As 2017 stretched its arms and exhaled a low yawn, I began pondering what the new year would bring. A lot of great Sales Directors wonder something similar, looking forward to what their pipeline has in store. Having tackled most of the C-Suite in my previous articles, it was high time that I looked at this lucrative newcomer to the top table and it seemed that the answer to the previous question was a resounding “No” – 89% of respondents from an initial 331 Sales Directors that I reached out to weighed in to say as much.

A sample of the responses received regards “Are you happy with your pipeline for 2018?” sales officer

  • “My pipeline for 2018 at the moment doesn't seem to be the way it should be but I'm positive that it will get better as we progress towards 2018,”
  • “Since the election we have been very quiet and 2018 isn’t looking that flash. I’m sure that we can catch up but every time we have an election we always go quiet”
  • “We are a company that has success in Australia, UK and here in New Zealand. Until we break into the US market we are never going to bring the return back to our shareholders. We have tried over the last five years to do this, but our product isn’t USA friendly enough as yet and 2018 is going to be like the last 5 years.”
  • “Even though we are one of NZ’s biggest companies, loosing our CEO was quite a shock. Our Interim CEO was great and although our share price went down we have seen a rise recently. Our 2018 pipeline could be so much better. We now have a new CEO and I believe that although our pipeline isn’t looking that great in 2018 first quarter we will definitely bounce back in the second quarter”

There we a couple of people who were happy with their 2018 Pipeline?:

  • “Hmm am I happy with the pipeline... we are a new team and incredibly hungry and motivated which is awesome! In saying that the pipeline while it’s full or hot prospects and great conversations we’ve had it could be stronger.”
  • “Pipeline management is more a fancy term for product forecasts for vendors in our game. But we manage this well. In areas listed in the article are interesting and seems like general modern day mgt techniques.”

I wasn’t satisfied with simply asking Sales Directors their feelings on their 2018 climates though, so I delved further into their world by asking my network what they feel are the key characteristics that push them to the top of the food chain-- what makes a great Sales Director? To get the ball rolling, I presented those asked with an extract from What You Can Learn From The Top Sales Leaders (Forbes, July 2017) which outlined the following categories as crucial in order for an individual to get the best from sales:

  1. Being helpful: The best sales leaders are never that pushy because they would much rather spend the time selling to people they can help.
  2. Acting like a consultant: The best salespeople make an effort to understand their prospect’s business and industry before making any suggestions. It’s all about relating and building trust.
  3. Understanding your impact: Good sales people don’t just understand their industry and its context, they ask great follow up questions to close any gaps in information.
  4. Being deliberate with your time: The average salesperson only spends two hours per day on revenue-generating activities while the highest performing sales people spend six hours per day on these tasks. Sales leaders are deliberate with their time. Sales leaders aren’t going to waste time on a prospect who doesn’t seem like a good fit.
  5. Be Just Pessimistic Enough. Salespeople who are a little more pessimistic tend to question the credibility of buyers which means they’re a lot less likely to waste time on unqualified leads.
  6. Know When to Back Off. 44% of sales professionals give up after one follow-up even though most sales require multiple. The best sales people know when it’s time to let things rest.

I can say from the feedback that I received that the Sales Directors found “Acting like a consultant” to be their top quality in separating the wheat from the chaff with 61% in favor of this. The closest contender to this option was “Being helpful”, but the numbers showed that this option paled in comparison – only 17% of respondents espousing that this, in their opinion, was the most important quality in making a great Sales Director.

Another idea which cropped up as missing from the original article was the idea of “Knowing the rules of the game” where respondents explained it was important to “Understand what your limits are” so as to make “Each interaction valuable” in a job where everyone is “time poor.”

To conclude: it seems that the best Sales Directors are those that are willing to push for the best outcome for both themselves and the customer, but are willing to take a hint if they realize that the potential sale isn’t there. That may seem a reductive point at first glance, but I’ve always thought this idea to be the art of business to a tee and there’s never enough times you can remind yourself of that idea. All I hope in the meantime is that these C-Suiters are in for a lovely Christmas and a happier 2018 than they expect when the new year rolls around. Having said that, I must chuckle that one response I received whilst conducting research for this article did leave me with a saying that I have always used myself: “I’ve never met a sales manager yet who is happy with their pipeline – they always want more!”


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