A sales leader is the motor oil of the engine we call a company. Qualified sales leaders hold their teams together. They keep it working smoothly and bring efficiency into a business. Moreover, quality sales leadership gives way to an improved quality of the sales organization.
Sales leaders or sales managers have a huge impact on the morale of the sales team. The same is seen in this recent research conducted by Steve W Martin for Harvard Business Review. According to this study, 69% of salespeople who exceeded their annual quota rated their managers as excellent or above average.
But, what does a sales leader actually do? What is his role in an organization? And what is the importance of a sales leader in a sales team?
The answers to these questions still seem a little blurry. This blog aims to clear out that blur. Read on to know what a sales leader is all about and what are the characteristics of a good sales leader.
A sales leader is more than just someone who motivates his team. Sales leadership has long since crossed the era where all that a sales leader had to do was stand up on a podium and give motivational speeches.
A sales leader doesn’t just manage people. He manages their talents and abilities. He knows how to utilize his team’s and his talents wisely.
A major role of a sales leader is to help his team achieve their goals and bring results. Sales leaders today are expected to be observational, ready to learn and experiment, flexible, ready to adapt to changing situations, competitive and understanding.
Moreover, a good sales leader does not just give orders to his team but gets down into the field and works along with them, side by side. A good sales leader leads the team in such a way that makes his team want to follow him.
It is like this quote from famous American Author and motivational speaker, Kenneth Blanchard says,
The Key to successful leadership today is influence. Not authority.
THE CHARACTERISTICS OF A QUALIFIED SALES LEADER
1. A good sales leader is system driven and not target driven.
In James Clear’s book, ‘Atomic Habits’, he has said that as a society we are very outcome-driven. We are very focused on the outcome of our actions.
If a salesperson achieves his quota he is successful, if he does not achieve his quota he is not successful. If a cricketer hits a century he is a good batsman, if he does not score a run, he is not a good batsman.
However, this is not always true.
According to James Clear, goals and outcomes are important, but only for giving us direction. Sometimes, when we are singularly focused on reaching an outcome, we don’t work very efficiently in that activity because all of our focus is towards winning that deal and not the activities that are important to do for us to win that deal.
What is more important than the outcome, is what you are doing to reach that outcome. What habits you set, what kind of a system you adopt, how you train yourself is much more important.
Goals and outcomes are about the results you want to achieve. Systems are about the processes that lead to those results. – James Clear.
Let me give you an example of this.
Remember our badminton gold medalist, PV Sindhu? When she won a gold medal for India, all of our attention was driven towards her victory. Very few of us took time to think about what kind of rigorous training she had to put herself through to be able to achieve that victory.The goal in badminton, like any other sport, is to finish with the best score, but it would be absolutely ridiculous to just keep staring at the scoreboard. The only way you can actually win is by being good at the game. And the only way to be good at a game is by practising and getting better at it with each passing day.
Sales reps don’t need a leader whose only job is to remind them to achieve their quota. There are so many others who are always on the go to do that. People need a leader who mentors them on how to reach their destination. They need someone more focused on the system than on the outcome; someone, who takes into account their efforts and can guide them in the process.
A good sales leader, instead of obsessing over the numbers, prioritizes setting a good system and measuring the efficiency of that system. Qualified sales leaders believe that if sales reps follow the right system a favourable outcome becomes obvious.
2. A good sales leader is a good coach.
There is a difference between a trainer and a coach.
A trainer tells you what to do, but a coach helps you figure out for yourself what to do.
Trainers can give you a plan to follow. But, a coach gives you the ability to form your own plan according to your strengths, weaknesses and objectives.
A coach doesn’t give you straight up answers or commands you to do something in a particular way. They help you in the process of finding answers.
Coaching isn’t just a skill, it is a mindset. Coaching isn’t something that is learned after sitting through a 2-hour seminar. It is a mindset change that is brought in a person through listening and questioning.
Coaching creates a trustworthy environment, where salespeople can openly work on their weaknesses rather than being judged for them.
A good definition of coaching is given by John Whitmore, the author of ‘Coaching for performance’.
He has said …
“Coaching is unlocking a person’s potential to maximize their own performance, helping them to learn rather than teaching them.”
And this is how a good sales leader is almost always a good coach as well.
A good sales leader enables the salesperson to find the answers on his own. He enables the salesperson to find fitting solutions to problems on his own so that someday in the future the salesperson can continue growing and improving without his help.
3. Qualified sales leaders act as the CIO – Chief Inspirational Officer.
CIO in the corporate world usually stands for Chief Information Officer, someone who is in charge of dealing with most of the IT decisions in an organization.
The CIO abbreviation that I have come up with to define a qualified sales leader has nothing to do with IT and everything to do with inspiring their sales team.
A Chief Inspirational Officer holds the ability to inspire and motivate people. CIOs empower their sales teams and help them clear their biases.
A good sales leader in my opinion is a CIO.
