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The 3 Essential Qualities of An Effective Sales Leader

Over the course of the past 25 years, I have had the opportunity to work alongside, coach and develop dozens of sales leaders across a wide array of industries and business challenges. Some of those leaders achieved outstanding results despite many personal flaws, while others have continuously struggled despite possessing some of the stronger “leadership” personality traits I have witnessed. After nearly three decades, I have concluded that success in sales leadership is much more about what you do and the processes you employ, rather than the personality traits you possess. The following are three common traits of the best of the best.

Still Walks a Mile

Early in my sales career, a CEO consistently emphasized that success as a sales leader came from having previously walked in the daily lives of sales associates. “I’ve walked a mile in your shoes” was his go-to power phrase. While I think he nailed it in terms of the ability to relate, I have concluded over time that he missed the verb tense.

By focusing on the past, he emphasized his proven experience and more subtly the belief that he no longer needed to log the hard miles. Relatability and the ability to understand the challenges faced by your team are challenges of the here and now. Markets change. Needs change. Competitors change. A successful leader is one who has current, real-world exposure to these changes. Exposure to these changes should not come through the stories of their direct reports, but instead through real life experiences garnered through personal sales efforts. Carry a bag and even a small quota in order to stay on top of your game.

Inspect, Inspect, Inspect

As Salesforce and other CRM systems have increased their pervasiveness, the amount of data and potential insights available to leaders has increased exponentially. However, many sales managers have replaced good old-fashioned inspection with unwieldy data capture and report creation. The most successful leaders demonstrate the ability to have the right conversations at the right times with their teams. Sounds simple, correct? To some extent it is. However, the key is not in having conversations, but having the RIGHT conversations.  

The first part of RIGHT conversations is knowing the questions to ask.

  • What is the decision process being used by the organization? 
  • What pain points have they expressed?
  • How are we tailoring our value proposition to their needs?
  • What are the key dates in the process?

While many of these questions are laid out in text book after text book, leaders continuously fail to heed them. The first reason is that it is much easier to ask Yes/No Questions. Have you shared our value proposition? Yes! The second is the more you ask these questions, the more uncomfortable your team might become. Why? In many cases, they simply don’t have a good answer because they are avoiding the more meaningful conversations with your customers and prospects. To succeed, they must engage in these deep interactions. How you succeed as a leader is to inspect, inspect, inspect until you are comfortable that the team is having the RIGHT conversations at the RIGHT times.

Invest in Development

In some ways, evaluating sales success is easier than other company roles. Did a sales rep hit their quota? Yes – they get to continue. No – they get a warning or may even need to find work elsewhere. The problem with a pure quota-based evaluation system is that it often sacrifices long-term growth and ultimately higher levels of success for short-term goal obtainment.

Don’t get me wrong – I am not advocating for a system without quotas. Quotas, and the associated obtainment, play a critical role in a sales ecosystem. However, the ‘A’ player firing on all cylinders right out of the gate and over an extended period is rare – very rare. Continued success, and higher levels of success over time, requires a focused and detailed plan centered on a rep’s development.

Ask yourself:

  • What competencies do they need now, next year and five years from now?
  • What technical and product expertise is required to stay ahead of the game?
  • What softer sales skills will win with Customer X vs. Customer Y?

Much like successful leaders need to continue to train and “walk a mile” in the reps’ shoes, successful leaders need to make sure their team is training to not only run successfully in this mile, but the long hard miles that lie ahead.

Work and Ongoing Investment

In conclusion, successful sales leadership does not come easy. It takes work and ongoing investment on the part of the leader. It is a craft honed through years of continuous practice and active engagement. However, a commitment to development and putting the right activities into play on a weekly basis can go a long way in helping even the dullest of sales managers transform into the leaders their team needs.

If you are working on improving your sales leadership and driving broader sales transformation efforts, Fahrenheit Advisors has the skills and experience to support your business. Advisory experts with seasoned sales experience can help you identify the right opportunities, plan for success, and execute the right integration Contact us to learn more.

About the Author
Scott Wielar is a Managing Director at Fahrenheit Advisors with extensive experience in driving profitable revenue growth. Scott has a strong record of success for delivering top-line growth in start-up, rapid growth, and Fortune 500 companies. An innovative strategist with a strong results orientation, Scott has expertise in both identifying/capitalizing on new growth opportunities and developing the requisite infrastructure for delivery. Contact Scott.