The New Sales Leader’s Blueprint for Success

Congratulations on your promotion to Sales Leader!  You, no doubt, were a great salesperson who produced great results and earned this new assignment, but are you ready?  Leading is very different from being an individual contributor.  In order to succeed as the new Sales Leader you need a plan or a Blueprint for Success.


Over my 30 years of sales leadership I have thoroughly enjoyed leading large teams of sales people to deliver great results with companies like AT&T, MCI and Dun & Bradstreet.  Learning how to be a good sales leader does not come to a person instantly but with good mentoring and learning from failure. I believe I can help you with your Blueprint.

Your Blueprint for Success must include your Short Term Tactical Plan (first 90 Days) and your Long Term Sales Strategy.

First, the Short Term Tactical Plan:


You need to be focused on establishing your leadership brand immediately.  Your company and your sales team are excited to have you as the new Sales Leader and are expecting great things from you.

The two priorities you need to focus on in the short term are: 1) establishing yourself as the leader, and 2) make instant impact as a decision maker.

How?  Well for #1 above – Establishing yourself as the leader, I refer to this as introducing “the new sheriff in town”.  Walk in the shoes of your sales team, what are they expecting to see from you?  If your plan is to become a “CRM Jockey” and sit in your office all day sending out emails to your sales team inquiring on the status of opportunities you will fail miserably.  Becoming a master of internal meetings will also lead you down the “slippery slope” of failure.  Your team is expecting a strong, decisive leader who has a plan.  My simple view of a great sales leader was one I was proud to bring out to see a client.  This person was firm, decisive, had my back and maintained a fun selling environment.

With all this in mind the best way to do this is to meet with your sales team immediately and cover the following with them:

  1. Introduce yourself and talk about your expectations for the team and yourself.  This is your Sales Covenant with your team and adds immediate clarity to mutual requirements.
  2. Review your team’s Financial Goals at the 30,000 ft. level (avoid the “Investment Banker” version at this meeting)
  3. Ask each team member to tell a little about themselves and what they want to accomplish
  4. Tell them you will schedule one on one’s with each team member to review their responsibilities.  Tell them you will be sending out an outline of what they need to be prepared to discuss.
  5. Conclude with an open Q&A


Keep this meeting brief, to no more than 90 minutes.  This helps you to stay “on script” and avoid your first meeting from becoming a rambling griping session.

For #2, Make an instant impact as the new sales leader, you need to get some quick wins.  I found that the best way to do this is to look for choke points in the sales process.  Where are sales being delayed?  As they say “follow the money”.  Check the Proposal Development Process – are proposals getting out fast enough?  Check the Contract Process – are there any contracts you can help legal get out the door?  Check the Discount Authority Levels – if you gave your team members a discount they can work responsibly with could they close business faster? (Caution:  you need your boss’s alignment and you must communicate that the discount is used only after rigorous defense of the “retail” price has been conducted with the client.)

During your one-on-one’s with your team they will tell you where deals are stuck.  This will be your opportunity to show your bosses some short term results to reinforce their decision to make you a leader.  It will also give you the credibility to move forward with your Long Term Sales Strategy.

Your Long Term Sales Strategy:


Okay, this is the “Secret Sauce” behind your ongoing success.  It is centered on what I call the Five Sales Effectiveness Drivers. Your Long Term Strategy will be perpetually focused on: 1) Sales Talent, 2) Sales Process, 3) Sales Planning, 4) The Customer, and 5) The Product Story.

I) First up is Sales Talent, the “Holy Grail”.  If you can find, build and develop the best sales talent you will satisfy 80-90% of what you’ll need to accomplish in order to become a great sales leader.  What you need to do initially is to assess your sales talent.  Rank those from Top to Bottom (get input from the previous leader and others familiar with your sales talent).  Take this ranking and segment into 10%/80%/10%.  Your top 10% are those sales people that leap out of their beds in the morning and start providing results with little guidance.  The middle 80% are good solid workers who you will need to focus the majority of your effort on.  You will need to be very prescriptive with them.  The bottom 10% are your low performers.  For years I tried desperately to increase the capabilities of my bottom 10% but I usually ended up suggesting they do something else.  My recommendation to you is to reinvest the monies associated with your bottom 10% into the middle 80% (training, compensation, etc.) so they can produce like your top 10%.

