How to Become a Great Sales Leader
As a sales manager, you may not consider yourself a sales leader. After all, strategic leadership issues fall within the purview of senior executives such as the Chief Revenue Officer. But ask your sales team to describe your leadership qualities and you may hear comments such as “She knows how to communicate what she wants,” “He makes the right decisions at the right time,” “She’s very persuasive,” or “He works twice as hard as anybody else on the team.”
The reality is that all sales managers are also sales leaders. You need to develop your leadership skills if you want to maximize the sales performance of your team. Perceptions of what makes a great leader may differ. However, it’s usually a combination of abilities or characteristics that make a sales manager a true sales leader.
Let’s define sales leadership further. When you consider the great leaders—whether political, social, or religious leaders—they all had several very basic leadership traits in common:
- They had followers who believed in, respected, and trusted them.
- Their followers followed them to a “better place.”
- They brought about positive changes.
Likewise, as a sales leader, you too need to have followers who believe you’ll lead them to a better place by bringing about positive changes (i.e., better sales performance).
Let’s clarify and define sales leadership even further by differentiating it from pure sales management.
Implements directions from above; is generally in a reactive mode.
Generates new ideas and directions; is generally in a proactive mode.
Directs salespeople and enlists their cooperation.
Motivates and inspires people to exceed their goals.
|Helps people cope with change.||Helps salespeople initiate change.|
|Improves salespeople’s skills.||Improves salespeople’s attitudes and motivations.|
|Focuses on short-term, day-to-day results.||Is futuristic and focuses on long-range vision.|
Now we know what sales leadership is. The challenge is how to lead effectively. While sales leadership has many different dimensions, four specific abilities are critical to your effectiveness as a sales leader.
- The first is Sales Vision—the ability to look ahead, to identify where you and the sales team are now and where you want to be, to identify opportunities to bring about positive change, to create a mission or series of missions the sales team can rally behind. Your Sales Vision and your plan of action to make it a reality provide direction and challenge. This brings focus to the “better place” aspect of leadership discussed above.
- Next is Influence, the ability to persuade, motivate, and drive the sales team. Influence builds the sales team’s commitment to accomplish your sales vision.
- The third ability is Decision Making. Making decisions isn’t always easy, but sales leaders weigh options carefully to make a high percentage of right decisions. It’s the best way to build confidence, respect, and trust.
- The final force in sales leadership, Personal Abilities, includes attributes that are often difficult to measure and define, such as pride, fairness, and enthusiasm, along with tangible attributes like management skills.
These four abilities or forces work in concert—even overlap at times—to shape the sales team’s perception of your leadership and to achieve peak sales performance and results. The effective sales leader must have high marks in all of these abilities to have credibility with the sales team.
Becoming a sales leader or enhancing your role as a sales leader requires constant dedication to improving the four sales leadership abilities. But as you improve your sales leadership skills, you will produce positive changes regarding your salespeople’s performance and results. These positive changes in performance and results are the bottom-line, tangible benefits of effective sales leadership.
About David Jacoby
As a Managing Director at Sales Readiness Group, David helps large B2B sales organizations improve sales performance. Previously, David was a Principal at Linear Partners, a sales consulting firm providing sales strategy, sales operations, talent management, and interim management services to emerging growth companies. In the past, David has served as Vice President of Business Affairs of Xylo, Inc., where he was responsible for the Company's business development, sales operations, legal affairs, and financing activities.