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Do you think top sales leaders are just good sales people who got promoted? Think again! Over the years I’ve worked with a number of very successful sales people who naturally assumed that the route to career development lay in becoming a sales leader, only to find out that it was the worst possible move for them personally. Those that had the courage to accept that management wasn’t for them and switched back to a pure sales role continued to be successful, but above all, remained happy and motivated.

While a successful track record in sales can be a qualifier for a sales leadership role, being a high-performing sales person doesn’t necessarily equate to being an effective sales leader.

So what are the 5 characteristics of top sales leaders?

1. Strategic

Gone are the days when success in sales equated to who could perform the most activity. In 2020 and beyond when competition is stiff across industries, sales leaders must be able to provide strategic direction to help their teams find success.

Influential sales leaders must be able to develop and implement sales strategies that empower their organisations to work at their highest levels. For both sales people and leaders alike the goal should be the same: to help customers solve their problems.

2. Thoughtful

Salespeople aren’t always popular or well-received by their potential customers; it’s a common perception that people see sales people as being pushy (One of the key elements of our EPIC Selling training programme is to introduce ideas that help sales people avoid coming across as pushy). This partially stems from previous generations of sales leaders who focused on constantly pushing for the sale.

In 2020, sales leaders need to take a more thoughtful approach to how they instruct their employees to navigate the sales process. Top sales leaders are big-picture thinkers who are constantly looking for ways to help others, whether they are helping their own prospects overcome an obstacle or helping the reps who report to them drive sales in an ethical manner. These leaders thoroughly understand how their organisation’s performance impacts the company as a whole, and are able to manage expectations at all levels while still focusing on results.

3. Analytical

Influential sales leaders must be able to interpret and draw conclusions from the data available to them.
For a long time, salespeople could get away with making sales calls all day without tracking their activities. Today, sales organisations are more metrics-driven and understanding their company data is very important for sales leaders. Sales leaders should use the data collected from their sales team to inform their business decisions.

4. Empathetic

When developing as a leader, it can be tempting to focus on the hard skills necessary to succeed on the job. After all, so far we have discussed the importance of being strategic and analytical as a sales leader. However, with sales being a people-centric field, it is important to focus on the importance of soft skills as well.

In a position of leadership, the ability to be empathetic can be a key driver of success. Empathy is the ability to understand and relate to the feelings of others, which is a must-have trait for effective sales leaders. While managing their teams, sales leaders should seek to understand the challenges their employees are experiencing when on the field, keeping these factors in mind as they develop and implement sales targets and strategies.

5. Servant leader

The most effective leaders aim to serve, not dictate. As a leader, you ultimately work for your team. Your job is to remove barriers that prevent your sales team from being successful.

Qualities of a servant leader include actively listening to your employees when they express their needs or provide feedback, prioritising the development of your team, and a commitment to keeping your employees informed when it comes to communicating important decisions that impact them.

How to Improve Sales Leadership Skills

Ready to take your leadership skills to the next level? Use these tips to become a stronger sales leader.

1. Ask for feedback.

Feedback is a valuable tool for professionals at all levels. If you want to improve your leadership skills, first you have to know what your strengths and opportunities are. One of the best ways to find out is to ask for feedback from your managers, direct reports, and peers.

Seek feedback from parties who will provide honest, thoughtful insights into your performance.

2. Seek coaching or mentorship.

Do you have a leader in your organisation or network who you really admire? Seeking a formal or informal mentorship with them can be beneficial for your development.

If they are open to mentoring you directly, establish how often you plan to meet and communicate what you would like to learn from them to receive their buy-in. As we mentioned above, feedback is an incredible tool when it comes to your professional development. An engaged coach or mentor can be a wonderful source for useful feedback.

3. Mentor and coach members of your team.

How much experience do you have managing a team? If you don’t have any, that’s ok; all leaders start somewhere. Just like you can benefit from receiving coaching and guidance, chances are a more junior member of your team can benefit from receiving coaching and guidance from you.

Practice your people management skills by offering to coach or support members of your own team (who are open to receiving it). Whether you volunteer to help onboard a new team member or serve as a sounding board for your peers, micro leadership opportunities can be available to you where you are.

Making the transition from sales person to sales leader isn’t easy, but there are skills and techniques that can be learned.

If you’d like to explore the potential of working with an experienced sales coach, then arrange a free exploratory call.

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