II) Next is the Sales Process.  In the equation Art + Science = Sales this is the “Science” part (the “Art” is in the personal dynamics involved in customer interactions).  A rigorous sales process will lead to an accurate pipeline, forecast, and results.  The best method to maintaining a great selling process is to use one of the several CRM (Customer Relationship Management) Tools available like, Microsoft Dynamics, Oracle, SAP, Sage, Sugar, etc..  I will assume you are familiar with these.  What I want you to focus on here is how to use these CRM Tools properly.  As mentioned earlier don’t lock yourself in your office scanning your CRM and firing off incendiary emails to your sales team inquiring about sales opportunities.  Rather, roll up your sleeves and get involved in the process.  In addition to using the CRM Tool for Pipeline Analysis and Forecasting you need to use the CRM as a Sales Coaching Tool.  Use the analytics to focus on changing behavior and salesperson development.  For example, if your total sales force spends 30 days in “Contract Negotiations” and “Joe”, on your team, spends 50 days you have an obvious coaching opportunity.  You can achieve huge gains in sales productivity by searching for ways to shorten the selling cycle.

III) The third Sales Effectiveness Driver is Sales Planning.  Sales Planning is divided into two areas that are critically connected.  First there is your internal sales team planning.  This includes Opportunity Planning, Account Planning and Territory (I prefer “Franchise”) Planning.  The second part of the Sales Planning process is external planning.  This means the confident communication of your sales planning derived forecast with other key constituents in your company (i.e. CFO, CEO, Product Leaders, and your Boss).

The following is the outline for your best-in-class Sales Planning Process:

The Internal Sales Planning Process

–          Opportunity Planning – Each salesperson identifies known and unknown opportunities.  The plan includes the identification of key decision makers and other stakeholders (influencers, etc.), the competition, the business reason for considering your service, an ROI section, the size of the sale in Revenue, and Probability of Sale (POS).

–          Account Planning  – This is the sum total of all the identified Opportunities as well as the Business Overview of each account.  Here, look at the account’s senior leadership.  Do intensive research on them (company website Bio’s, Google, Linked-In).  Where did they go to school?  What associations/charities do they belong to?  Find that connection.  For example, the CFO of one of your clients could have gone to the same university as your CFO.  There’s a connection you can use.  A great Account Plan looks at establishing solid relationships.  Also, look at a client’s Financial Statements.  How do they measure up to their competitors?  How can your product help them compete better?  Do they make decisions based on an ROI (Return on Investment) hurdle?  Most do (I read recently that ROI calculations are used 90% of the time when a company is considering a new purchase).  Do you and your team members feel comfortable having that ROI conversation with your client?  (If not go to and download our ROI Calculator for practice—seek teaching help from your Finance team too).  In my experience most sales people shy away from these ROI discussions.  Get out of your comfort zone and learn to use ROI.

–          Territory (Franchise) Planning – Awhile back I joined an old, established company that was experiencing flat sales growth which was the reason I was recruited into the company.  Upon inspection I found several reasons why but the biggest reason was due to the lack of a company wide prescriptive planning process.  They were conducting Opportunity and Account Planning but not one salesperson had a plan covering their entire Franchise.  To me this meant there was a lot missing.

The way to think and articulate a Franchise Plan is to make the analogy of a Business Owner or Entrepreneur seeking investments for their company.  All Banks, VC’s, Angel Investors, etc., would require the Business Owner to develop a Business Plan.  This Business Plan would require the Business Owner to outline how they will maintain present cash flows while growing new business.  The Franchise Planning process is the same thing.  Each salesperson (or Franchisee) is required to develop an annual plan that identifies how they will maintain their Base of Revenues

while growing New Revenues. Regarding the Base Revenues the salesperson details how they plan on retaining 100% of their present clients.  My focus here was creating solid relationships with clients, ensuring customer satisfaction and locking in incumbent revenues with multi-year contracts (aka How to disappoint the Competition).  Regarding growing New Revenues this is the compilation of the Account Planning Process.  A good Franchise Plan includes an Overview Summary of the Franchise which also includes a Financial Summary (Total Retention and Growth Projections).

