What makes a great sales leader? Is it their personality and charisma? Is it the results they have achieved? Is it their team leadership abilities? Or is it their vision and unique sales methodology?
In truth, no one characteristic defines success, every sales leader is different.
However, there are some key sales leaderships qualities that top sales leaders share, and these characteristics make all the difference when it comes to ensuring their team ascends to higher levels, and that their business achieves long-term sustainable growth and success.
So what are the characteristics of a great sales leader? What are the key sales leader skills and qualities?
A great sales leader:
Is a mentor and a coach
Gone are the days of the authoritative boss – employee dynamic (or at least they should be). Every single person in a sales team influences its ultimate success. It is a myth in business that people simply do what you tell them to do.
In reality people do what they want to do, and a great sales leader should be capable of helping them and empowering them to make the right decisions, and take the right course of action.
Each individual in a team will be handling multiple accounts, will have their own prospect pipeline, and will be juggling many individual needs, their job therefore requires them to drive their own priorities.
According to Forbes Magazine, 74% of leading companies say coaching is the most important role sales leaders play.
The best sales leaders have a coaching mind-set, and understand that a vital part of their role is mentoring. They understand the DNA of their team, each individual’s personality, sales approach and goals.
They know how to get the best out of them, and what tools and training they need to do their job autonomously. Equally as important they can pick up quickly when a team member is underperforming.
Sales people are naturally failure averse and their own worst critics. Most sales cycles tend to be annual. During that time there will be a lot of ups and downs – failed deals, missed targets, missed opportunities and increased pressure.
A good sales leader needs to recognise this, and will know how to support each team member and provide encouragement and patience as they go through a rough patch.
Sales technologies (such as Artesian) are playing a great facilitating role. Arming sales leaders with greater insight and understanding of how sales teams are behaving and performing, as well as modelling how performance could be improved.
Armed with this deeper level insight sales leaders can then coach each member of the team to define or refine their goals and strategies, facilitate a change in behaviour or the development of new habits, advise on alternative ways to maximise leads or engage with customers.
They can motivate and empower self-improvement and self-direction, and help them get the best out of the tools and training at their disposal.
Is focussed on team success not on their own success
Sales leaders start as sales people, on their way to the top they will have over performed, smashed targets, and contributed in a measurable way to the success of the company, but now their role has evolved into something else.
A great sales leader knows when to stay hands off, and equally when to pitch in and get involved, without taking all the glory. There is nothing more demotivating for a sales team than a sales leader who misses selling and starts competing with their team to prove ‘they’ve still got it – a sales leader with a sales target is a bad situation.
Micro-management is the default setting of any sales leader who has inadequate performance with their people. Instead great sales leaders harnesses tools for KPI management and insight into what each the sales person has been doing, their prospect pipeline, sales behaviours and activities to equip those in their team to be potentially better than them, not to crack the whip because their own success is on the line.
A good sales leader must recognise their role is to lead, set a strategy and vision and provide the guidance and support for the team to get there.
A great sales leader gets a buzz from seeing someone they’ve developed get a sale.
Is focussed on collaboration
The best results are achieved when everyone feels like they have contributed to the process. The team itself might be diverse in terms of the individuals involved, their approach, personality and individual responsibilities, but each person brings to the table different areas of expertise, different experiences, and different views.
A great sales leader is able to pull the team together, draw on the skills of everyone and guide them to collaborate, share ideas and focus on the collective goals, as well as the individual ones.
Likewise, they promote cross-functional collaboration across the entire business. When a business operates in silos it delivers reduced benefit to the customer and therefore little benefit to the business as a whole.
A great sales leader takes a macro-level view, working out how sales can collaborate with marketing, business development, customer success, R&D, and product development teams to build and eco-system focussed on combined goals and shared vision. An environment where each team helps each other do their job better, serve the customer better, and serve the business better.
Technology once again can help. For a business to collaborate and have shared goals it must have shared understanding. Smart use of intelligence and insight tools can improve understanding of the market, customers, competitors, risks and opportunities.
Providing a single view from which collaboration can grow, synergies in skill sets can be exploited, opportunities can be the evaluated, and roadmaps drawn up for teams to add value at every stage of the journey.
Smart use of technology can not only bring sales teams together but also facilitate cross-functional teams collaboration for the long-term success of the company.
Is a believer in encouraging curiosity and creativity
Curiosity is perhaps the most important trait any seller can have. Curious people seek to understand the world around them from every angle, they tend to be the ones that are keen to push boundaries, find new reasons to get excited, suggest new ideas, and uncover new ways to solve problems.
Curiosity, when nurtured and channelled in the right way, delivers what companies and customers ultimately aspire to from their sales teams, i.e. customer-centric engagement, strong relationships, solutions that achieve goals and solve problems.
Likewise, the ability to jump on new ideas and opportunities for improved outcomes and competitive advantage.
Great sales leaders encouraging a curious methodology see amazing results. By giving people space and time, as well as access to the intelligence and insight tools they need to indulge their curiosity they are rewarded with an engaged team.
An engaged and curious team goes out to ask questions and seek answers, share ideas, solve problems, predict needs, identify opportunities, uncover new ways to innovate and differentiate, and drive the business forward.
