A sales leader has to be a coach, cheerleader, and taskmaster all rolled into one.
Sure, hitting targets is at the top of every sales leader’s agenda. But in order to do that, you have to focus on your team as a whole, individual team members, processes, and on how you continue to develop as a leader.
You have to be willing to work harder for your team than they work for you. You have to show up every day as someone they can look to for guidance and motivation.
That’s what a leader is.
It’s a tough gig. And not every great salesperson makes a great leader.
Now, while there’s no fixed formula on how to be a great sales leader, there are certain sales lessons that can serve us all. But hopefully, these 10 tips will make your life a little easier.
1. You work for your team (Not the other way around)
Leadership isn’t just about showing up and telling your team what needs to be done.
If that were true, there wouldn’t be sales leaders—the CEO could just put a to-do list and watch the profits pour in.
People are not automatons. Each person is unique, and they respond differently to different motivations.
It’s your job to figure out what makes them tick, what drives them, who they are as a person, what their strengths and weaknesses are… and then tailor your leadership style to individually suit each one of them.
It’s your job to help them be the best damn salesperson (and all-around professional) that they can be.
Yes, it’s a lot more involved and intense than pure sales, but that’s what a sales leader needs to do.
You work for them, not the other way around. Show that commitment, and they’ll stick with you through thick and thin.
2. Show, don’t tell!
Your reps are going to follow what you do. So what good is it if you pop up in a video chat with your reps once in a while only to give orders?
Be eager to demonstrate your sales skills in front of reps–particularly prospecting.
Pick up the phone and show the skills you want your team to pick up.
Show them the energy you want them to bring.
Demonstrate your own commitment to goals and timelines.
Be the leader that puts in the work to close deals, and you’ll give them an example they can emulate.
3. Build your leadership skills every day
Becoming a sales leader is not the end of the journey.
Being a good leader means improving as a leader every day.
The things that you dwell upon grow and expand in your personality and manifest in your daily experience.
Therefore, study the qualities of effective leadership (you have a wealth of knowledge to draw from). By dwelling on them continually, you will wind up programming these qualities into your own personality and behaviour.
You learn these qualities by practicing them in your daily activities as a person and as a leader in your organization. You become more of a leader by thinking the same way that top leaders think.
It doesn’t happen in one day, and it takes time, practice, and continuous readjustment. You have to continuously hone your skills in your field (which is sales and leadership).
4. Have an organized sales process
A sales leader must have a documented sales process.
Establish what makes an ideal sales experience—one that clients enjoy, value, and want to repeat. No sales leader should just expect salespeople to figure things out on their own, especially new hires.
Your star performers may deviate from your process as they learn more, and that’s OK. Part of being an expert is knowing the rules and knowing when to break them. But having a documented process will prevent you from having to train each rep individually as they try and figure it out.
Having an organized process also enables your reps to understand how their work impacts the other areas of the business, giving your reps a much-needed wide-angle lens.
And everything moves smoother: reps ramp faster,, communication and coordination are easier, cross-team collaboration actually happens,, and you’ll be better equipped to find, navigate, and close deals.
5. Bring EVERYONE up
It is the sales leader’s responsibility to help everyone in their team improve.
It won’t cut it to just have a few rockstars on the team.
You need to focus on the B- and C-players and help them become better salespeople. What you really need to have is a good coaching culture. Your reps should expect to be coached as a part of their job.
Part of building a coaching culture is:
- hiring coachable people: if someone doesn’t want to / can’t be coached, then they shouldn’t be in sales.
- having regular outcome-based coaching sessions: if you aren’t regular about coaching, then you can’t expect to build and maintain a culture around it.
6. Empower your team
You need to help your team develop an owner’s mentality: they are not simply working for a job or a salary, their pipeline is their business. They need to own it.
So how do you get this sort of commitment?
By empowering them with skills, tools, and decision-making ability.
This means you need to invest a lot of time into your team. The best sales leaders are the ones that want their teams to be better than them.
You need to coach, share best-practices, increase your team’s network, and connect them to others.
Invest in the tools that will help them be better and more efficient salespeople.
Encourage each rep to come up with what they think the solution to any problem is.
As their leader, you may even have to fight internal battles for them, or help as a sponsor with external communications. Basically, do anything you can to find your team’s obstacles and remove them so they have the space they need to do great work.
And finally, when all of this is done, believe in your team, and show them that you believe in them.
7. Coach, don’t tell!
In any opportunity that you have to coach your reps, whether it is planned or when you spot a coachable moment, avoid just telling them what they should do.
First of all, it’s just your opinion, no matter how many times you’ve seen it work. Maybe they haven’t seen it work, so why should they believe you?
Secondly, “should” is a bad word. It is condescending, implies a know-it-all-ness, and creates feelings of guilt and anxiety.
What’s more, changing behaviour is hard. Just telling someone something once is not going to do it.
Coaching, on the other hand, is all about opening up a dialog with your rep. Discuss the situation with them, ask the right questions, probe their minds, and let them come up with the solution. That way they own it.
Coaching is about repetition, real-life application, observation, reviewing calls, tons of practice, and testing for competence.
And if all else fails, refer to point no.2.
8. Use a strengths-based coaching approach
No two people are the same, and each salesperson has their own set of strengths.
Tailor your training on an individual level to what their strengths are.
Your team members’ strengths will be revealed over time (and it’s a sales leader’s job to spot them), but there are ways to explicitly get to the point.
For example, you can periodically ask them to write down three things they did well over a particular time period, and three things they want to improve on. Then you can help them figure out how to leverage their strengths more often.
9. Use 1-on-1s to keep the team focused
You should be having weekly 1-on-1s with your team members.
These meetings are the best time to find out what their priorities for the next week are, and help them stay focused on those points and what they need to improve on in the context of the big picture.
Follow up on what their priorities were the previous week and how they did.
If you spot gaps, or they haven’t mentioned activities that you know need to happen, then ask questions around those things.
Understand their goals, what roadblocks they might be facing, and determine how you can help them keep their eye on the prize.
10. Be positive
I saved the most important one for last.
A sales leader must, above all else, be positive!
Sales isn’t easy, and you know it. You have to face rejection way more than you face success, and it’s easy to dwell on failures and beat yourself up over them.
Of course, you shouldn’t gloss over problems, but you needn’t dwell on negatives either.
Praise your reps for what they do well. Celebrates your team’s victories. Be a constant cheerleader for them.
If someone is having a rough time, that’s when you need to get in and give them some motivation.
You must radiate positivity. Much of the sales job is all about attitude, and getting positive encouragement from the management can boost a sales team’s spirits and drive them to excel.
There you have it! 10 of the biggest sales leadership lessons for sales leaders to know.
A leader is constantly reinventing themselves. So bookmark this page, because you might need a reminder of a different one at different times.
- You work for your team (Not the other way around)
- Show, don’t tell!
- Build your leadership skills every day
- Have an organized sales process
- Bring EVERYONE up
- Empower your team
- Coach, don’t tell!
- Use a strengths-based coaching approach
- Use 1-on-1s to keep the team focused
- Be positive