Sales leaders have a tremendously difficult job. Essentially, they have multiple layers in which they must report to and are responsible to, including executives, the Board of Directors, their peers across the organization, and especially their team of sales professionals. The work of a sales leader is regularly examined and debated, and almost everyone across the organization—including those with little to no sales experience—have an opinion on sales processes, geographical selling boundaries, and even on target quota compensations.
A recent Salesforce.com article shared that one of the best definitions of leadership, as applied to sales, comes from former president Dwight D. Eisenhower. Eisenhower described leadership as “the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because HE wants to do it.”
It’s no wonder sales leaders are cut from a unique cloth and have many characteristics that set them apart from the pack. These individuals have thick skin, determination, and an aptitude for relationship building and creating value both internally and externally. But there is a subset of sales leaders who are even more unique, who are truly leaders and who inspire others daily while also delivering to the needs of the customer and to the organization. However, developing and identifying these traits in others isn’t always an easy task. In this article, we’ll share what we believe are the top 6 traits of today’s high impact sales leaders, and why:
1. They Regularly Hold 1:1 Coaching Sessions
Investing in their team of sales professionals is their number one priority. Between pulling reports, meeting with peers and company executives, and preparing for weekly updates, it’s easy for sales leaders to lose focus on the day-to-day operations of sales. However, coaching team members and helping them improve their messaging, discovery process, and follow-up strategy should be of utmost importance. Sales leaders that continually invest in their teams on a regular (read: weekly) basis are able to identify trends among prospects, refine messaging points, and help sales professionals not just handle objections, but proactively address them.
2. They Underpromise and Overdeliver
Managing expectations is an art that high impact sales leaders have tirelessly learned from experience. Under promising doesn’t mean that a sales leader should hold himself to a lower level of success or strive for a less aggressive quota target or minimize a prospect’s needs. Rather, he should approach situations of all kinds—whether brought into a conversation with a prospect, a current customer, or even upper management—with facts and data, and not aggressive promises.
Similarly, sales leaders have to rely on many other departments in order to effectively deliver to a prospect or customer, including Marketing, Product, Services, Customer Success and so on. High impact leaders don’t put words in other departments’ mouths, but strive to set true expectations and then do whatever in their power to deliver above and beyond the scope. For example, rather than promising a new feature to a high-value prospect by the following quarter just to get their signature, he could share the product roadmap and build excitement about current features while working behind the scenes with the sales professional and the Product team to surprise and delight the prospect with the requested feature.
3. They Always Put People > Processes
This point is so fundamental to a sales leader and the wisdom that he instills into his sales professionals that we created an entire blog series dedicated to this point. Sales professionals are often seen as money hungry individuals who will do anything to get a deal across the finish line. However, we know from our experience working with many sales individuals of all levels that almost without exception, those in enterprise sales have a very high degree of integrity and consistently earn trust by putting others’ interests above their own.
While sales can be a very lucrative career, those that add significant value to their stakeholders are often highly regarded not just in their own organization, but across their entire prospect and customer base. Learn firsthand how several unsung heroes approach complex, enterprise sales and win by putting people > processes.
4. They Frequently Interface With Prospects and Customers
Effective sales leaders spend a significant amount of their time focused on prospect and customer interactions. Whether sitting in on initial discovery calls, assisting with proposal conversations, or flying onsite to meet with current customers, they understand that they need to be involved in the day-to-day sales processes. This allows them to truly understand what messaging and features prospects and customers are ‘clicking’ with and what’s not resonating.
In addition, sales leaders build credibility to both the prospect and customer and to their own team of sales professionals by interfacing with those outside of the organization’s walls. All too often, sales leaders opt to let their team handle meetings and onsites while they play more of a management role, but those that are involved in the daily grind not only have more of an appreciation for the work their team does, but can also better coach the sales professionals.
5. They Tell Stories With Data and Insights
In Paul Smith’s book entitled “Sell With a Story”, Paul explains that storytelling packs the emotional punch to turn routine presentations into productive relationships.
[Selling with a story] explains products or services in ways that resonate; it connects people and creates momentum. Stories speak to the part of the brain where decisions are made.”
Even though Paul’s book is oriented to those selling externally to prospects, the principal also rings true when sales leaders share learnings and metrics internally to provoke change. While KPIs are extremely fundamental to sales success, they need to be compelling and need to lead to a memorable narrative. The best sales leaders are able to determine the right metrics to track and then use those metrics to share stories of success and learning among team members, peers, and even to executives and Board members. It’s from those stories that real change can come about as it pertains to the sales process and to the sales team’s methodology as a whole.
6. They Make Constant Iterations to the Sales Process
Truly, sales velocity, along with the factors that influence it, is the ultimate KPI as it pertains to enterprise selling. Sales leaders understand that the more positive movement a sales team can create, the stronger the month, the quarter, and the year will be. High impact sales leaders know that they need to quickly make adjustments on-the-fly in order to affect the current month, quarter, or even year’s sales velocity.
In practice, this type of approach is referred to as an “agile sales methodology” in which teams are constantly aware of which questions are being asked and when, which sales professionals are excelling in their roles, and at which point in the process deals go to die. Sales leaders utilizing this effective methodology are constantly identifying best practices and are integrating small changes into the sales process so the entire team can benefit—and all activities can be measured and reviewed in real-time by the sales manager or other hands-on executives.
Ready to Learn More?
For more information on best practices of great sales leaders, check out the Costello resources below. If you’d like to see Costello in action, request a personalized demo of our agile deal management platform.