In a rapidly changing world, the success of your business may depend on one key factor: how effective the company’s sales leaders are.
Good sales leaders (vice presidents of sales) are simply more effective. In fact, high-performing sales leaders reported an overall average annual quota attainment of 105% compared to 54% for underperforming leaders, according to Harvard Business Review.
Yes, there are multiple ingredients in a recipe for success: your product value proposition, go-to-market plan, and strength of your sales training to name just a few.
But challenging economic times require a leader who has the agility and savvy to build and communicate the best action plan for the times.
An effective sales leader has the professional and personal qualities needed to guide their sales professionals through uncharted waters.
Key Characteristics of a Successful Sales Leader
You could argue that the sales profession has changed more in the last few years than during any other era. Virtual selling, changes in buyer behavior, and unstable market demands are just a few of the factors putting new pressures on sales professionals.
Sales leaders are no exception. The characteristics of effective sales executives are different now than they were just a few years ago.
Every sales professional knows that a good attitude can get you far. Above all, effective sales leaders should be passionate about their product and have a competitive drive.
But there are many other factors to consider. Here are the seven key traits of successful sales leaders.
1. Active Listener
Sales professionals, in general, need to be good listeners to build trust and rapport with buyers. The best sales presentations depend on listening to prospects and adapting the sales pitch to their concerns and needs.
Sales leaders must take active listening even further by listening to the C-suite and other company executives, prospects, salespeople, and existing customers.
Each of these groups has unique points of view on the product and the market as well as differing pains and challenges. Listening to each gives the sales leader insight into how the team can do a better job selling.
For example, feedback from current customers can reveal the use cases your sales team should promote from an “outsider’s” perspective. This input allows a sales leader to adjust business strategies and tactics to identify and qualify prospects more easily.
Listening to your sales force is also vital for any modern sales leader. Learning the common requests, problems, and successes of your sales professionals allows you to identify business trends, skills gaps, or other issues, adjust your sales approach, and build trust and rapport with your team.
2. Flexible and Agile
Flexibility and agility are key qualities of a high-performing sales leader. The pace of most markets, the arrival of competitors via mergers and acquisitions, new product releases (for software companies), and a host of other factors mean that sales leaders can not take a “once and done” attitude toward their strategy, tactics, sales process, or sales methodology.
A good sales team leader must be able to anticipate and respond quickly to change while planning based on known factors. Continuously analyzing and realigning your sales team’s approach as needed will build resilience and help maintain growth.
3. Analytic and Process-Driven
Effective sales leaders can gather and interpret the information they need to prepare the team and adapt to any situation. This means having the ability to calculate and compare data, predict trends, build forecasts, and adjust your sales strategy accordingly.
A process-driven and analytic team leader uses tools to their advantage to track and measure pipeline, deals in progress, and other KPIs to generate weekly, monthly, and quarterly sales reports.
A good sales leader starts with setting achievable short- and long-term quotas and other targets, then follows a repeatable process to achieve these goals.
4. Decisive and Authoritative
The best sales leaders are decisive and display their authority confidently. You need to be comfortable making major decisions for the company and taking responsibility for any repercussions, whether positive or negative.
The sales leader role is high pressure. You have the final say on hiring, firing, quotas, incentives, and many other critical aspects. At the same time, you must build the trust of your sales professionals to generate support for decisions.
Teamwork is a vital aspect of collaborative sales organizations. Every member should feel free to provide input and share feedback. A good sales team leader will encourage this while maintaining their authority.
Sales leaders who lose or erode this trust will suffer from disgruntled sales professionals who question decisions or lower morale in other ways. You must strike the right balance.
5. Resourceful and Organized
Organizational skills are vital for good sales leaders. As a sales leader, you must keep your sales force functioning as a cohesive unit.
Leaders must structure their sales organization efficiently and ensure that their sales process and workflow integrate efficiently with the company’s other teams.
Sales leaders operating with limited resources must also make the most of opportunities and assets.
The goal is to optimize the sales force’s productivity, but not at the expense of its performance. Being well-organized and resourceful will help ensure that each sales professional has what they need to succeed.
6. Focused and Motivating
The sales profession is not for the faint of heart. Effective sales leaders must be able to help sales managers motivate struggling team members as they face repeated rejection and buyer objections.
While you must hold your team to a particular standard, you must also recognize the stress sales professionals are under. Despite how hard they work, meeting their quota may be extraordinarily challenging. Sales professionals may also need more support toward the end of the quarter as they struggle to meet quotas.
A sales team must meet its quota, so you must hold your sales force accountable. However, you should motivate as well as scrutinize. A good sales leader should have the psychological insight to know what motivates each member of the team and the ability to roll these incentives out at scale.
7. Tech Savvy
Technology is the future of sales. Successful sales leaders will do their best to learn which tools will benefit their organization and implement those that streamline sales onboarding, sales training, prospecting, sales coaching, content management, and virtual selling.
It can be challenging to identify which technologies are the best to fit for an organization. Resources such as the Gartner and Forrester research guides are a good place to start when evaluating sales tools.
How To Be A Good Sales Leader
There are many ways to optimize team performance, promote efficiency, and foster synergy among your salespeople. Armed with the knowledge of what makes a high-quality sales team leader, the next step is finding ways to incorporate these vital attributes into your leadership style.
Support Your Team
As a sales team leader, one of the best things you can do for your sales force is to support them in their efforts. Taking a personal approach to each sales manager or other team member and showing them that you have their backs will motivate them and inspire trust in your decision-making.
Give And Request Feedback
Feedback is one of the most vital tools any leader has in its inventory. Coaching and providing constructive feedback to each sales manager will help them improve individual performance, skill development, and the overall success of your team.
Asking for feedback from your sales force will help you identify and improve any shortcomings and areas of improvement.
Keep A Positive Attitude
When it comes to sales, a negative attitude won’t get you anywhere. A prospective customer may find this attitude offputting and refuse to close a deal with you. Alternatively, a negative attitude could rub off on your team, lowering the results as a whole.
Maintaining a positive attitude will help sales professionals overcome rejection and the pain of lost deals. While you will never keep everyone happy, an overall positive outlook will help achieve better performance across the board.
Set Goals For the Sales Team
Setting goals for your sales team may be easier than you expect. Your company likely has a set of short- and long-term goals, along with a projected timeline in which they hope to accomplish these goals.
By aligning your team’s goals with the company’s, you can ensure that you control your growth and tie your company’s success to yours.
Define the Sales Strategy
Creating a sales strategy for positioning and selling your product or service is an essential responsibility of a sales leader. A sales strategy is a detailed plan to drive sales performance via new customer acquisition and/or expansion of current customers.
Sales strategy can include sales goals by business unit, target audience, product and/or other metric, buyer personas, and differentiation from your competitors. When you set a clearly defined path, your sales team will know exactly what they need to do to achieve company goals.
Rewards of Being a Good Sales Leader
Leading a sales team is no easy feat, but it is a rewarding and fulfilling role for any sales professional who has what it takes to climb the ranks and motivate and inspire their sales force.
To improve your sales team’s performance and create the next generation of leaders for your company, start with a solid foundation of sales training. With the right training, you can develop your salespeople into effective sales leaders and power long-term growth.
Let’s start a conversation.