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Secrets of Successful Sales Leadership with Matt Nettleton

When thinking about sales leadership, there are specific challenges that you’ll go through, but there are also a vast amount of opportunities that arise.

In this episode, Matt Nettleton, President at Sandler DBT, joins us to share his insights on the key roles of successful sales leaders, the importance of setting up the right systems and creating a culture where making mistakes are encouraged. He also goes into detail on the long-term practices that contribute to the success of sales leaders.

Join us are we share the secrets to mastering sales leadership that unlock doors of opportunities.

After You Listen:

Key Takeaways:

  • Successful sales leadership requires a focus on recruiting, training, supervision, and coaching for individual impact
  • To avoid making a bad sales hire, create standards and a clear job description before beginning the interview process
  • Align individual goals with company goals to foster motivation and commitment from salespeople

Things to listen for:

  • [02:00] Lightning round with Matt
  • [11:57] Effectively supervising during onboarding processes
  • [15:50] Create a culture where mistakes are encouraged
  • [18:49] Key leadership qualities
  • [20:42] Matt’s advice to his younger self
  • [23:21] Craig’s takeaways

Matt’s Transcript:

[00:00:00] Craig P. Anderson: And then I got the feedback. my sales reps were actually people saying, Hey, I need to for five minutes to get Craig off my back.
Welcome to Executive Evolution. I’m Craig Anderson. After spending 25 plus years in corporate America, I learned a lot of leadership lessons the hard way I created this podcast, so you don’t have to.
When I was a young sales leader, I really I had it all figured out. And things that I really thought was successful for was my high level of activity as a sales rep.
I really prided myself on making of sales calls. course I thought every sales rep could be successful if they just made enough sales
So I made that rule. a young sales And when I did, what I got was a whole lot of pointless sales calls, sales reps calling just to call so that they could show a credit for me. And it actually came back to me from a client saying That they heard from my sales rep to get me off their [00:01:00] back.
We always have to be aware of unintended consequences as a leader. today it would be interesting to with Matt Nettleton. is the host of the default profitable podcast. Sandler Sales Trainer since 2003. And what I really wanted to get
in touch with, with was what makes a young successful leader and helps become a more tenured, successful sales leader. So let’s jump in to Executive Evolution with Matt Nettleton.  Matt, welcome to Executive Evolution. Glad to have you here.
[00:01:36] Matt Nettleton: Glad to be here, Craig. Thanks for inviting me on.
[00:01:38] Craig P. Anderson: Absolutely. glad to have you here. We want to talk about leadership, but I also want you to get your perspective on leadership as a sales trainer, sales management trainer, because that’s where the rubber really hits the road is where do they come in?
So I think this is going to work great within Executive Evolution of how those new more experienced people go. So, but first I want to dive in. With the [00:02:00] lightning round. Are you ready for the lightning round?
[00:02:01] Matt Nettleton: Let’s do it.
[00:02:03] Craig P. Anderson: All right. What is the best book on leadership you have ever read
[00:02:09] Matt Nettleton: The best book on leadership I have ever read would be, Dichotomy of Leadership by Jocko Willink.
[00:02:16] Craig P. Anderson: and why so
[00:02:18] Matt Nettleton: Because it points out that there are no answers. There are no solutions. There are only trade offs. that’s a basic principle in economics, which is what I studied in college. But most people, when they come into the world, they expect that they can get a 100 percent answer.
And the reality is you’re always balancing the solution and the problems that the solutions create.
[00:02:39] Craig P. Anderson: yes. And the laws of unintended consequences of leadership.
[00:02:42] Matt Nettleton: yeah, and so you can’t, say, Oh, do this. It’ll be fixed. can only say, do this, that problem will be mitigated, but these problems will be created,
[00:02:51] Craig P. Anderson: I love it. Love it. All right. Question number two, who is your leadership crush?
