Sales leadership roles are some of the most lucrative, challenging, engaging positions sales professionals can pursue. Managing reps and having a significant stake in the success of an entire sales organization is an opportunity that can be equal parts exciting and imposing — and a lot of salespeople are interested in taking on that kind of responsibility at some point in their careers.

But nailing one of these roles is anything but easy, and not every sales professional is equipped to handle one. Being an exceptional rep doesn't always translate to being an exemplary sales leader.

There are certain qualities that most of — if not all — the best sales leaders have. Here, I'll review some of those key traits and offer a short quiz to see if you're sales leadership material.

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1. The Ability to Build Trust Through Dedication

Exceptional sales leaders get to know their teams, prioritizing and developing trust as those professional relationships progress. Good sales leaders set and enforce expectations for both their salespeople and themselves.

They establish reasonable, mutually understood standards with their team. The key here is personal accountability. As a sales leader, you can't underperform or slack off — only to chastise your reps for doing the same.

You have to work for them just as much as they work for you. The best sales leaders understand that dedication begets dedication, and they're always willing to hold up their side of the deal.

2. A Commitment to Consistent Personal Improvement

As an extension of the point above, the best sales leaders are never personally complacent. They're always actively looking to improve their skills as managers and salespeople in a broader context.

They stay abreast of new sales, management, and industry trends and are open to incorporating new strategies that could improve their team's operations. They routinely ask for feedback from their reps and are willing to fold that insight into how they conduct themselves professionally.

Exemplary sales leaders are also willing to ask for advice and help from peers and higher-ups. While confidence is a central component of sales leadership, it's always good to temper it with curiosity and humility.

There's always room for improvement, and the best sales leaders understand that it's in both their and their team's best interest to constantly pursue it.

3. The Ability to Keep a Tight Ship

While it's important to build trust with reps, there's a distinct line between trust and friendship. At the end of the day, while you need to lead with positivity and avoid butting heads with reps, you also need to establish boundaries. You have to hold them accountable and let them know that you're in charge.

The best sales leaders recognize that a sales team is just that — a team. It's not a family, and it's not a social club. You have a job to do, and that has to be your first priority.

That might mean putting your foot down now and then, being willing to invoke the authority that comes with your position, and occasionally sacrificing popularity to keep things on track. And while that's not always appealing or comfortable, it's an unfortunate reality of sales leadership.

4. Hiring Skills

The health and future of your entire sales org rely on the talent you bring in, and your leadership will only go as far as your team will take it. That's why new team members have to be capable, motivated, and on par with your team culture. A high-quality sales leader can recognize those kinds of candidates. They can find potential hires that will buy in, fit in, and actively contribute.

You can get there by paying close attention to your colleagues' feedback when they interview candidates for your team. You also need to understand the attributes that you want to hire for — as well as the questions you need to ask to reveal those qualities.

5. Dynamic Coaching Skills

No two reps are built the same. They have their own preferences, interests, and sensitivities, so they're bound to be receptive to different coaching styles. Exceptional sales leaders can accommodate those preferences — within reason.

The best sales leaders don't offer vague, general feedback and guidance to their teams. They have the compassion, practicality, and adaptability to gauge how each of their reps wants to be managed and adjust their approach to get the most out of their coaching.

6. Understanding and Appropriately Applying Sales Metrics

Sales leaders have a thorough understanding of the KPIs most relevant to their operations — as they apply to both their reps' personal performance and their team's collective success.

They understand what they need to measure to identify where individual reps are excelling and where they have room for improvement. And they know how to apply those metrics to shape actionable solutions and meaningful insight.

Excellent sales leaders also take the time to familiarize themselves with the metrics that their managers intend to gauge their performance with. They keep careful tabs on those figures and are willing to seek feedback if they're not where they should be.

7. Conflict Resolution Skills

Your team members aren't always going to get along swimmingly — that's just human nature. Conflict is natural in any work environment and sales organizations are no exception.

Every now and then, there might be some disagreements within your team. And as a sales leader, it's often on you to diffuse those situations and keep your team running without a hitch. The best sales leaders know how to meditate — to remain calm, objective, and impartial.

They don't play favorites. They can hear both sides out and offer solutions that ultimately serve the team's best interest without posing too much of a detriment to morale. It's a tough balance to strike, but effective sales leaders tend to have a knack for it.

8. Reconciling Empathy with Assertiveness in Tough Conversations

Sales leaders often have to have uncomfortable conversations with both individual reps and their teams as a whole — often related to underperformance. And while they might be awkward and anxiety-inducing, the best leaders aren't reluctant to engage in those talks.

