Situational Leader

Appointed executive head of sales for Vodacom Service Provider Company in 2001, Michael Allschwang assisted with the merger of eight companies, making him turn grey in five weeks.

Vital Stats

  • Name: Michael Allschwang, 43
  • Designation: Managing executive
  • Company: Vodacom Business
  • Sales Team: A total of eight sales regions and a sales team of more than 400 people serving different market segments including SMEs, the small office-home office market, large corporates, public sector organisations and global accounts. Each regional manager operates autonomously.

Career summary

Michael began his career by selling dinnerware sets door-to-door. Working on pure commission, he quickly became the company’s top sales person. He moved to Bromor Foods, then to Cadbury Schweppes where he was appointed national business development manager at 27.

Michael then joined wine and spirits business Brown-Forman and helped set up the distribution of Jack Daniel’s whiskey in South Africa.

Appointed executive head of sales for Vodacom Service Provider Company in 2001, he assisted with the merger of eight companies, making him turn grey in five weeks. Vodacom Business now has 71% market share and is growing every year.

What makes your team so successful?

We’ve segmented our market properly and we know who the users, influencers and decision-makers are. We also understand the definition of our core business.

Harley-Davidson’s core business is not selling motorcycles; it sells the ability for 45-year-old men to wear black leather, drive through small towns and scare folks. Our purpose is to connect people, create possibilities that are enabled by communication, and to change lives as a result.

What is the best advice you have ever received about sales management?

Sales management is completely misunderstood. It’s not about managing, it’s about coaching. Anyone can look at a sales rep’s pipeline and bottom line and see they are not performing. The point is how you help them grow.

Continuous coaching enables opportunities for dramatic improvements in top-line revenue growth, margin enhancement, conversion rates, sales forecast accuracy, and sales rep retention and engagement.

What’s your sales leadership style?

Hands on, empowering, participative. I believe in situational leadership – there’s no single ‘best’ style of leadership. Effective leadership is task-relevant, and the most successful leaders are those who adapt their leadership style to the maturity of the individual or group they are attempting to lead. It also depends on the task, job or function that needs to be accomplished.

What’s your greatest sales learning?

Fish where the fish are. When you only look for customers in the usual places, you miss out on many possible sales. Leads and prospects are everywhere, not just where you think they are, or where they were last time you looked, so get out there and find them. Remember that when you define your market too narrowly, you limit your scope.

What’s the worst sales mistake you have ever made?

To get so enthusiastic about the product that you don’t give your prospect the opportunity to tell their side of the story. Your offering may be perfect, but you’ll lose the sale because your prospect won’t feel like they’ve been heard. People want to talk about themselves. It was Dale Carnegie who said that you should introduce yourself and then shut up and listen.

What are the biggest deals you have closed?

I regularly close high-value deals, the biggest being a contract worth R42 million. To be honest, there’s no difference between big or small deals. As long as you have a willing buyer and a willing seller, you have a match. But there’s a lot to be said for showing your customer you care.

I was chatting to a CEO who told me about his faulty car seat in his new Mercedes S-Class.

“Hang on,” I said, while I called the head of Mercedes Benz and told him I had a friend with a problem. He sent a team out with a new seat that day, and I closed the deal, all because I showed my client that I cared. I keep good records on all my clients, so I can ask them how their kids are, and whether they enjoyed the opera.

I’ve also closed some really big deals by showing customers that I’m fascinated by their business. Ask a guy if he can organise a tour of his factory for you, and he’ll take you himself. Express an interest in what he does, and by next week you’ll have a new customer.