Regarding the company that I introduced  Franchise Planning to—– the total of each salesperson’s Franchise Plans showed 18% revenue growth potential.  That year we achieved 9% growth, then 12% the following year.  Remember they were trending flat growth before this.

The benefit of the Franchise Planning process was that each salesperson felt that they had ownership in their “Franchise” and the plan clearly outlined all of their opportunities and the potential for higher commissions.  They were more confident and they produced great results.

The External Planning Process

Now with a crisp Internal Planning Process you are prepared to defend your forecast numbers with Finance, Product and other senior level leaders in your company in order to gain their alignment with your numbers.  This will ensure proper sales goal setting as well as ensure that your senior leadership is giving proper financial guidance to investors.

IV) The fourth Sales Effectiveness Driver is The Customer.  Of course without The Customer none of the other Drivers are necessary.  What I mean by this is that you have to have a plan to use your customer’s feedback to sell more.  What mechanisms does your company deploy to measure client feedback?  How do you use this feedback?

The following are some great methods of enhancing your and your company’s image in your customer’s eyes and increase sales:

–          Conduct an annual Customer Satisfaction Survey.  Have your sale people present it to the client personally (if possible).  Inquiries should center on your product, how your clients use them, your service and your client’s level of satisfaction, and your personnel assigned to the account.  Always ask how “how can we improve?”  Never ask about pricing as you already know what the answer is (your client would like to pay more of course).

–          Have “Ideation” or “Innovation” sessions with your preferred or “Strategic” clients.  Your product executives should participate and a guest appearance by your CEO or other appropriate senior executive is advised.  Your clients should be prepared ahead of time on the subject matter (i.e. Customer Service, New Products, etc.) and a strong meeting facilitator is recommended.  The clients invited should be those who you can count on to give direct feedback and contribute in a professional manner.

–          Think about establishing an Executive Sponsor program.  You don’t want your company’s senior executives to sell for you (carry your water) but you should have a program to strengthen executive relationships between companies.  As you don’t want to overwhelm your senior executives I suggest you start with ten accounts and grow from there.  Your CEO, CFO, Product Leader and Marketing Leader should have two accounts each where they have the opportunity to strengthen relationships with your client’s top decision makers.  It will be up to you and your team to keep it relevant and current by keeping your Executive Sponsors involved.

–          Other programs to consider are Customer Positioning Events.  These typically include inviting clients to sporting events, customer awareness forums, shows, concerts, etc..  Due to new Ethics and Compliance requirements just make sure to pay attention to your client’s Code of Ethics (usually found on your client’s website).

–          Selling on the Service Call – when a client has been satisfied with a service issue be sure to ask if there is anything else you can help them with.

V) The last Sales Effectiveness Driver is The Product Story.  Very simply this about how your sales teams present your products to their clients.  With one client I worked with I asked several sales people to present their product story to me.  They each presented very professional overviews of the company and their products but they were all different!  While I applaud individual creativity this will only lead to client confusion.   Additionally, you’re taking a risk that a salesperson could make a mistake which your client makes a decision on.  Not good.  The guiding principals of developing one, company wide, Product Story is as follows:

–          Start with your Company Overview

–          The next section shows how your product is developed

–          Next is why your product is unique

–          Have a section on testimonials and key client logos

–          Include a sample ROI Analysis

–          Conclude with a compelling summary page

One person in your company should be responsible for developing and maintaining the current Product Story.  I recommend your Marketing Leader.  Your sales team’s job will be to use this presentation to constantly educate your clients.  Why?  So when your competitor shows up and presents their product your client is comparing it to the standard he/she knows – your Product Story!

Track your progress with each Sales Effectiveness Driver to ensure ongoing success.  Use a scorecard and share your team’s progress with key constituents in your company.

In summary, if you follow this Blueprint you will be successful – I guarantee it!

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