[00:02:59] Matt Nettleton: [00:03:00] it’s going to sound a little funny, but I really liked Donald Rumsfeld as a leader. he was a guy that stood up and he just explained his problem very simply. He said, Hey, there are things that we know, and there are things that we know we don’t know. But the biggest problem we face is the things that we don’t know and that we don’t know that we don’t know them. So that’s where we get in trouble. and yes, you know, you can make the argument that he was. A terrible warmonger. And but as a leader and as a manager, he did a lot of good stuff.
[00:03:35] Craig P. Anderson: Yeah. there are great leaders who do maybe not great things, but there’s leadership lessons there of how they managed to do it. Right. How you build a following, how you keep people clarified and focused on goals. And then there’s really bad leaders of really good things. so it’s an interesting thing.
And that really, you know, when you look at Donald Rumsfeld, that was really his secret to success was he was able to be a good leader, keep the team focused, but to your point. [00:04:00] There are variables all the time that there’s things that are come swinging at us. That we just aren’t going to see coming and no matter how much we plan.
And that’s where you have to be really facile as a leader to move on a dime when those things happen.
[00:04:14] Matt Nettleton: it goes back to the trade offs, no matter what you face, you can have a partial solution, but that partial solution creates new problems. Solutions to those problems create new problems.
can never actually fix anything. I mean, Thomas Sowell wrote a whole series of economics books on there are no solutions.
There are only trade offs. you can’t overcome scarcity simply scarcity’s gone. you trade one version of scarcity for another all the time.
[00:04:48] Craig P. Anderson: Right, right. Yeah, no, love it.
All right. Last question in the lightning round, Matt, in 10 words or less, how would you define leadership?
[00:04:58] Matt Nettleton: Are they following you?[00:05:00]
[00:05:00] Craig P. Anderson: I like that. That’s simple. And it’s so obvious. And
[00:05:04] Matt Nettleton: the first time somebody tried to describe leadership to me, they said, if people aren’t following you, you’re just walking out in the woods. if people are following you, you’re a leader, it doesn’t mean you’re a good leader or a bad leader. It just means people are following you.
[00:05:16] Craig P. Anderson: that’s something I’ve seen a lot. Like when I’m coaching in organizations, there’s the leader with the title,
[00:05:22] Matt Nettleton: Yes.
[00:05:22] Craig P. Anderson: then there’s the people who are maybe to the side of them or under them who are really leading like public opinion and who are leading really where the attitude is and how, what the vision really is and.
If the leader is not really defining that, someone else is going to fill that void.
[00:05:39] Matt Nettleton: It’s always defined. It’s not always defined by the person who’s at the top of the org chart.
[00:05:44] Craig P. Anderson: Yeah. Yeah. And I see that in culture. I see that in where prioritizations happen in organizations and even the things that people sell to get into more of your world, Well, Hey, I know we’re supposed to sell this, but let me tell you what you can do on selling this one. And suddenly you [00:06:00] got a whole bunch of stuff you didn’t think you wanted to get.
so we’re going to do this a little differently today. Cause usually we talk about your first leadership role, your current leadership role. But I really want to focus today on kind of leaders in sales. Cause you do a lot of sales training, right? That’s your thing. You do the Sandler Sales Training and you probably see a lot of new leaders coming in and they’re just, their heads exploding.
Cause my guess is they probably got promoted cause they were good individual sales leader and somebody’s like, well, you run the whole thing. And then they’re floundering. So when you think about. New leaders in sales, what are the things that they’re really challenged by?
[00:06:34] Matt Nettleton: so you already brought up the single biggest problem for sales leadership, So for businesses under 50 million, the average tenure of a sales leader is 18 months. and. On average, less than one third of all reps actually hit quota working for those sales leaders. you’ve got the revenue engine of the business that is at best misfiring.
That’s probably the [00:07:00] most polite way to say it for most businesses. and that creates all kinds of problems with. Ineffective projections and unreliable forecasts and inconsistent cash flow. it really stems from a lack of understanding of what a sales leader is. and this is probably the biggest thing, but there was a study that I read recently.
