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You might have a highly functional team when deals are moving smoothly, but when thrown off course, does your team jump into action, or fall into discord?

It’s no surprise that your team’s ability to innovate, adapt, and persevere under pressure is closely tied to leadership. Salespeople in the field might possess all of these positive attributes–but they have to be given the autonomy to execute, otherwise everything will come to standstill.

In discussing this topic, the book The Challenger Sale makes an important distinction between leadership that prevents failure and leadership that promotes success. To pursue the latter, many sales organizations have adopted the Commander’s Intent leadership style, a philosophy borrowed from the military, because “no matter how carefully one plans for battle, the reality on the field will inevitably be different.”

In the military, the purpose of Commander’s Intent is to empower soldiers at all ranks to make independent decisions. It gives those in the trenches the confidence to take action when situations change, knowing they are still working toward the mission’s goal. In other words, commanders aren’t giving step-by-step instructions from some remote location. They’ve created a culture of trust so that field leaders can find their way to victory through creative interpretation of their commander’s intent.

In many ways, sales teams are like military operations, relying on the chain of command to delegate work and achieve goals through decentralized units. Articulating a clear and concise vision of success, like Commander’s Intent, helps salespeople navigate problems in real time and find the best, most applicable solutions. It allows them to be independent and innovative, while working toward the overall goal.

Studies cited in the Challenger Sale show that 30% of sales manager excellence is attributed to sales innovation. And, when salespeople are armed with the ability to innovate at the deal level, they have a much better chance of “unsticking” a stuck deal.

For sales execs on a mission to improve the effectiveness of their front-line managers, this data reveals a large untapped opportunity to dramatically improve sales manager performance.

So how do you get your teams ready for this type of leadership style? An article in the Harvard Business Review suggests:

  • Simulation trainings and assessments. Realistic scenarios provide a good test run for employees (and prospective employees), and you’ll see who is naturally skilled at adapting to dynamic changes while sticking to the plan.
  • Small, low-risk projects. Employees or teams can enter a small, untested market or launch a new project, which is great testing ground to build confidence and improvisation skills without much risk to the core business.

As you bring new salespeople on board, can also use assessments to screen for competencies like innovation and decisive judgement.

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