer ratings, a 20% increase in sales, and a 21% increase in profitability. That’s a pretty good return on your investment.
This training contributed to our sales organization’s success during this unusual year. Because we had these honest, empathetic conversations with our teammates and leaders during our leadership development program, we were prepared to have those conversations with customers and prospects as we all adjusted to the new realities brought on by COVID-19.
Leadership Development Builds Team Cohesion
Leadership development can also be helpful for bolstering employee morale, especially vital in a roller-coaster year. According to LinkedIn’s Glint Platform burnout is at all-time high, and a recent study by the Society for Human Resource Management found that 45% of employees feel emotionally used up at the end of the day. Employees could use some support right now.
Take the conversations we hear from managers as an example. Imposter syndrome, the feeling that we’re not enough and we’re going to get found out, arises often, and with leaders at all levels. When that drives us, we put on a tough exterior and become unwilling to engage in conversations that might reveal our lack of expertise. That limits our growth. Imposter syndrome is an incredibly common human experience, and admitting to it helps us all feel more safe with each other.
Many people who participated in our training described the experience as impactful because it allowed them to remove the mask they wear each day, and instead show up authentically at work. This increased trust between team members, and improved reps’ ability to give and receive feedback and feel safe in their teams. Our sales folks also better appreciated their own strengths and felt more confident about tackling areas for growth. In short, our program works because it makes people feel seen, understood, and supported—it creates the kind of environment and culture that allows people to do their best work.
Leading With Authenticity Opens Up Possibilities
The skills we build in our leadership training not only help people become better leaders, they make them better colleagues, sellers, and even contributors to the company strategy and awareness of corporate growth areas.
Take the example of imposter syndrome. If your sales reps are afraid to admit what they don’t know to their managers, they’ll probably also have that fear with customers and prospects. Fear prevents people from asking deep, tough questions—the ones that could reveal a problem they don’t know how to address.
But the truth is, the problems we don’t know how to handle are often great opportunities for professional and personal growth. When I joined LinkedIn as a regional sales manager nearly 10 years ago, I came in with lots of ideas for improvement, but after six months, I was devastated to learn at my first 360 review that I was rated near the bottom amongst my peers. After some soul-searching, I regrouped with my manager and developed a plan for better aligning with the company culture and connecting with my team.
It takes courage to take a hard look at reality. Cultivating authenticity and vulnerability through a leadership development program will help you grow a humble, transparent culture, full of people who have the confidence and courage required to speak up when they think your team or your company is off-track, and they’ll feel more invested in wanting to help everyone win.
Make it safe for your sales leaders to share their true perspectives—not just what they think you want to hear—and you’ll gain valuable insights into what your teams and company are doing well and where they could improve. And in the end, this kind of openness, transparency, and collective investment will lead to game-changing performance.
About the author: Alyssa Merwin is the Vice President of Sales Solutions North America for LinkedIn.
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