What characteristics make for effective sales leaders who can motivate and produce sustainable high performance for their teams, businesses and themselves while others fail?
Based on his more than 20 years of experience in sales in the technology sector, West Milford resident Adam Apps offers his answers in a new book, “Sh*tty Sales Leaders: And How to Not Be One.”
The book is geared toward people interested in becoming more effective in their sales and leadership careers. It serves as a chronological, actionable template for aspiring and established sales leaders to acquire, build and run high-performing and cohesive sales teams.
When it debuted in mid-January, Apps’s book - his first as an author - became the best-seller in multiple categories on Amazon.com and remains No. 1 in the website’s Sales & Selling Management category.
Apps, 40, is director of sales at data-management firm Pure Storage Solutions. Previously, he had sales roles at several Silicon Valley-based companies, including Cisco Systems.
Born in the United Kingdom, he moved every three years or so when he was growing up because of his father’s work transfers. The family lived in Canada and Texas before returning to the U.K. They settled in New Jersey in 1993.
The extensive travel and relocations in his formative years greatly shaped his persona and built roadblocks, Apps explained.
“Moving so frequently in my youth, I found it easier not to build strong friendships with other kids so to avoid the hurt upon separation,” he said.
“That carried over as a young adult and professional, as one of my first managers pulled me aside one day and offered that colleagues and peers perceived me as being intense, unapproachable and stand-offish.
“That moment was jarring and revealing, and one of my first great professional and personal lessons in self-awareness. Thankfully, I had a manager who was open and in tune enough to offer constructive feedback. I had blind spots. His input was humbling, for sure, but gave me a clear self-improvement mission.”
Since then, Apps has embraced continuous learning and feedback-based self-improvement, a lifestyle approach that he shares with his sales teams.
“Fundamentally, it’s about growth and self-awareness,” he explained. “By being in touch with who you really are, you’re better able to identify strengths and shortcomings, what motivates and excites you, and how you can positively impact the people and teams around you.”
While ensuring accountability, praise and recognition with teams, listening and soliciting honest feedback for oneself is essential, he said. “It’s humbling and eye-opening, revealing the blind spots in one’s persona and brand.
“The best people and performers understand they are on a lifelong self-improvement journey. They learn how to unlock motivation, enabling them to then unlock key drivers and top performance in sales teams.”
To his younger self
Apps sees his book as a “message to his younger self” that, in turn, can help others become effective leaders.
“When word came out that I was writing a book, someone jokingly asked, ‘What makes you so great to write a book?’ My response: I’m not great, I’m a work in progress. But I do know what it takes to be a great sales leader, and I want to share my journey and that knowledge with others.”
One of his most important life lessons came years ago from his son, Adam George, then 5 years old.
“I was going through a rough patch, pretty miserable mainly due to a bad boss who was a really negative influence on his team,” he said. “Young Adam George stared me down one day and said, ‘Dad, what’s wrong, you’re not yourself anymore.’
“An ah-ha moment for sure, and upon reflection I knew that I had to find a way to improve my outlook and the situation. I did so by walking away from that bad leader, that job and that company. People don’t leave companies; they leave bad leaders.
“This also reminded me to put family first above all else; something I want everyone on my team to do. I became a better husband, father, person and professional. Thanks, Adam George.”
Make it look easy
In his book, Apps points out that most sales leaders struggle to motivate their teams and deliver sustainable results.
“Great sales leaders make it look easy while others never figure it out. Ineffective sales leaders may resort to desperate tactics that damage careers, wreck team cultures and scare great people from leadership opportunities,” he writes.
They “might deliver short-term results at the expense of those around them, but their approach is never sustainable.”
“No one wants to follow that kind of leader,” Apps said. “Too many individuals are in it fully for themselves, whether it’s for a title, clout, money or ego. It’s vital to uncover why you want to be a leader and to be honest about your desires, goals and how you can benefit others.”
He believes that when armed with the right tools, anyone can be an effective sales leader.
“My book gives readers proven best practices from my experiences and those of several great leaders. It offers real-world insights and lessons to elevate one’s game and become a truly exceptional sales leader - or overall business or organizational leader.”
He recognizes the need for sales and business leaders to be adaptable to and leading change, especially in today’s unsettling economic and social climate.
“Our world is changing fast; nothing today is like it was just five to 10 to 20 years ago. Great leaders are chameleons, always changing and evolving. Adapting to new cultures and expectations, understanding how people are inspired and motivated. That’s why self-awareness and introspection is important. We can’t be stuck in the past to move forward.”
Good and bad influences
One of the leaders cited in the book is David “Hat” Hatfield, co-chief executive of Lacework, whom Apps views as a mentor.
“I would hand my younger self a copy of this book,” Hatfield writes in the book’s forward. “Adam shares lessons shared from his inspirational leadership journey in a captivating and relatable way that makes you want to read until the end. I am confident that everyone who reads this book will take away a new lesson for their arsenal, regardless of where they are on their leadership journey.”
Apps has been influenced by good and bad sales leaders on his professional journey. He values leaders, such as Hatfield, who have served as mentors.
With a wry smile, Apps said his most important mentor and inspiration was his father, David.
“Dad was highly focused and successful, a lifelong learner who shared lessons yet always humble,” he said. “His approach to life and business: ‘Get up, show up, work hard and don’t waste opportunities.’ ”
Apps has lived in the High Crest Lake community with his wife, Meredith; son; and dog, Reese, for nearly a decade.
The family enjoys making maple syrup, hiking in the Apshawa Preserve, jogging, swimming and kayaking on the lake.
He is a graduate of Rutgers University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in 2004.
He also serves on the New York Metro Leadership Board of the American Lung Association.
For information about his book and podcast series, go online to AdamApps.com