Being an entrepreneur is a pursuit that can have tremendous rewards for those with the gumption to pursue it. Starting and growing your own enterprise requires patience, tenacity, and creativity.

When you transition from working for others to building your own business, there are new challenges that you will face. One of these is learning how to be an effective leader.

You can’t build a successful enterprise if you don’t know how to motivate a team and get them to buy into your vision. This is where the art of sales comes in.

What exactly does sales have to do with leadership? If you ask me, sales has everything to do with leadership.

This is something I discovered while leading my own sales team. I found myself using many different sales techniques to motivate my team while helping them perform to the best of their potential. This post will tell you how.

Leadership and influence

Great leaders seem to have this uncanny ability to motivate people to take action. It might appear that this ability is natural, but that isn’t always true. Leading others is a skill, one that can be learned and that needs to be honed over time.

John C. Maxwell defines leadership in this way: “Leadership is influence. Nothing more, nothing less.”

If we accept the idea that leadership is influence, then you can’t be a leader without influence. Which brings us back around to why you need sales: Sales is the art of influence.

Positioning yourself

Any good salesperson needs to understand how to position themselves before they attempt to influence someone else. Positioning means filling a specific role in the mind of your audience. It is the space you will occupy in the customer’s psyche.

Positioning is incredibly important. It is your opportunity to define yourself, and if you don’t define yourself, your audience will.

Sales example:

A salesperson who sells environmentally-friendly carpet cleaning services will need to create a position for her company in the mind of her prospects. While introducing herself and her company, she may say something like, “We are the foremost provider of environmentally-friendly carpet cleaning services on the East Coast.”

This sounds much better than just telling the prospect that you provide environmentally-friendly cleaning services. It’s specific and it gives the prospect a much better picture of what the salesperson does.

Leadership example:

I would often have one-on-one meetings with the members of my sales team. In these meetings I would let them know that my role was to help them improve their performance and achieve their own goals.

In this way, I was able to get them to see that I wasn’t there just to tell them what they’re doing wrong. I was there to help them succeed. This helped me form a closer connection with my team, and it was easier to motivate them in their work.

Asking the right questions

In any attempt at influence, asking the right questions is imperative. The more you know about your audience, the easier it will be to influence them.

Taking the time to know your audience better is beneficial for two reasons:

  • It helps you understand their needs better.
  • It builds trust with your audience.

The first reason is obvious. The more questions you ask, the more you will learn. The insights you gain from the other person’s answers will help you understand how you can help them.

The second reason may not be so obvious at first, but it’s just as true. When you show genuine interest in your customer, they are more likely to trust you.

It shows them that your interest in them is about more than just getting what you want. You actually care about who they are.

Sales example:

A good car salesman knows that they can’t just walk up to a prospect who has walked onto the lot and just start showing them cars. First, they have to get a better sense of what their prospect is looking for. What do they need? What features are important to them? What’s their budget?

Without knowing this information, the salesman is shooting in the dark. He won’t be able to pitch his product effectively because he doesn’t truly know what his prospect needs.

Leadership example:

When I was leading my team, I discovered that in order to be effective, I needed to know who my team members were. Instead of just telling them to do what I wanted, I had to find out what they wanted.

Instead of having meetings where I only told them how they could improve, I took the time to ask them questions.

What motivated them? What did they want to accomplish? What did they feel their strengths and weaknesses were?

Zig Ziglar said: “You can have everything in life you want if you will just help enough other people get what they want.”

When you know your employees and what they are hoping to achieve, you can help them achieve it. It enables you to show them that you truly do care about them. As a result, they will be willing to work harder for you.

Pitching the right solution

After you find out who your customer is and what they want or need, it’s time to actually provide the solution. Your sales pitch must be given in a way that clearly addresses your customer’s needs.

It’s important to remember that you need to pitch the solution that actually fits your customer, not just the one that benefits you the most. Again, you want to be focused on the other person, not on yourself.

Sales example:

A salesperson who sells janitorial supplies to businesses should center her pitch on what the buyer really needs. This means that the solution she presents should be based on the information she gathered when she was asking the buyer about their needs and challenges.

Sure, she could just pitch the most expensive items on the list in order to make more money. But what if the buyer already told her that he is working with a limited budget? That may not be the best approach. A good salesperson can determine what products are the best fit for a given customer.

Leadership example:

Leading a sales team, I discovered there was no one-size-fits-all solution for communicating with each individual team member. Each time I coached a member of my team, I tried to do so in a way that spoke to their personality. If the rep was competitive and driven to be the best, I’d explain how my suggestions would help them crush their competition. If their goal was to get promoted, I’d show them how they could set themselves apart.

By tailoring my approach to each individual rep’s true motivations, I was able to help them hone their skills and increase the quality of their performance. As an additional benefit, it also helped me to get to know them better. They liked the fact that I understood them as people.

Tying it all together

If you think about it, using sales techniques in a leadership capacity doesn’t just make it easier to motivate your team; it helps you help them.

Positioning yourself effectively will get them to see who you are and how you desire to impact them. Asking the right questions helps you get to know your team better and build trust. Presenting solutions that are designed to help your employees succeed will show them they can become better by working with you.

This is something Steve Jobs did well. His notorious temper and rudeness were tempered by an inspirational side. The people who worked closely with him found that he believed in his employees more than they sometimes believed in themselves, and they were better for it.

Learning the art of sales will not only help you lead your team, but it will also get them to fully support your vision while making a positive impact on their lives. That is the hallmark of great leadership.

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Jeffrey Charles
Jeffrey Charles

Jeff Charles is the founder of Artisan Owl Media, an Austin-based content marketing agency that specializes in helping professional service firms increase their influence and earn more clients. You can download his free eBook “The Professional Influencer” to learn how content marketing can help you convert more leads.