I think it was Gartner. I’m not sure who it was, but only 32 percent Of the people who were surveyed. said that they were looking as part of their career track to become a sales leader. So only one out of three reps wanted to be a sales leader.
[00:07:41] Craig P. Anderson: Yeah,
[00:07:42] Matt Nettleton: that’s not good.
[00:07:43] Craig P. Anderson: yeah. But sales in some ways, is one of the areas where you can really reward individual contributors, and you can actually have a career as an individual contributor, so why would you want to make the leap up to something you maybe aren’t that good at?
[00:07:56] Matt Nettleton: there’s a book called the talent war and the talent war talks a lot about [00:08:00] how do you get people in the right spot in your company and what’s the cost of having people in, in the wrong spot of your company they make a point that, there’s probably 300, 400, 000 lost every time you make a bad sales hire.
that’s a big problem, if your sales manager manages seven people or 10 people, you take that three to 400, 000 and you multiply it by 10. So you hire a bad sales leader. You have a 4 million mistake, not a 400, 000 mistake. one of the things that Talent War talks about that we have for a long time suggested is that when you go to promote somebody into being a leader.
better have some subjective standards and you better have some objective standards, and you better have those before you get wrapped up into the process because all too often, and you already alluded to it, you sales manager leaves after 18 months, business owner says, well, I need a new sales manager.
Who’s my best sales rep. Let’s put him in charge or put her in charge. [00:09:00] And then you put that person in charge. Now you’ve just lost your best sales rep. You’ve hired a mediocre manager who’s going to leave. So now you’re out of a manager and a sales rep. and it just turns into like a never ending cycle of dysfunction.
[00:09:15] Craig P. Anderson: So, how do you avoid that? You know, there’s a lot of small business owners and midsize business owners listening to this. How do you find the right fit for a new sales leader? You’re still going to have to train somebody. You’re going to promote somebody into it. You the joke is always your worst sales rep is probably your best sales leader.
That’s probably not true either, but we’ll go with it. how do you find that diamond in the rough? That’s the sales leader that you’re going to keep for more than 18 months. What are the characteristics of success?
[00:09:42] Matt Nettleton: So there’s a couple of different things. One, it’s the boring stuff, but one of the most important things to do, if you’re going to hire a sales leader, before you start interviewing, write up a job description. I know it sounds crazy, but a lot of times telling people what you expect them to do makes them more able to do it.
The second is [00:10:00] you should have a yardstick against which you’re measuring people. You we use objective tools to evaluate sales teams. We know that, As a salesperson, you have to be good at influence and persuasion. You have to be able to build relationships. You have to be good at info seeking.
and you have to be good at actually getting action started, initiating action. Those are measurable characteristics. We have a tool that does that. And so before you interview somebody, you want to make sure that they have ability in those four areas. Well, it’s the same with a manager, except Instead of the four things that help you in sales, we’re looking for people who can drive results, who have proven business acumen, who are able to make decisions.
And oh, by the way, they’re composed. They have emotional composure, Totally different skill sets, totally different competencies than the salespeople. if you were going to play in the NFL, they put you through the combine where they measure you. They see how strong you are.
They see how fast you can run. They have [00:11:00] standards that they know will make you good. every position in a company in particular sales and sales leadership, we can measure things that will tell us whether or not the person that you’re talking to is likely to succeed.
[00:11:13] Craig P. Anderson: So let’s say we found somebody, they’ve got all four of those characteristics. They’ve kind of passed the first level of test. There’s a lot of people go through the combine and still flare out as an NFL player. So once they’re in that role, where do they make the big mistakes that are going to hurt them?
[00:11:30] Matt Nettleton: Well, they don’t understand the four roles that they inherit as a leader. every sales leader has four roles. They have to be able to recruit, which is selling the vision to existing employees future employees, They have to be able to train. So you’ve got to be able to give people new information so that they can execute.
Sometimes it’s technical information. Sometimes it’s company specific information. Sometimes it’s industry information. Sometimes it’s client information, but got to do that both when you onboard people and when you spin them up.[00:12:00] You got to supervise. And this is where most sales leaders absolutely screw up because they think that supervision is their primary function.