No salesperson wishes to work under a sales leader who is always negative or criticizing. Uninspiring and negative leaders can be a hazard to the team as well as the organization. In fact, statistics from Forbes state that the probability of being rated in the bottom 10% on productivity increases by 93% under an uninspiring sales leader.
The requirement for motivation in the sales field is very high. According to an IBM study of over 1,700 CEOs in 64 countries, the ability to inspire was one of the top three leadership traits.
Every salesperson hits highs and lows in their sales career. It is the responsibility of a sales leader to acknowledge the sales reps’ achievements and objectively provide feedback and coach sales reps on the areas of improvement.
Sales leaders should be CIOs ( Chief Inspirational Officers). Having a conversation with them should inspire and motivate the sales reps. They should create an environment where their sales team without any hesitancy can approach them when they are feeling like they have hit a wall.
One of the core skills for a sales leader should be to inspire their teams to work towards being the best version of themselves. They need to challenge and motivate their teams to raise their bar.
Theodore Roosevelt, Ex-president of the US had this famous quote…
“ People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”
I believe that that’s the most fundamental lesson in leadership.
A successful sales leader follows this to the T. He believes that the reason he is a leader is so that he can manage difficult situations for his sales team. When things are going well, sales reps can themselves do all the work.
In the current era, people don’t give their best performance with the stick and carrot approach. They give their best performance when they are inspired and feel motivated to come to work and are surrounded by mentors and colleagues who create a positive environment around them.
4. Good sales leaders are role models of selling .
At a macro level in B2B sales, there are two roles for sales reps; an individual contributor (a salesperson) and a sales leader ( the person who leads the team of salespeople)
Every sales leader has been an individual contributor at one point. But, not all individual contributors end up in the position of a sales leader.
Though a sales leader’s job profile doesn’t include selling, it includes a lot of sales management.
Just like you cannot be a good cricket coach if you never were a good cricketer, you cannot be a good sales leader without being a good sales rep.
If you don’t have the expertise in solving sales problems for yourself how can you solve problems for other salespeople?
We always look for a role model who can make our journey easy and simple
Sales reps look up to their sales leaders as role models and aspire to take their position at some point in time. However, if sales leaders can’t demonstrate sales skills or knowledge on their own it is difficult to earn the right to be a role model.
Mahatma Gandhi had said
“ Be the change you want to see”
Your team will follow you if you walk the talk and become a role model for your team.
5. Qualified Sales leaders are objective about their feedback.
A sales leader’s job is to coach people, and you cannot be a good coach if you have a judgemental attitude. If you hold judgements and biases over people, you might become prone to treating them based on these biases and not on their actual strengths and weaknesses.
A qualified sales leader is highly data-driven. Instead of judging people, a good sales leader will focus on the metrics of the coaching and mentor the team based on these metrics.
Good coaches focus on these tools. They coach their team members based on facts and data rather than judgements and biases.
Apart from being metric focused, good sales leaders also make it a point that they provide objective feedback. Their feedbacks have a clear connection between actions and their outcomes. This feedback helps sales reps gain more clarity and overall encourages them to do their job well.
The feedback received from good sales leaders feels less like criticism and sounds more like advice. Good sales leaders never try to put their sales reps down or bully them. They lead with empathy, learning, and patience.
6. Good leaders treat leadership as a privilege and not power.
My parents’ generation worked for basic livelihood. My generation works for luxury and a better standard of living. And the generation following me is working for passion and a holistic lifestyle. GenZ’s parents have taken care of their basic livelihood and standard of living. To be a good sales leader you need to understand that you cannot dominate or bully people to get them to perform as the market has plenty of opportunities for good salespeople.
Winston Churchill, former prime Miniter of the United Kingdom had this famous quote
“With great power comes great responsibility”
At times you come across leaders who mistake their position for power instead of responsibility.
And if you think about your designation as the position of power, there is a chance for your ego to kick in. Leadership might do that to some people. However not everybody turns into an egoistic dictator, but a few of them might end up taking their position for granted and use it to put people down. That’s why there is this saying that people never leave bad companies, they leave bad bosses.
A good sales leader does not think of leadership as a power. He thinks of it as an opportunity given to him to help others, to help them grow.
A good leader isn’t he who sits on his chair and throws out orders to his reportees. A good leader rolls up his sleeves and leads the way in the field.
Sales Leadership is a huge responsibility. It’s a role that gives you the opportunity of shaping someone’s life. So a true measure of a good sales leader is how successful the team under them is.
In this evolving world, only those leaders who take leadership as a privilege, as a duty and an honour are recognized as good leaders.
Ralph Nader, a political activist said,
The function of leadership is to produce more leaders, not followers.
I believe the same.
A good sales leader is of utmost importance for any sales organization. A sales leader creates strategy, builds systems, sets metrics, inspires the sales team to do their best work. Without good sales leadership, it is impossible to build a good sales culture. Being a leader is a privilege, treat it with utmost care and sincerity. It is an opportunity to shape people’s lives and create value at scale.
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