Sales Leadership: Becoming A World-Class Sales Leader

Becoming A World-Class Sales Leader Requires Commitment to Developing Your Sales Leadership Skills Over Time

If you Googled sales leadership training programs a decade ago, you would have found perhaps a couple of pages worth of available programs. Most of those programs focused on how to coach a specific methodology like “How to Coach SPIN” or “How to Coach Consultative Selling.” They were very narrow in scope. None of those programs focused on developing the whole manager. They didn’t address all the critical capabilities required for success in sales leadership.

There is good news. The number of sales leadership training options has increased dramatically over the last several years. That is a reflection of the fact that our profession recognizes that sales leadership is the pivotal role. That lines up with my observations over the last couple of decades in the sales performance business.

The Pivotal Role

When I worked for Huthwaite, the creators of SPIN Selling, first as an AE, then as Global Account Director, then as VP of Enterprise Sales, I experienced firsthand the impact of capable sales leaders on an organization’s performance. We delivered excellent content, world-class facilitators, a smart engagement model — all the tools necessary for a great training experience and performance improvement — and our clients’ results were inconsistent. Some of our clients achieved fantastic results. They attributed tens of millions of dollars of increased sales directly to our training initiatives. Other clients had so-so results. They achieved only a temporary lift in enthusiasm for sales excellence but did not achieve measurable, sustained improvement.

Hindsight is 20/20. Looking back on all of those past engagements, the difference is crystal clear. The difference was the commitment of sales leadership to coaching and to continual improvement. The organizations that demonstrated improvement and better sales results over time had sales leaders committed to coaching, reinforcing, integrating, and supporting the adoption of new skills. Plain and simple.

What Have We Learned?

Despite the increase in the number of sales leadership training programs available, I’ve observed the majority of new sales leaders today are still not fully equipped and enabled to lead, motivate, influence, think strategically, or take on the tasks of sales leadership all that effectively.

I suspect it is because the people being promoted or those who are responsible for promoting, supporting, and enabling them are not exactly sure where to start when it comes to sales leadership training. My first recommendation is to start somewhere. Any training, coaching, or support for sales leaders is better than none.

Where Should You Start?

“Do we start with basic coaching skills? Should we focus on developing softer skills like listening, showing empathy, improving emotional intelligence? Or should we teach our sales leaders first how to use data to make decisions, find root causes of performance problems, and identify new opportunities?”

Naturally, the answer to where to start is, “It depends.” Since sales performance rises and falls with the commitment and effectiveness of sales leadership, making a decision about how to build and strengthen your own or a new or newly promoted sales leader’s skills can feel like a complex, make-or-break sort of decision. It just might be.

How does an organization equip its sales leaders to execute effectively? How can an organization prepare a new or newly promoted sales leader to master the strategies and tactics of leading?

Answering those questions is simpler when you know which common sales leadership problems or opportunities to address. Based on my experience focusing on sales leadership development for the last dozen years, I put together a simple list.

Top 10 Sales Leadership Development Opportunities

Following are ten important and common development opportunities for you to consider as you decide where to start on your sales leadership training journey:

1. Establishing Your Sales Operating Rhythm

Committing to and maintaining a predictable operating rhythm for your sales team may be the single most important thing you can do as a sales leader. This is the best way to solve the problem so many of us sales leaders articulate, “I don’t have enough time to do important things well.”

2. Achieving Coaching Excellence

Learning and applying the principles of effective coaching and increasing your impact as a coach is critical to your team’s success. If the sales team is not continually improving, what does that tell you about the effectiveness of coaching?

3. Deciding Who to Coach & When

Prioritizing your coaching time will help you maximize the payoff of coaching. Do you coach every member of the sales team the same way or get the same amount of attention? Is that fair? Is that effective?

4. Prioritizing Your Pipeline

Focusing on the early stages of your business pipeline will maximize your impact on the quality of your pipeline and on your team’s effectiveness. What might you need to change to shift your attention toward this most crucial part of the pipeline?

5. Aligning Sales with Go-To-Market Strategy

Understanding and clarifying your company’s Go-to-Market will ensure your team identifies and pursues the right opportunities for your business. Does your team understand what the right opportunities look like or why those are the right opportunities?

6. Leading with Influence

Understanding and applying methods that positively influence your team’s behavior will help you motivate your sellers to take appropriate and effective action. What must you change in order to positively and consistently affect your team’s behavior?

7. Using Data to Guide Sales

Identifying the data points that are needed to evaluate your team’s performance will help you diagnose and address critical performance issues and opportunities. What are you missing right now that could make your diagnosis more accurate, more complete?

8. Creating Value and Building Trust

Helping your team identify and address unseen opportunities, helping them find new ways to achieve their desired outcomes, and being reliable, competent, and other-focused are the hallmarks of great sales leaders. How can you deliver more value and build greater trust with your team?

9. Communication: Setting Clear Expectations

Setting clear expectations makes it possible to establish an environment in which sellers feel empowered to do their jobs effectively and also to hold them accountable when they don’t. Does your team fully understand what is expected of them? Are you sure? How do you know?

10. Building Your Executive Presence

Solidifying and strengthening your executive presence will serve to inspire those you lead. Do you project confidence and the sort of presence that makes your team want to follow you? (You can read more about the mindset of great sales leaders and how virtuous leadership strengthens your executive presence in The Divine Comedy of Sales: The Sales Manager’s Guide to Virtuous Leadership.)

The list of 10 common sales leadership development opportunities above is a good start. These are examples of what to train and coach. In subsequent posts, I will dive into the how. As we used to say at Huthwaite…

“It’s not always the ‘what’ that matters most, but the ‘how’ always matters!”

An Opportunity For You

Does one or more of the top 10 sales leadership development opportunities resonate with you? If yes, you can assess how important these development opportunities may be for you or your team.

Get an objective view of how you compare to the best sales leaders by taking a quick, free assessment. The Sales Leadership Assessment will take approximately 10 minutes to complete. It will give you a read on which of these top sales leadership development opportunities are highest priority for you.

Since 2010, United Sales Resources has provided sales leadership coaching and advisory services to small, mid-market, and large enterprises globally. Thank you for visiting our blog to get to know us better. We are interested in you, as well. Please contact us anytime to ask a question, offer feedback on our content, or to have a conversation about what you are trying to achieve.