I had a conversation with a guy who’s done very well as a business owner, but he has not done very well with his sales leaders. he said, I don’t understand why my sales leaders are nothing but spreadsheet jockeys. They get promoted and all of a sudden they think they can look at a spreadsheet and say, well, he made this many calls.
She had this much talk time. They had this many contacts. They should be making it. He goes, that’s, that’s not anything to do with sales leadership. So people spend a whole lot of time supervising, but they don’t spend any time in the fourth role, which should be, 40 to 50 percent of their time, which is coaching. And coaching is the only thing. that you can do one on one that can impact your team individually. And it can only be done if you’ve [00:13:00] recruited properly, if you’ve trained properly, and if you supervised minimally.
[00:13:05] Craig P. Anderson: that’s so true. And, and I was the early sales leader. That was me. I didn’t trust anybody. It was like, by God. We will have this many calls a month and then what you end up getting is a whole lot of calls are like, Hey, I’m supposed to call. Do you mind if I jump on the phone with you for 15 minutes so I can pick a box?
[00:13:21] Matt Nettleton: I had a company that was complaining about their sales team and we started looking into what was happening. They actually ended up firing three people over the course of a year because in order to get talk time, They were calling the weather line and staying on the weather line for like 20 minutes because they needed to up their numbers on talk time.
know, people will figure out a way to game a system. If you give them a bad system, they will game it, you will suffer. and they’re like, well, this is terrible. Our sales reps are terrible. I’m like, wait a minute. You created the system that gives them incentive to do this. You can’t blame them for following the system.
[00:13:59] Craig P. Anderson: Yeah.[00:14:00] what I’m hearing you say is the real leadership secret for success as a new sales leader is get out from behind your desk. Get out there with your reps, coach them, grow them, help them see how to do things better.
[00:14:12] Matt Nettleton: yeah, figure out what you actually want them to do. Make sure that they’re willing and able. If they’re not willing, get rid of them. If they’re not able, train them. Then the supervision simply becomes a question. Did you do what I trained you to do? Not very complex. It’s very by, yes you did. No you didn’t.
Oh great. Well, you did it. Hey, we didn’t get the result we want. Let me coach you up. Let me show you how to be a little bit more effective. Let me show you how to grow revenue. Let me show you how to have better conversations. So all of a sudden now you’ve got a path to improvement.
[00:14:46] Craig P. Anderson: Yeah. This is my dumbest story about this, and it’s awful. When I was a 17 year old kid working at Burger King, And when you work in fast food, there’s a way to do everything. And I was bagging fries the way I thought I should. And the manager crawled [00:15:00] up my backside and let me have it.
And he showed me the right way. And he sat there until I did it. and suddenly, everything was easier and it’s the same way with your coaching salespeople, They think they know the way, cause everybody thinks sales is easy. And so you have to go in and show them the way, give them the feedback and then.
Reinforce it you can’t just walk away, right? As a new sales leader, you’ve got to stay there.
[00:15:22] Matt Nettleton: I’m going to back that up because the reality is you can’t necessarily say this is the only way to bag fries. Because as you were discovering, you could do it a lot of different ways, So my first football practice in college, coach Vignone, who was the linebackers coach, he looked at me and he said, Nettleton, there are 53 ways you can hold your hands as a linebacker pre snap.
I said, okay. He goes, this is the only one I’m willing to accept. Do this. I mean, you can do it 53 ways. 52 of them are now wrong. And so, that clarity of, yes, I [00:16:00] understand there are other ways to do that. However, this is our way. it’s so rare that, sales leaders actually take the time to figure out what their way is.
They just look at the result and go, well, we wanted a different result. We’re very disappointed in you.
[00:16:15] Craig P. Anderson: Yeah. So now let’s fast forward. Now we’ve got this sales rep who’s figured all these things out. They’ve surpassed the 18 month. They’re a successful sales leader for five or six years or however many years it is. What made that person able to be successful for the long haul? What are the long haul practices of sales leadership that you can look back and say, these are the things that made me stay in this role and made me successful.
