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Remember when 2020 seemed so far away? It was the distant future, one that we’ve been imagining, projecting, and predicting about for the past several decades.

What trends would shape our industry? Which skills for sales leadership would rise to the top as the most critical? What would the talent picture look like and how would it affect our organizations?

The future is now. We’re at the doorstep of 2020. But we need to be looking well beyond it, to continue learning about the forces that will shape our sales organizations and the talent economy at large.  As I travel the country and meet with sales leaders and other organizational executives, some common themes emerge around the competencies, skills, and resources needed for modern sellers and modern sales leaders.

This list of skills for sales leaders below is by no means exhaustive, but it will expand your idea generation as you build out your sales organization. I cover these themes and more in my book, The Modern SellerI also recommend these two reports for additional research on the future of sales leadership and sales enablement:  McKinsey and Company’s What the Future Science of B2B  Sales Growth Looks Like and CSO Insights’ Sales Enablement Grows Up: 4th Annual Sales Enablement Report.


Harvard Business Review defines agility as rapid, continuous learning from experience.  Modern sellers grow and leverage agility to help the customers create a competitive advantage. By doing that, they become differentiators. How do you know if your teams are agile? Agile sales professionals and sales leaders seek continuous feedback, are always curious, easily navigate ambiguity, and aren’t afraid to try bold ideas. Consider agility an integral asset. This is not only a top skill for sales leaders, but for leaders of all types.

Learn more about agility in modern sellers here.

“Stratactical” Thinking

In The Modern Seller, I talk about the need for thought leaders to be both strategic and tactical. “Stratactical,” if you will.

Two other things that are great on their own, but even better when combined in a modern selling toolkit. Being stratactical is being part thought leader, part strategic thinker,

and part tactician. This combination matters because to become that differentiator to your customer’s business, that competitive advantage, it requires you to

  • Create fresh new ideas and insights that come with an outside perspective and deep knowledge of their industry.
  • Draw connections from those new ideas to strategies that align with your customers’ priorities.
  • Turn those ideas and connections into specific actions that could create demand for your product or service, or help your customer create demand for their product or service.

Stratactical thinking is part of the  entrepreneurial skillset of the modern seller.


It’s not about how many times you get knocked down. It’s about how many times you get back up again. In modern selling, we need to be able to take risks – knowing that even the best laid plans need flexibility and room for mistakes. It takes an average of 18 calls to actually connect with a buyer and only 24 percent of sales emails are opened. Tenacity matters.

Those who view failure as data points are the most successful. They see success and failure on a continuum and not as absolutes – that helps them to bounce back from mistakes and to not rest on past successes. Take and inventory of what you’ve learned,  and use that to improve on what’s next.

Developing resilience is part of the holistic skillset of the modern seller.

Social Capital 

To get significant things accomplished, nothing will help you more than a strong, deep network.

There are few places where that’s more apparent than in sales. When we focus on investing in strategic relationships, we forge a strong reputation, driving results personally and in our business. The people and organizations that understand the true value of social capital are among the highest performing.

Social networks also bind us to one another in ways that elevate engagement, and bring more satisfaction to our work than without them. A must for the sales leader of 2020.

Learn more about the social skillset of the modern seller.

To delve deeper into more strategies and skills for modern selling, pick up a copy of The Modern Seller.


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