Being a great sales leader has never been about driving quotas. It’s about leveraging valued guidance and insight to become a trusted adviser for both your clients and your team.
In other words, it’s about service. And it’s never been more important to be of service than it is right now, as organizations navigate the re-opening of our economy. Every day, they operate on limited intelligence, working to figure out what their organizations will look like not just a year from now, but even a week from now. And on top of this, sales leaders face the challenge of managing their own teams in a volatile, uncertain economy.
And as I’ve been thinking about these challenges, I’ve drawn inspiration from the guidance and leadership that Keith Sampson, national sales director at North American Bancard, has been providing. I’ve worked with Keith on multiple events for his team, including a virtual event he put on during this pandemic. He’s always set an example for servant leaders, but he’s gone above and beyond during this crisis in a way that all of us can learn from.
I spoke with Keith about the challenges of serving customers and team members while also working to make sure your business stays afloat. His insights were inspiring as well as practical.
A Sales Leader Is Not a Supervisor
In Keith’s role as national sales director, he works with an all-contract workforce that, at any point, can be composed of thousands of sales partners spread about across the country. One thing he doesn’t do? Supervise. “I don’t really like to use the word supervising,” Keith says. Keith’s rationale for that is simple: Because his workforce is entirely contract-based, they do not report to him. Instead, he describes the job differently: “I literally get to wake up every single day and try to figure out ways to help make our sales partners successful.”
Keith’s attitude is one that I think perfectly describes the role of a sales leader in our new economy. As he points out, this job is now more difficult — but more important — than ever before. For Keith’s team members, the paths to acquiring new customers are now closed, and many of his sales partners are seeing their revenue getting cut.
But that doesn’t mean Keith has simply put his work on hold. Instead, he has embraced a few solutions to help lead his team. First, he has increased his communications with them through a private Facebook page, sometimes sending daily messages that can help to steer his team towards a positive mindset.
He’s also adapted old strategies to meet the moment. As part of their sales training, NAB holds events throughout the country. These are cornerstone events for Keith’s team that take months of planning and coordination. But as states began to ban large gatherings, Keith thought about how he could get creative — and he set about figuring out how he could serve his team. Then, he had a revelation: “Do I actually have to actually be physically in the room with our sales partners to bring value to them?” he asked himself. The answer was simple: No.
Spurred into action, Keith sent out emails to a number of NAB’s corporate partners. Two weeks later, he was hosting a virtual sales conference. And with no event staff to set the stage, Keith enlisted his son to join the NAB team. The two built a stand made of two-by-fours, curtain rods, and duct tape to hang a banner from a previous NAB event, which served as the backdrop for Keith’s host duties. The event had an overwhelming response from Keith’s team. It featured 27 virtual sessions, two guest speakers (of which I was one) and participation from 16 outside companies. More importantly, the content will help Keith’s team navigate uncertainty — not just now but for the future. “The ripple effect of the value and the content is huge,” he says.
Figuring Out the Next Normal
Of course, there are two parts to being a sales leader. One is leading your team. The other is navigating the sales challenges presented by the moment. And we’re living in a moment like no other.
NAB specializes in point-of-sale systems, and with many physical retailers and restaurants facing curtailed business, Keith has been working with retailers — including many of his own clients — to figure out how they can perform in the new economy. “There’s an incredible opportunity for businesses to pivot to win long-term because they’re being forced into changing the way that they have to do business,” he points out. “The idea that we’re going to go back to the way that it was isn’t going to happen.”
Through conversations with his own clients, Keith has been able to gather the intelligence and insights he needs to provide value and guidance for his clients, so that they can get ahead of the accelerating pace of disruption. For example, Keith has helped many of his clients embrace NAB’s E-commerce systems, which facilitates online ordering and delivery service — and ensure that retail and restaurant customers can have a quality customer experience, even when face-to-face interaction is not possible.
The Monday Mindset
Now, does every phone call or Zoom chat with a client or sales team member bear fruit? No — and Keith says that’s part of the point. “Everything I do is based in value,” he explains. But to Keith, value isn’t defined by profit. Instead, it’s defined by how he can serve. “There’s a difference between a true partnership based on a relationship versus what I call a vendorship,” he says. “I’m not interested in being a vendor.” And he makes sure his sales team views him the same way: “I personally want to be more than just a role in a company.”
It’s no wonder, then, that Keith says that Monday is his favorite day of the week. “Most people hate Mondays. I love Mondays,” he says. The start of the week, he says, is about a lot more than getting to work. It’s about fulfillment — not just for himself, but for everyone that he interacts with. “A big part of fulfillment is what I’m doing — am I contributing to something bigger than myself?” he explains. “So when you can approach Monday with excitement on bringing value to others, it just changes the way you approach everything.”
That Monday mindset, frankly, is something that all of us need to have. And not just on Monday, but every single day of the week. “Who is your community, and are you stepping up and being a voice of positivity and optimism?” Keith says. “Give without expectations. It brings an immense amount of fulfillment and happiness.”