7 qualities sales leaders must have to get promoted to the big leagues

Big numbers alone won’t guarantee you a management position.

7 qualities sales leaders must have to get promoted to the big leagues

You’re a stellar salesperson—you nearly always exceed your quotas, your numbers are the highest on the team and your employee evaluations are top notch. That should make you a great manager when that promotion comes around, right?

Maybe not.

You have to be more than just a great salesperson to lead a great sales team. In an article for the Harvard Business Review, Steve W. Martin, who teaches sales strategy at the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business, wrote that excellent managers tend to lead excellent teams.

Martin’s research uncovered seven qualities found in the best sales leaders. Monster reached out to Martin and other experts on sales leadership to learn their best advice on honing each one.

Always keep your eye on the prize

Quality: Target fixation

How to enforce it: The best sales managers know how to keep their teams focused and moving forward, even in bad times, to meet their goals—a quality that Martin labeled “target fixation.”

“Sales leaders can develop target fixation by consistently reinforcing goals and objectives, and recognizing and celebrating progress along the way,” says Ryan Estis, a Minneapolis-based speaker and business consultant who frequently works with sales teams.

A good way to propel your team forward to meet numerical goals is by identifying the value they provide to customers, says Lisa Earle McLeod, author of Selling with Noble Purpose and a sales leadership expert with McLeod & More in Atlanta. Highlight how customers are using the product and how it’s improving their businesses. “Get your team rallied that way,” McLeod says, “and they’ll outsell the competition every time.”

Inspire your team to perform

Quality: Command instinct

How to enforce it: High-performing managers exercise clear control by consistently measuring results and holding their team members accountable, while also praising them when they go above and beyond.

Giving your team something to believe in that’s interesting and compelling can help you maintain command, McLeod says. Rather than turning every customer into a number, have your sales force focus on how many customers’ lives they need to improve, and get them emotionally involved.

The best way to test whether a leader has a real command is to watch what team members do when the boss is away, McLeod says. If they push on and make the extra calls when you’re not around, it’s a good sign that you’re motivating them the right way.

Know how to spot talent

Quality: Hiring ability

How to enforce it: A skilled leader will know how to hire quality talent. When looking to hire the best salespeople, you need to seek out obvious qualities such as past performance, ability to meet quotas and persuasiveness, but also the desire to serve others, McLeod says. “They might be excited about your company and be excited about the work, but they need to be excited about the customers,” she says.

Another way to hire the best is to remember that people don’t tend to buy from someone they don’t like, so find likable people for your team.

Use the BBQ test, Martin tells Monster. “Would you invite the candidate over to your house with all your family, friends and colleagues on a Saturday afternoon?”

Understand your buyers

Quality: Sales intuition

How to enforce it: Great sales leaders have strong practical knowledge of how sales cycles work and are able to effectively share tactical sales advice and add value during customer meetings.

Sales intuition may come naturally for some, but it also can be developed. Too many salespeople focus on the transaction, but to improve your intuition, you need to focus on customer impact, McLeod says.

“How does the customer think? Why do they buy from me? What effect will this have on the buyer? Will it make them look good?” she says. “Thinking this way is changing your brain circuitry and how you think.”

Have a solid playbook

Quality: Control orientation

How to enforce it: Sales managers who monitor and strictly enforce a sales process are more likely to exceed their quotas.

“Create standards of excellence and a sales identity that everyone can buy into and replicate with a high degree of consistency,” Estis says. Have a sales process playbook that guides day-to-day activity; have the courage to hold people accountable to the sales standards; and check in regularly to coach your team and move them in the right direction.

Be able to lead all types of personalities

Quality: Coaching adaptability

How to enforce it: A good sales leader knows there are different styles of selling that can be successful, so different salespeople need different types of coaching. 

One way to learn this skill is to observe managers and their interactions with their team members, McLeod says. You need to learn why people are good at their jobs—or why they’re not—so you can tailor your coaching style for the individual.

“Great sales leaders support their people and help them get to where they want to go,” Estis says. “Invest in people. Demonstrate you genuinely care and are committed to their success. Remove barriers to success and check in regularly.”

Plan for the present by looking to the future

Quality: Strategic leadership

How to enforce it: A sales leader must be able to devise sales strategies that maximize revenue and beat the competition.

To show your boss that you can think strategically, get together with senior leaders and executives and have a discussion about the industry, where it’s going and the competitive landscape for you and your customers, McLeod suggests. “Talk about how your actions fit in with the company’s future and not just about your sales for the next quarter,” she says. 


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