Strong sales leadership builds, nurtures and inspires. Weak leaders are ineffective at best, and destructive and demoralizing at worst. The business world has always had its share of both—but there are few areas where it matters more than in sales.
A bad sales manager can adversely affect the backbone of any organization—sales revenue, employee morale and motivation, and customer relationships. As Harvard Business Review reports, an ineffective sales leader can cause lasting—and sometimes irreparable—damage to their company.
In short, leadership style matters. It can negatively—or positively—affect a company’s bottom line. But what makes a strong sales leader? What traits do the best sales leaders have in common? Here are 5 characteristics of top sales leaders that enable them to inspire their teams to achieve success.
1. They Execute a Vision
It’s probably no secret that leaders of any kind, including sales leaders, have a strong vision and drive to keep pushing forward. But what separates effective leaders from the rest is the ability to turn their vision and ideas into an actionable and executable plan. Of course, it’s also crucial that their team can execute on that plan.
Great leaders take their vision and map it out into a successful journey that their team can follow and replicate. Building a winning sales playbook is one way to do that; developing masterful cold calling scripts for your team is another. Together, both techniques can arm a sales team with proven strategies that improve their results.
2. They’re Great Listeners
For some people in power, stopping to listen isn’t as intuitive as standing and expecting everyone else to listen to them, before going back to their office and shutting the door. In reality, effective leaders are skilled listeners who can digest what their team and clients are saying in order to make better business decisions.
And sometimes, it’s about what your team isn’t saying. You may have a sales rep who struggles with their low sales volume and says they’re just having an off month. To get to the bottom of what’s really going on in your business and where your team is struggling, use tools like Rambl to listen in on live sales calls and study the analytics of what’s happening, from when calls are answered, to how long it takes prospects to either hang up or convert to that next meeting.
3. They Can Coach Effectively
Sales Hacker says it best when it comes to effective sales leadership: “Effective, consistent coaching should be the number one priority for all front-line sales managers.” Leaders who coach both strategically and in the field boost their team’s productivity and growth—and that ultimately impacts the company’s bottom line.
Make ongoing training a part of your business’s success strategy, starting with well-defined goals that maximize your team’s strengths and help nurture their weaknesses into viable skills. Your team should also feel their leader is available to give advice and to bounce ideas off of as they work through struggles with their cold calls and common sales objections.
4. They’re Resilient
Amazing sales leaders may gain traction and aggressively hit goals, but they’ll fall flat without the ability to remain resilient and focused for the long haul. But what is resilience, really? According to the American Psychological Association (APA), one of the key factors associated with resilience is the capacity to make realistic plans and carry them out. In other words, don’t think too big; if you can’t set realistic sales goals easily wrap your head around an idea and get it off the ground, you might find those ideas become stumbling blocks instead of launching pads, causing you to waste time working toward unattainable goals.
Resilience isn’t necessarily something you’re born with; it’s more like a muscle that gets stronger the more it’s used. The APA says one way to build resilience is to avoid seeing crises as insurmountable problems and to take decisive actions, among other steps. Resilience in business requires practice and refinement. Keep moving forward with deliberate action, and stay focused to hit those goals.
5. They Figure Out the Right Motivation
Are you overlooking what really motivates your team? Even experienced leaders fall into the trap of thinking that their sales team is only looking for more money and is driven to meet aggressive quotas and goals. It’s true that money is a common motivator for sales reps, but so are intangibles like the opportunities they’re given at work and their visibility in the company.
Poll your team on what motivates them, but don’t expect them to necessarily know the answer. They may say they want more money, but is that the end of the story? It’s possible they do want more, but it could also signal that they’re really looking for more respect and validation in their work, and they see money as symbolic of that. In this situation, a more ambitious compensation plan could work in tandem with public recognition by company leadership, or one-on-one meetings with higher-ups to discuss their goals and ideas whenever they hit their quota.
Your leadership style should evolve over time, and focus on new skills that can be honed to amplify your success. But at the end of the day, all the refined skills and amazing coaching in the world won’t do much without one crucial element: setting clear and well-defined expectations for your team. Let them know what you expect, from which technology tools they should use to how you want them to communicate with you, and work backwards to define the necessary action steps. When your team knows what to focus on and is led to action, they’re more likely to understand your common goals and work together more efficiently to succeed.
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