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Your organization’s sales success starts at the top with strong sales leadership.


What makes a good sales leader? John Maxwell has said, “A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.” That’s especially true in sales, and especially now as we endure disruption and shifts in the economy.


One stat I came across made the case for having strong sales leadership even more evident. HubSpot recently surveyed over 500 sales leaders and found 40% of them have missed revenue targets this year — a significant trend that can’t continue if their businesses are going to endure.


What is the differentiator between those sales leaders that hit the mark… those that not only survive, but thrive in this volatile environment? As I work with sales leaders and other organizational executives across the country, some common themes emerge around the competencies and skills needed for modern sales leaders.


In this article, I will share the capabilities that are attributed to great sales leadership.


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But first, let’s consider the difference between a sales manager, and a sales leader.


The basic difference is that a sales manager is responsible for the day-to-day activities of his or her sales team. A sales leader, on the other hand, has a broader role, setting the organization’s overall sales strategy. However, there is always overlap. The best sales leaders also are effective managers.


That’s why it is important to focus in on the capabilities of the sales role, more so than a title.


6 Critical Sales Leadership Capabilities


1. Sales leaders are visionary.


Creating a vision is a fundamental capability of all good leaders. Modern sales leaders can envision, build, and scale a successful sales program. They are always thinking of the big picture, and they can see beyond any ambiguity, chaos and disruption that the organization, industry, or world is experiencing. They establish the goal of the sales plan, and how they will accomplish it.  You can learn how leaders can craft a bold vision in this video.


2. Sales leaders are inspirational.

While sales can be a lucrative and rewarding career, it also requires a lot of grit and a growth mindset. A modern sales leader is a positive influence. They manage to stay inspired themselves, but they also inspire their team to reach their goals. They have a passion for their work that is infectious. As a result, those who follow inspirational sales leadership tend to be more committed, engaged, and successful employees.


3. Sales leaders are good coaches.

This goes hand in hand with being inspirational. “Coaching” is a term that made its way from athletic fields to business offices decades ago with the introduction of executive coaches. However, we hear more about a coaching approach being leveraged within business on a daily basis. And coaching is often celebrated as being superior to the practice of “managing.” A modern sales leader knows what motivates each individual member of their team and knows how to hold them accountable.  As someone in sales leadership role, you must make conscious decision that you want to devote time to coaching your team and make it a priority.


4. Sales leaders know how to navigate workplace politics.

Let’s be frank. Most of us loathe workplace politics, but they are impossible to avoid. Navigating them takes social skills, as well as sales and industry smarts—and the best sales leaders possess these skills in spades. They understand the obstacles that can get in the way of their team’s success, and they know when to step in to help remove those obstacles. In addition, they are expert at internal conflict resolution and internal deal making. Modern sales leaders have not only built their own social capital, but are willing to spend it on their team.


5. Sales leaders are willing to *not* be in the spotlight.

Often those who are in sales leadership were promoted to their position because they were exceptional individual contributors—driven, A-type personalities. But that trait does not always translate to success in a leadership role. As part of the transition to sales leadership, the former sales rockstars need to be willing to step out of the spotlight and instead learn help their team members cultivate the skills to thrive and shine.


6. Sales leaders are agile.

If we’ve learned anything over the last year, it is that businesses (and people) who are agile are more likely to survive, especially in times of disruption. A recent survey showed that 70% of sales managers say the ability to navigate change is more important now than it was five years ago. The most successful sales leaders showcase agility. They can filter through information and extract critical intelligence for their organization, team, prospects and clients. Another hallmark of agility is to reframe failure. This is especially important when you or your team members are learning new skills. An agile leader learns the lessons from the experience, sees them as data points, and uses them to improve.


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How to Improve Your Sales Leadership Capabilities


If you are ready to take your sales leadership skills to the next level, you can take these three steps.


1. Assess yourself.

How strong are your sales leadership capabilities? Are you honest about your own strengths and weaknesses as a sales leader? An objective assessment can help. (You can also assess your team’s skills and capabilities.)


2. Prioritize professional development.

The best sales leaders are always learning and growing. After you have a clear understanding of your capabilities, learn to develop those that require improvement. This can involve training provided by your organization, or an investment in yourself.


3. Start with one.

Take a look at the list above. Pick one of the sales leadership capabilities, and make a concerted effort to improve it within yourself.


Talk to Us About Your Sales Leadership Needs

There’s no better time than now to focus on sales leadership development. We can help you become a high-impact sales leader through our training program, consulting and sales assessment services. Let’s talk. Contact us to schedule time for a discovery conversation with Amy.

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