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What Makes a Great Modern-Day B2B Sales Leader? Q&A with Colleen Honan

Mar 28th, 2018

With over 20 years of experience at companies like Avention and SiriusDecisions, Brainshark’s Chief Sales Officer, Colleen Honan, is no stranger to leading sales teams. We spoke with her about the biggest changes she sees impacting B2B sales today and the best leadership tactics to overcome them.

What are the biggest changes you’ve seen in recent years in B2B sales?

CH: The biggest change is not with the sellers, it’s with the buyers. Buyers are more informed, sometimes more than the salesperson, because they’ve done their research and talked to competitors and peers. We have to change the perception of sellers and we can only do that by asking buyers the right questions.

Another change is that the procurement power has risen so much at organizations. Procurement has the power to stop deals and sellers need to realize they don’t always manage the buying cycle. We need to make sure we educate our salespeople on what procurement cares about so they don’t give things away to the business owner; they save things for procurement.

Although the buying process may have changed, it’s still within the control of the rep to win the deal and in the hands of sales managers to help reps get there.

How have you seen the workforce change and how does that affect your role as a sales leader?

CH: The makeup of the workforce is changing drastically; research suggests that millennials will make up 75% of the workforce by 2025. As sales leaders, we need to figure out what motivates them. Part of that means giving them a clear career path. For example, when someone new comes in, be clear about how long they’ll stay in their role if they perform well and set milestones and metrics for them.

Consider creating a mentoring program where business development reps are assigned to experienced salespeople, so they work alongside each other. It’s all about working with people doing the role so they can learn and decide whether they’re a fit for sales. In addition, a future leaders program can be a great way to groom people so they can learn what it means to be a leader, how to lead and manage, and how to coach and develop people.

What is an important area for leaders to emphasize with their sales organizations?

CH: The level of activity is a significant one. If you’re not measuring your reps’ activities, then you’re not measuring productivity. However, it is not activity for activities sake, activities must directly align to pipeline and ultimately revenue. At Brainshark, we measure the velocity of our pipeline. How long does it take to move something through the pipeline? We can tell where a deal gets stalled and coach reps on why they might be stuck. Perhaps they are not having conversations with the decision maker or maybe they haven’t asked the right qualifying questions.

The top salespeople are usually the ones with the most activity; it doesn’t guarantee you will close more deals, but if you have no activity, you won’t be closing any deals. This also comes into play during onboarding. If you want to know if reps can do the job, look at their activity and yield in terms of the time to first deal and pipeline. 

As a sales leader, how would you describe the importance of sales enablement?

CH: If I didn’t have a sales enablement team, I would spend most of my time developing and delivering content and making sure reps were consuming it and understanding it. I would be responsible for onboarding our reps and training and developing them. This would have a huge impact on the productivity of me and my managers.  

The sales enablement industry has grown so fast and it’s really exciting. Sales enablement helps sales organizations and leaders tackle new products, competitors, buyers and functions in the market in a streamlined way. We want our reps selling and doing activities that relate to closing deals; if they’re trying to find content or figure out products on their own, that won’t scale and it’s a big prohibitor to making their numbers. It’s valuable having sales enablement responsible for the formal training, coaching and developing of sales professionals.  

What’s your advice for aspiring B2B sales leaders?

CH: As you’re coming up through a sales organization, look around for the top consistent sales managers and latch onto them. Ask them for some time to discuss your career path. Always take the coaching and development that’s provided and if it’s not offered, be proactive and ask for it.