Are sales leaders born or made? I believe it’s a little bit of both. Credible research shows that about 1/3 are born and 2/3 are made.
Leadership is critical to the success of every sales team. Unfortunately, sometimes a company will promote the best salesperson into leadership when they are better suited to their sales role. Just because they are good at selling, doesn’t necessarily mean they’re good at leading. Leading requires different skills than selling even though there are some overlaps, but they are used in a different context.
Over my years of selling, I’ve experienced the good, the bad and the ugly with sales leaders. I’d like to share four characteristics that I think are critical for being a strong and successful sales leader.
The first characteristic is the number one business skill needed today. Emotional Intelligence. Emotional intelligence as stated by Daniel Goleman is “the abilities to recognize and regulate the emotions in ourselves and others.” A strong sales leader has self-awareness of their strengths and non-strengths, and they know how to manage them. Part of emotional intelligence is having empathy for your people. It’s understanding from their perspective what’s going on in their world. Unfortunately, some sales leaders just look at the numbers without even trying to understand what’s going on in the life of their salespeople. When sales leaders are not listening to the challenges their people are having, they can’t defend them with upper management. I’ve seen so much turnover in sales over the years and many of the people let go could have been turned around given the proper time. Successful sales leaders know how to manage the relationships on their team leading to longevity instead of costly turnover.
The second characteristic is strong communication skills. Great sales leaders have balanced conversations. They are great at listening, which results in asking the right questions to address the important issues. It’s not just drilling into their forecast; it’s coaching their salespeople to elevate their skills. People learn from self-realization and not being told what to do. Asking your team members the right questions about their business, leads them to self-discovery, which leads to improvement. Sales leaders that communicate well also know how to motivate. They ask their people about their personal life – they know how important that is and how it effects their business. They energize and inspire people to own their business and the results they deliver. It’s a balance between talking and asking so they can read how their salespeople are feeling.
The third characteristic of great sales leaders is confidence. It’s about being decisive and making the right decisions. They also know if they make the wrong decision, they will admit it, and correct the situation. They’re not afraid to make a mistake. The fact is everyone makes mistakes. Mistakes are an opportunity to learn and grow. When leaders are confident, they don’t get defensive with their salespeople or upper management. They express their views, back up what they believe, and move forward having the best interest for their people. A confident sale leader also apologizes to their people when they make a mistake. They don’t make excuses or play politics. They are real and authentic in everything they do. When leaders are confident the salespeople have trust in them and are willing and eager to follow.
The fourth characteristic of great sales leaders, I believe, falls right in line with confidence, and that is humility. I believe humility is strength under control. Strong leaders know the difference between self-confidence and pride. They admit they’re not perfect and not always right. This all supports the other attributes we’ve talked about. Leaders with humility put others first, are responsible for all their actions and decisions and are grateful and thankful for what they have. That’s why it’s easy for their salespeople to trust them. They’re approachable and real. They are men and women of integrity.
When sales leaders have high emotional intelligence, strong communication skills, confidence, and humility, you will see great results. What every great sales leader desire is a team that has low turnover, great customer satisfaction, a high win ratio, a robust pipeline and more new business. That happens when the salespeople believe in their leader.
Good luck with your relationship selling!
©2021 Stu Schlackman