Leadership Development icon
Leadership Development

Key skills of successful sales leaders and how to foster them

Topics covered in this article

Your sales team is integral to your organization, so it's critical you make sure they are in good hands. Part of the challenge is that great salespeople don't automatically make great sales leaders.

Your sales team is integral to your organization. They are the fuel that drives your business forward, so it's critical you make sure they are in good hands. Easier said than done as many organizations have discovered. On average, sales VPs only make it between 24 to 32 months before leaving their position. And that timeline is shrinking. 

Part of the challenge is that great salespeople don't automatically make great sales leaders. This makes it difficult to rely on past performance to determine who to promote to a management position. Yes, you want someone who can relate to sales personnel with a sales record their team can respect, but there are core skills anyone you bring into a leadership position must possess. 

Leadership skills testing can help you identify someone with potential. But, even if your top sales professionals are weak in some areas, there are ways you can help them add new leadership capabilities to their talent stack and grow those they already exhibit. 

Coaching capabilities

Great sales people know their strengths and how to play to them. Great sales leaders know how to see strengths in others and how to help them overcome their weaknesses. They’re able to guide people as they outline goals and lay out a path to reach those goals. Even if that path looks different from their own. 

How to Spot It

Individuals who are willing to advocate for their team members, have the potential to be excellent coaches. They should have a knack for seeing beyond the day-to-day to uncover any barriers that may get between an individual and their goals. Good coaches will also be accommodating, but not so much that they aren’t able to push people to move beyond those barriers. 

How to Foster It

If you see seeds of these coaching capabilities in an individual you’re considering for a leadership role, ask them to mentor new hires as they join the team. Pair them with a mentor of their own and help them acquire some of the hard skills they need in this area with goal-setting training. Set them up for success after they move into a leadership position with insights that help them understand the individual thinking styles, interests, and coaching preferences of everyone on their team. 

Desire to take command and drive results

75 percent of high-performing sales managers make it a priority to measure the performance of their sales people. And they hold everyone accountable to their numbers. They are able to both set these target numbers and motivate everyone to hit them. 

How to Spot It

Individuals who possess the skills necessary to motivate teams toward a goal are often more deliberate decision makers. They take the time to understand all the factors before determining the way forward. Once the decision is made, they tend to move quickly.  Look for thoughtful people who work best in faster-paced environments. The ability to take command may also present as self-discipline and a tendency to hold themselves and their team to a higher standard. 

How to Foster It

Even if your sales leaders have the desire to take command, you must empower them to ensure success. They crave data that helps them understand how their team is performing. Give them access to that data and the authority to make decisions based on what they find. 

Balanced sales intuition

In some areas of business, teams can easily be led by people who don’t necessarily share practical skills with the people on their team. Sales is different. Sales leaders are going to be much more successful if they possess both the intuition of a successful sales practitioner and the strategic thinking of a leader.

How to Spot It

Figures are naturally one way to determine if a person has good sales intuition. A sales leader, however, has to bring more nuance to their skill set. They'll be able to rely on their gut to make decisions when the situation requires it. But, when it comes to long-term thinking, the right candidate will be able to check their gut against the data and their experience. 

How to Foster It

Anyone you’re considering for a sales leadership position likely already has a good handle on their sales intuition. Help them to balance what they feel with what they know by keeping them informed about the strategic direction of the larger organization as well as the state of the industry. Connect them with other leaders in the organization who can help them apply this knowledge to a long-term plan. 

Sales is unique in that some of the more mindful, collaborative aspects of leadership can be at odds with the competitive, intuitive nature of sales. Leaning into the right skills and understanding which are best suited for the role you’re hiring for can help you spot and nurture the right candidates for your organization.