In spite of strong growth at our company I have been concerned for some time about the long-term leadership of our sales efforts.
People, strategies and technology are changing so rapidly that I am having trouble leading the company while finding time to stay “sales-relevant.”
It reminds me of my experience at MSM Transportation in the early 1990s when we were looking for technology to help us manage sales efforts. We were so busy selling that by the time we got around to choosing a product it was already outdated.
Hiring quality sales leadership in the supply chain is even more of challenge. Elite candidates are hard to find and harder to recruit, and a bad hire can set you back for years.
Sitting at home the last 16 months I spent an inordinate amount of time trying to figure out the best approach for our company moving forward.
I stumbled across a concept that instantly stoked my curiosity: Interim sales leadership.
Part coach, consultant and senior executive, an interim sales leader comes into an organization with a specific set of skills and experiences and leads the sales team for a defined period of time.
In simple terms an interim sales leader is a flexible solution. You get to retain top-notch sales and business development leadership without the risk of a full-time hire — and for a fraction of the cost.
Here’s why I decided to embrace interim sales leadership and what I’ve learned so far:
More than management
There is a huge difference between a sales manager and a sales leader.
Sales managers in trucking tend to be responders and reactors. The ones I speak with on a regular basis seem to spend much of their time running their own book of business while putting out customer fires for their reps. There’s little strategy or planning, let alone leadership.
Many managers are unprepared or not suited for the job. They’ve been taught how to make people work for them, not to inspire them to follow. Unfortunately, too many sales managers lead by the fear of negative consequences.
In trucking the top sales producer often gets the coveted sales manager role when the desk becomes open. This is in spite of the of the fact there is zero correlation between the two jobs. Wayne Gretzky is undeniably the best hockey player to ever lace ’em up. But in his four-year coaching career he never once made the playoffs.
Six months into our interim sales leadership experience I am blown away by how the person we hired has rejuvenated and inspired our team.
They don’t work full-time in our business so they don’t get caught up in the day-to-day grind. By not being tied into our vertical they have brought fresh sales ideas from other industries.
At their suggestion we have involved the entire staff in sales and customer retention so everyone is part of the process. We have adapted to new digital marketing strategies to become more productive.
Most important we get an unbiased, independent opinion that challenges our current sales practices.
Many ways to help
There are so many reasons to look at interim sales leadership it’s impossible to list them all. Here are a few things our interim sales leader has done for us:
- Identify and remove short-term roadblocks to higher sales, greater profits and market share.
- Focus on long-term sales strategy and implementation without diverting key sales staff from doing their work.
- Intervene with management to stop the loss of business to less qualified competitors.
- Motivate a disengaged sales team.
After six months I am confident of two things. First, we’re a better company because of our pivot to an interim sales leader. Second, it’s painfully clear that old man Mike wasn’t getting it done!
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