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I recently spoke with Bryan Russo, Senior Vice President, Director of Sales of Zelis Health. We discussed sales leadership and management: top performers vs top managers, earning the respect of your team, balancing metrics with leadership, and the human factor.

Sales Leadership: Top Performers vs Top Managers

Bryan told me that “Top performers aren’t always the best in leadership roles. You need different characteristics.” Sales management is about understanding people. Top performers tend to try to treat everyone the same when they get into a coaching situation. He continued, “You have to have a strong understanding (of) what drives behavior. The people that can do that are successful sales coaches.” In an article in Selling Power, the editors agree and say, “The key is to ask open-ended questions that steer the rep toward the behavior that leads to successful outcomes.”

According to Bryan, “Top sales performers understand how to build relationships.” When interviewing, he likes to understand how they build relationships and what has made them successful at it. He indicates that “this is important because you need to understand your client and their motivating factors.” It can make a difference in how successful they will be at taking client relationships to the next level.

Earn Respect

Sales managers “have to earn their (team’s) respect” according to Bryan. In Forbes, Glen Llopis concurs and says, “Today’s workplace… requires proof of performance before respect is earned. Leaders must become more engaged by rolling-up their sleeves and getting their hands dirty.” Bryan believes that the best way to support his team members is by providing them with strategy and direction by collaboratively discussing what needs to be done to advance the sale. He indicates that “you can’t be a successful sales manager if you don’t earn the respect of your team. (You must) help them strategize and think outside of the box…if you help them close you’ll earn their respect.”

Balancing Metrics and Leadership

When asked about balancing coaching and dealing with pipeline Bryan said “Salesforce is key to me. The numbers are important. (However), what is more important to get those numbers is that you have to be the coach/leader.” He believes that the sales manager’s philosophy trickles down based on what his strategy is. When you define clear objectives and provide clear information about what your sales rep is supposed to do, you set them up for success. He feels that “the reason a sales rep fails is because he doesn’t know what he has to do. (You need to) break it down (for your rep). Break it down and make it simple, then I think you’re more successful.”

The Human Factor

“The most respected leaders are the most authentic people. Their executive presence is genuine and true. Their presence creates long-lasting impact that leaves a positive mark on the organization and the people they serve. Respected leaders are passionate, impact-driven people.”

Forbes, Glen Llopis

According to Bryan, “If you go inside an unsuccessful struggling organization, you’ll find they forgot about the human factor. Respect is key to that.” When holding people accountable, you need to do it with respect and dignity.

Passion is another characteristic that must be present. He continued by saying, “If you’re not passionate about what you do, sell, and what you do as an organization, then culture will suffer. Human factor, passion, and culture – if you don’t have those things, you’re going to fail.”

Bryan indicated that metrics are only indicators of how well or poorly things are going. The human factor is more important here because it tells the whole story. It effects all levels of an organization. To really keep a handle on how things are going, communication is key. Staying connected to your team on a daily basis and showing that you’re there to help them succeed is important. Bryan says that he aims for record sales every year and “success breeds success”.

When hiring people to be on his team Bryan looks for “Someone who runs the extra mile, sometimes that’s ingrained in people. Something competitive in their nature is what I look for. I look for the level of commitment, having to work hard to be successful like athletes. (That’s what’s) needed to commit to a level of performance.”

Bottom Line for Sales Leadership:

In sales leadership, there’s a difference between being a top performer and being top manager. You need to earn the respect of your team for the team to really succeed. Although metrics are useful you must be able to go beyond them to be a successful sales leader. And, the human factor is important to the success of the individual, the team and the entire organization.

  • Do you think that top sales performers make successful sales leaders and why or why not?
  • Do you believe that sales management needs to earn the respect if their team?
  • How do you balance metrics and sales management?
  • What factors do you think are most important for success – individually, as a team and as an organization?

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