So you’ve been hired as the new VP of Sales in a manufacturing or distribution company and are excited about the opportunity to build a rock star sales team within a great organization.

Sounds great, doesn’t it? Well, don’t get too excited just yet. We hate to burst your bubble, but you should know that you’ve just been promoted into one of the most difficult jobs in the executive suite. Sales leadership is a great opportunity, but it also has an extremely high failure rate. The average tenure of the newly promoted or hired VP of Sales in most B2B organizations is about 18 months. This number reflects the difficulty of building a new sales organization, and the even more difficult task of rebuilding a sales organization when things have gone wrong.

But, it doesn’t have to be this way. In this post, we’ll walk you through some of the reasons why sales leadership often fails, who these failures affect, and what to do in the first 90 days to ensure sales leadership success.

Sales Leadership: Who it Affects

Of all the roles in a B2B leadership team, sales leadership might just be the one with the biggest potential to help or hurt a company’s business.

Consider this: in most manufacturing or distribution companies, when a manufacturing leader fails at his job, a new leader can simply be brought in to get things back on track, without it necessarily impacting sales and customer relationships. There may be some impacts related to the company being unable to meet production quotas, missed shipments, or problems with inventory, but these can be rectified more easily than rebuilding an entire relationship, as might be necessary if sales leadership hasn’t been doing their job.

So who’s impacted by sales leadership?

Companies: When sales leadership fails, companies miss their financial targets. Owners and stockholders lose money, and the cycle of belt-tightening may begin.

Employees: When companies miss their targets, employees may have to be laid off or miss out on bonuses.

Sales Teams: Ineffective sales leadership means that sales teams may not be meeting their full potential.

Customers: Customers bear the brunt of ineffective sales leadership, as instability in the sales team puts the customer in the position of having to retrain new reps about their preferences and needs.

Competitors: When a sales leader fails, who benefits? Your competitors.

Why Sales Leadership Failures Happen

Incorrectly diagnosing business problems and needs. This leads to implementing the wrong solutions to the problems that have been identified.

Lack of business understanding. Sales leadership fails when strategies are selected that do not reflect a strong understanding of the business, industry, or product.

Right programs, wrong execution. While the solutions that sales leadership selects may be workable, they can also be executed improperly.

Lack of engagement with the company. Sales teams that do not understand the importance of their role and potential impact on the company may lack motivation.

90 Days to Make It or Break It in Sales Leadership

As with any new job, the first 90 days are the most critical. This is the time when you should be gathering information, building relationships and beginning to develop the solutions that will deliver the results your company is expecting.

So what should you be doing in those first 90 days?

Gather Data. You are not going to be able to solve the problems in a new sales organization if you don’t know the issues you’re facing. The first and most important task is to gather the information you need to make a correct diagnosis. This doesn’t just mean looking at your team’s sales numbers, it also means getting to know the business, the members of your sales team and your customers. You should also be looking at the tools your team has to do their job. Perhaps they lack the tools necessary to be effective. These are the kinds of problems you should be looking to identify and address.

Identify Problems. Once you’ve gathered data, you’ll start to see patterns and be able to identify what is or isn’t working within your sales organization. Identify two or three problems that need to be solved right away, and prioritize a timeline for any other issues you may be seeing.

Seek Low Hanging Fruit. You’re setting the foundation for your tenure at the company in the first 90 days, so this is the time to seek out some quick wins that will inspire confidence in your sales leadership. However, it’s important to remember that quick wins and low hanging fruit do not make a strategy. Make sure these wins fit with your long-term strategy and use them as a business case that proves the solutions you are bringing to the table will work.

Develop Your Strategy. You won’t have budget or bandwidth to do everything at once, so you’ll need to pick the two or three solutions that will be most likely to work given the business issues you are seeing within your sales organization. This strategy should be fully fleshed out by the end of 90 days and ready to implement. It should include a budget, expected ROI, priority, timing and ownership – who will execute the strategy and how.

Communicate! Make sure to communicate your strategy and obtain buy-in from your team, company owners or executives, and any other department leaders whose cooperation you need or who may be affected by the strategy you plan to implement.

Are you a sales leader or looking to hire one at your manufacturing or distribution company? We’d love to hear what you think it takes to succeed in the comments.