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Building A Winning Sales Team: Tactical and Strategic Leadership

“Hire sales people who are really smart problem solvers, but lack courage, hunger and competitiveness, and your company will go out of business.”

— Ben Horowitz

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Companies compete for sales talent. Accomplished individual contributors and proven sales leaders are the key difference between companies positioned to win in the future and those that will fall behind.

Building a winning sales team should start with strong sales leadership. At Cowen Partners, we’ve seen an increase in fast-growing companies retaining our agency to find them strong sales leaders to build around. After an analysis of their environment, our clients know what hasn’t worked in the past, what they currently have, and where they want to be.

One mistake companies often make is trying to turn a top-producing individual contributor into a team leader (or vice versa). They want their “Director of Sales” to hunt and close large opportunities while hiring, training, and mentoring the team. Unless you have a simple sales process and a very small team, this is not the right move.

The player-coach concept hasn’t worked in the NBA since Bill Russell and The Celtics in the late-60s, and it’s probably not the best strategy for your modern company. A better move is to first determine where you need your company to be in 12–24 months, then hire either a tactical or strategic leader to get you there.

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Bill Russell served as the player-coach of the Boston Celtics from 1966-1969, winning 2 NBA championships in that time span.

tactical Sales Manager will be focused on the team’s metrics and activity. Their aim will be driving maximum output from each rep on the team, hiring well-connected reps who can leverage decision-maker relationships, and ramping up new hires fast. The short-term revenue spike will come in exchange for developing scalable and repeatable processes.

If multiple years of steady growth are what you’re after, you will need a strategic Director or VP of Sales. A strategic sales leader will design and implement processes that are scalable and repeatable. They will have a track-record of leading prolonged growth, writing a sales playbook, and creating effective hiring, on-boarding, and training programs that are repeatable.

Note: A tactical Sales Manager and strategic Director or VP are not the same, but companies do have both. Also — a tactical Sales Manager can develop into a more strategic Director or VP over time.

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Once you have decided on strategy and a sales leader is hired (either tactical or strategic), individual contributors will be added. If you chose a strategic leader, this is where the benefits of that hire will become evident from a personnel standpoint.

The strategic VP of Sales knows what will work in the long run. The processes they implement are practical, and if given enough time they will increase revenue and decrease costs. These strategies help the current team sell more competently and lead to lower turnover.

Salespeople who are selling efficiently are generally happy. Removing roadblocks and providing opportunities for development will attract high-caliber reps, increase hiring success ratios, and create transparency. Clearly defined metrics of success will keep the team’s top performers motivated and indicate when it’s time to course-correct underachievers.

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Top-level sales reps are driven by one or more of the following: money, autonomy, and recognition. They are hungry, competitive, and loyal. If they consider making a strategic career move, they will look for companies where they know they can apply their skills, background, and intangibles to proven processes. The strategic VP or Director sets the stage for talented reps to perform their best.

Once your sales team is process-oriented, exceeding targets, and there’s low turnover, you have a high-performance “winning” culture providing steady growth for years to come — all due to hiring and empowering a strategic sales leader.

Cowen Partners is a national executive search firm and has a strong record of identifying and recruiting sales leaders for our clients. Contact us if you would like to discuss recruiting your next VP Sales, Sales Director, or Individual Contributor.