The Soft Skills Approach to Sales Management

From running a team to having difficult conversations, LinkedIn Account Executive Darya Slavina shares what it takes to move up in your sales organization.

August 25, 2016

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Two years ago and at the start of my career with LinkedIn Marketing Solutions, I wrote about the advice I had for Women in Sales (read about it here). Two promotions and countless lessons later, I’m back to revisit what it takes to advance your career, in sales or otherwise. The one piece of advice that has withstood the test of time and is worth further discussion is positioning yourself as part of a team. Being a valuable team player is crucial to your success in sales. Take myself for example: now, as a Core Account Executive, I am leading a team of my own.

As an Account Executive, I am responsible for the entire sales process, from activating clients to renewing their business. This was a big leap from my role as a Sales Development Representative, where I was only overseeing the beginning of the discussion with our clients. With my promotion, my biggest challenge was learning how to lead and inspire my new team of six colleagues. For those of you in a similar situation, I hope to minimize the inevitable mistakes that come from leading a team for the first time with a few pieces of advice:

Empower Each Team Member to Own His or Her Expertise

When starting a new working relationship with a teammate or cross-functional partner, invest in getting to know him or her on an individual level. Each person has unique skills to contribute to the shared objective, and, by understanding each person, you’ll be able to inspire the group collectively.

Take my team as an example. My Account Manager has a valuable knowledge base of content and social media marketing from her past experience working at an agency. My Campaign Manager, on the other hand, is really passionate about the inner workings of advertising technology. After learning about their respective passions, I encouraged them to fully own the initiatives that they excelled at, and in doing so, the rest of the team benefitted from their strengths. In this case, my two team members began handling strategies on social content and advertising logistics that we present to our clients. Giving each of them ample room to do what they do best created a culture of creativity and excitement within our team and has allowed us to work even better together.

Use Your Interpersonal Skills to Turn Your Team's Setbacks Into Assets

Disagreements about how a problem should be solved or frustrations about workflow are inevitable for any new sales team or partnership.  What requires real finesse is having a difficult conversation with a teammate or peer that has a productive and positive outcome. Here are some tips to make that happen:

1.     Practice tactfulness when delivering feedback

Make sure to connect face-to-face. It’s best to avoid having a difficult conversation over the phone (or worse, via email or company chat) as it can leave a lot of room for misinterpretations. Schedule time to connect in advance behind closed doors, rather than springing what could be a difficult conversation on someone out of the blue. Structure the actual content of the feedback in a pro, con, pro formula, in which the negative feedback is sandwiched between two positive pieces of feedback. Delivering feedback in this way will ensure that there will be no hurt feelings as a result of this session. At the end of the meeting, recap key takeaways and make sure to thank them for their time and open-mindedness.

2.     Be receptive to feedback yourself

I’ve received some of my most constructive pieces of feedback during one-on-one performance conversations with a teammate. I’m a true believer that feedback is a gift and we can all benefit from having more of it. After you’re done delivering your feedback, open up the conversation on ways you can improve your performance. Asking for feedback for yourself will also serve a secondary purpose: it will clear the air and help get your working relationship back on track without any pent-up resentment.

3.     Be Understanding

We all have our good and bad days but in sales especially, we have to be extra cognizant of how we’re coming off to clients and teammates. Therefore, it’s important to assume that a poorly delivered presentation or a renewal that fell through wasn’t your teammate’s fault, and that they had the best of intentions. Conduct this meeting accordingly, opening up the discussion by hearing about the situation from their point of view and how it could have gone better. Doing this will ensure that you continue to build rapport with your teammates.

Stepping into a more senior sales role is an exciting move for your career but also comes with new responsibilities and opportunities. I hope that these tips prove useful to you when you begin working with a new teammate or have to sit someone down for a difficult conversation.