[00:16:40] Matt Nettleton: look at people that early on, create a culture where. Making mistakes is encouraged. Finding surprises is not one of the best sales leaders ever worked for, told me early on in my tenure with him, he said, listen, you’re allowed to give me good news [00:17:00] and you’re allowed to give me bad news, but if you bring me a surprise more than once, we got problems,
[00:17:05] Craig P. Anderson: And you know what? I would add on to that. I have a client I was working with and he said, no, I was clear with everybody. I told him no surprises. I need to know about surprises. And I said, I don’t think that’s going to work. And he said, well, why? I told him I was really clear. I no, I was super clear.
They know what a surprise is. Okay. They know to let me know about surprises. Great. Sure enough, by week later, he calls says, well, told him they needed to tell me about any surprises. So they emailed me a surprise at six o’clock on a Friday night.
[00:17:33] Matt Nettleton: Oh, yeah.
[00:17:34] Craig P. Anderson: I didn’t find out about it till late Monday.
By the time I got caught up on all my emails. I was like, yeah, this is what I was talking about. It’s, it’s not just not surprises. It’s talking about how you want to be communicated to when there is a surprise and he’s like, yeah, I need to tell them to text me right away. I’m like, yeah. And you better tell them exactly what to do if you don’t respond.
And yeah, it’s,
so important to be clear.
[00:17:56] Matt Nettleton: but the problem with that, is so often, leaders [00:18:00] make some version of, don’t bring me surprises, turn into, I will punish you for bad news, so be careful what you tell me.
[00:18:10] Craig P. Anderson: Yeah.
[00:18:11] Matt Nettleton: I would rather have somebody that comes Hammerhead account.
I forgot to call them back. I didn’t turn in the contract. We never actually tried to close it rather than what is the typical 54 percent of the time it doesn’t get a yes or a no. It just disappears from the pipeline.
[00:18:30] Craig P. Anderson: So true. So what are some of the. other long term success characteristics in a industry and a profession that it’s always about results, results, results, what lets that sales leader, not only, I think you said one of the things was the ability to stay calm and unemotional
[00:18:47] Matt Nettleton: composure, emotional composure,
[00:18:49] Craig P. Anderson: So what drives that? Cause I talk a lot about competence, confidence, and calm as key leadership’s characteristics. So how do you keep a middle keel in such a [00:19:00] volatile role as sales?
[00:19:01] Matt Nettleton: you have to look at what you’re trying to accomplish as a sales leader on a regular basis. one of my clients, when I started working with them is I said, okay, so you got three salespeople, they’re outselling, you guys are doing okay, but you want to do more.
Let’s start with your debrief. How do you debrief your sales reps? And he said, well, that’s easy when they get back from a sales call, I look at them and I said, did you get my effing check? Like, okay. We’re going to have to rewrite that,
so it’s a results driven business because people focus a hundred percent on the results. It’s not a results driven business because that’s the only important part. What we have to remember is in order to get to that point, a lot of stuff had to happen. I wait, like, every Florida coach after every Georgia game goes, Oh my gosh, we didn’t score as many points as Georgia and we lose again.
That’s not the time to fix the problem. The time to fix the problem is, did we recruit the right players? Did we coach them in the fall? [00:20:00] Did we coach them in the spring? Did we install the right game plan? Did we adjust after the first quarter? Did we adjust at halftime? Once the score’s up, it’s too late.
You can’t manage the result.
[00:20:12] Craig P. Anderson: Yeah. Heck, once the game starts, it’s probably too late if you haven’t done all the upfront work with the team.
[00:20:17] Matt Nettleton: Right. and then you start to look at, the amount of time that an athlete spends practicing before they walk on the field for a game. And usually there’s a four to one ratio of time at least. And the amount that a professional salesperson or a sales leader practices their craft.
And usually it’s non existent because they’re experienced pros and they’ll figure it out.