Is a visionary, a great communicator and gives people meaning to their work
Salespeople are more motivated by having an overarching vision. People and companies can be inspiring, but what really drives a great sales team is the ‘why’ behind the business.
Indeed 71% of millennials believe that meaningful work is an essential factor in defining career success. But I have no doubt that the same is true even of the most seasoned and established sales professional.
It’s the ’why’ that provides a reason for getting out of bed in the morning and gives salespeople the focus they need to achieve fantastic results. Today’s sellers crave more than “just a job.”
A great sales leader is both visionary big thinker and tactician. They are also capable of communicating the big ideas, and connecting this vision to the team by explaining the strategies and tactics to be employed, the behavioural/cultural changes needed etc.
A great sales leader can turn vision into reality, taking the big ideas and turning them into executable plans that inspire and drive the team forward.
It is also important to give the team the tools needed to do their job to the best of their abilities. Sales leaders need to be alive to advances in technology that helps sellers get more creative and spend more time doing what they love, and what they do best.
Hence the next point…
Is able to maximise productivity without limiting creativity
It’s an issue (and a fine balancing act) that all sales leaders face, how to maximise productivity without limiting creativity. The board, shareholders, banks, and investors all want a better bottom line, and expect sales teams to be ever more efficient and productive.
But to compete and meet expectations sellers need to spend more time being creative, something which is difficult when they spend a significant proportion of their day undertaking administrative tasks.
Utilising advanced sales technologies to automate key activities such as customer information gathering, uncovering new prospects, understanding buying behaviours, sentiments and trends, and due diligence, leaves sellers free to undertake more strategic decision making and human-touch relationship building tasks with an even greater level of clarity.
According to the Raconteur Report, between 70-85% of businesses say AI is making their organisation more creative, helping them make better management decisions, and furnishing them with more time to think creatively about the challenges their customers face.
Take BT Local Business for example. BT Local Businesses were finding that their ability to uncover new opportunities was hampered by highly manual, time consuming sales processes (i.e. trawling the internet to uncover potential new opportunities and gain a deeper understanding of customers).
By adopting Artesian to harness real-time news, social media and people insights, they uncovered new prospects, gained a deeper understanding of leads, were able to act quickly on opportunities, and engage proactively in more sophisticated ways based on a real time understanding of trends, sentiments and needs.
In just 12 months they had uncovered over 1,000 new opportunities and closed 793 of them, resulting in £6.4million of new revenue.
Board and shareholders satisfied, productivity improved, and a team of sellers freed from the burden of busy work and focussed on doing what they do best.
Perhaps most importantly of all happier customers achieving superior results thanks to improved creativity – win, win, win.
Is a believer in the value of training and development
Going back to Forbes data, sales training can improve the performance of individual sales rep by an average of 20%, and yet surprisingly, only 66% of companies actually train their new employees.
That means a third of businesses are just hoping new staff will ﬁgure out how everything works.
Likewise around 60% of businesses at any one time are planning to introduce new technology into the workplace that would require staff training, but if no training is provided employees will be wasting valuable time getting to grips with the valuable tools a business has invested in, damaging return on that investment.
Good training, on the other hand, cuts down on wasted time trying to ﬁgure things out, minimises easily avoidable mistakes and instills in new team members with the conﬁdence to go out and make sales.
As sales expert Jill Rowley points out “training for your sales team is NOT OPTIONAL because a fool with a tool is still a fool.”
But it’s not just when hiring new members or implementing new ways of working that training is vital. All too often, a seasoned salesperson will simply rely on outdated selling techniques that don’t cut it with today’s sophisticated buyers or tech-driven environment.
The truth is that everyone – regardless of experience or age – needs a refresher course every now and then. Sales skills are always evolving and require constant refinement.
A great sales leader realises sales training is time and money well spent. And invests time in understanding the development needs of their team.
Backed up by data-driven insights, sales leaders can gain a deeper knowledge of the activities that sellers conduct every day. Advanced sales technologies can analyse and model the actions and outcomes of each seller in a team to understand best practices, and the best sales techniques for generating the most successful outcomes.
Likewise compute the actions/inaction’s that typically correlate with failure. A great sales leader can turn this knowledge into opportunities for advancement – coaching, skills training and self-development interventions that will contribute to a wider pipeline, more creative solutions, and an enhanced bottom line.
Is able to accurately reward and incentivise
A great sales leader is able to develop a strong reward and recognition program, one that is timely and relevant. Motivating sales teams is about providing the right incentives to the right people is essential.
There is little point in incentives and rewards if they don’t instill a sense of purpose and are not related to anything – i.e. they either happen or they don’t and sellers don’t really believe or understand that they can influence the process.
A great sales leader invests in their sales teams’ development and rewards individuals based on contribution and drive, not on age or time served. The Zuckerberg philosophy of “You can do anything here if you can prove it”, is certainly a great standard for sales leaders to work by.
Of course, if you can integrate your performance tracking tool with your compensation system you can ensure that people are accurately rewarded for their achievement, and incentivised in meaningful ways to continue to raise the bar.
Of course I could go on all day, and there are no doubt many more leadership qualities that great sales leaders have in common. So over to you…
Do you know an inspiring sales leader? What do you think makes a great sales leader? What tools do you think sales leaders need to get the best out of themselves and their teams?
I would love to hear your thoughts.