[00:20:40] Craig P. Anderson: Yeah. if you were talking to your, clients that have been long term and successful and you’ve been training their salespeople, what would they go back and think? What are the things that I wish I had told myself when I was first into this role?
[00:20:54] Matt Nettleton: the first thing that they have to remember is that everybody [00:21:00] works for themselves first.
[00:21:02] Craig P. Anderson: Wow. Say more.
[00:21:04] Matt Nettleton: everybody’s going to figure out how the comp plan can benefit them.
Right. Everybody’s going to figure out how the CRM can benefit them. Your big job. as a sales leader early on is letting people see that the benefit to them and the benefit to the company don’t have to be separate,
if you set the system up, right. And if you, coach and train and, supervise, right. The salespeople should say, you know what? This part of my job might be an inconvenience, but because it helps me towards my goal and my goal helps the company towards their goal. I’m willing to put up with the inconvenience,
too often everything as a goal for a salesperson is nothing but a to do list with a commission check at the end neither the to do list nor the commission check are in and of themselves very motivating.
[00:21:54] Craig P. Anderson: about very early on about culture and alignment of really [00:22:00] preaching as a sales leader, getting everybody aligned, getting everybody headed in the same direction to understand the rewards and understand the how of how we’re doing business.
And then it just flows and that’s really don’t hide behind the spreadsheets. Don’t hide behind the call reports. Get out, keep talking to your team.
[00:22:18] Matt Nettleton: Yes. Yeah.
[00:22:19] Craig P. Anderson: Love it. So Matt, you’re a sales trainer. You’re a podcast host. Where can people find you online if they want to learn more about some of the things that you’re doing?
[00:22:28] Matt Nettleton: LinkedIn. There’s us, but one of us has a lot more content than the others. they can find Sandler DTB Indy on Twitter, Instagram, or LinkedIn, or they can search for default profitable on the internet. Default profitable. com would be, you know, the website or on Instagram or Twitter or LinkedIn, to see the podcast.
now that podcast is driven. 80 percent of our listeners are from the Indianapolis area and is very [00:23:00] hyper focused on three one seven business leaders.
[00:23:02] Craig P. Anderson: Sure. But the challenge is the same, no matter what your area code
[00:23:05] Matt Nettleton: that is true.
[00:23:06] Craig P. Anderson: Well, we will drop all those links in the, notes to the podcast so people can find you, Matt. Thanks so much for being part of Executive Evolution and sharing the journey of sales leadership. I appreciate it.
[00:23:15] Matt Nettleton: And thanks for having me, Craig.
[00:23:20] Craig P. Anderson: I really
appreciate all the insights that we today from Matt. There’s so much that goes on for successful leadership as as for
leadership. And
a lot of those traits carry over from
one area to another. really thought was interesting in Matt’s discussion is they the testing and analysis to figure out where your skillset is.
That’s something that I do as well. And if you’re interested
Please out to me,
but from
my interview with Matt, as always, I want to bring out the C’s of successful leadership, confidence, and calm. talked about sales leaders balance that business acumen with the intention of coaching, staying in front of your sales team.[00:24:00]
and giving them feedback. are the things that make you successful. competent sales leader is one who really understands about the business side,
but also understands the
importance of being alongside their sales reps, them and building them up the area of confidence.
Identify the results and outcomes based on the team following successful patterns. you understand the things that matter, when you understand you really need to not the mistakes I made early on in my sales leadership career, the things that matter, that’s going to give you the confidence that your sales reps are out there.
to mention that ongoing coaching. So you really see where they’re at in their evolution as a sales rep.
And then
finally in calm, the ability to manage emotions in the face of stress. One of the things that I thought was so important that to calm for you a leader making sure your team knows that they’re not going to be punished when they bring you bad news.
They’re going to be coached. They’re going to be developed.
What stresses
you out as a leader is
unexpected surprises, [00:25:00] but when
your team is comfortable bringing you bad
Then you have an opportunity to what’s coming and that helps
stay calm a leader.
again for listening to this episode of Executive Evolution, and please join us for the next episode.