They understand that conversations conducted under less-than-ideal circumstances are a fact of a sales leader's life — and they aren't intimidated by that kind of dialogue.

Instead, they handle uncomfortable talks with tact, empathy, and assertiveness. They take a holistic look at a rep or team's performance and explore their areas for improvement as a way to motivate — not to chastise.

9. The Ability to Leverage Their Solid Experience

A sales leader has to know the ropes — they need to understand both their industry and sales in a broader context. If they don't, they can't provide the kind of guidance their reps need and won't develop the kind of respect that will make those reps appreciate the advice they offer.

That's why most sales leaders have solid experience when they take on their new roles. Many can show they've thrived in their reps' current positions. They build trust through that experience — it lets reps know they understand both their day-to-day circumstances and the strategies they need to employ to carry out their responsibilities effectively.

10. The Ability to Establish and Commit to a Sales Process

This point ties into the third one on this list. The best sales leaders keep their team's operations tight and in sync. A well-regimented sales process lends itself to that kind of cohesion, so naturally, the most effective sales leaders can establish and commit to one.

Discipline is the key here, and that applies to managers and their teams alike. A solid sales leader can identify an effective sales process for their reps and run with it.

At the same time, they have to closely monitor, enforce, and facilitate how that process is carried out day-to-day. Consistency makes for a smoother running sales org — that often starts with a sales leader's ability to pin down a working sales process and get their team to buy into it.

Sales Leader Quiz

1. I'm willing to keep a firm command of my team, keep my team competitive, and hold reps accountable — even if it means being unpopular sometimes.

A. Strongly Agree

B. Agree

C. Neutral

D. Disagree

E. Strongly Disagree

2. I have faith in my ability to consistently recognize the kind of talent that will perform well and fit a specific team culture.

A. Strongly Agree

B. Agree

C. Neutral

D. Disagree

E. Strongly Disagree

3. I recognize that individual reps will be receptive to different leadership styles, and I can adjust my coaching style to suit their needs.

A. Strongly Agree

B. Agree

C. Neutral

D. Disagree

E. Strongly Disagree

4. I have a firm understanding of sales metrics and how they impact sales on a broad, organizational level.

A. Strongly Agree

B. Agree

C. Neutral

D. Disagree

E. Strongly Disagree

5. I can resolve conflict fairly and effectively — and I'm willing to commit to making sure that all sides involved are willing to honor it.

A. Strongly Agree

B. Agree

C. Neutral

D. Disagree

E. Strongly Disagree

6. I'm able to be equal parts assertive and compassionate when having uncomfortable conversations.

A. Strongly Agree

B. Agree

C. Neutral

D. Disagree

E. Strongly Disagree

7. I can balance being a sales manager with continuously improving as a salesperson.

A. Strongly Agree

B. Agree

C. Neutral

D. Disagree

E. Strongly Disagree

8. I can translate my sales history into valuable, actionable advice for less experienced reps.

A. Strongly Agree

B. Agree

C. Neutral

D. Disagree

E. Strongly Disagree

9. I believe I could set and guide a disciplined, consistent sales process for all my reps.

A. Strongly Agree

B. Agree

C. Neutral

D. Disagree

E. Strongly Disagree

10. Colleagues and managers hold me to high standards and trust me to take on new responsibilities based, in large part, on my work ethic.

A. Strongly Agree

B. Agree

C. Neutral

D. Disagree

E. Strongly Disagree

Mostly A's

If you answered mostly A's, you might just have what it takes to be an exceptional sales leader — at the very least, you can approach the responsibilities that come with that kind of position with confidence.

You also probably have a strong interest in taking on a sales leadership role. Keep refining the skills this quiz addresses, and continue to get a better understanding of what a sales leadership position looks like within your organization.

Mostly B's

If you answered mostly B's, you have considerable faith in your sales leadership abilities but are willing to acknowledge you have room for improvement. That's a solid place to be in if you're interested in pursuing a leadership role within your sales org. If you're in this position, take a look at the skills that you were a bit more split on and focus on improving them — above all else.

Mostly C's

If you answered mostly C's, you might be on the fence about your sales leadership skills and are probably ambivalent about pursuing these kinds of positions.

If that's the case, you should try touching base with sales leadership at your company to get a better feel for the attributes and responsibilities expected of sales leaders. From there, see if you're interested in pursuing that course and focusing on the skills this quiz touches on.

Mostly D's

If you're here, you're probably erring on the side of "I don't know if I can be a sales leader"  — and that's totally fine! Not being interested or particularly well-equipped for sales leadership doesn't mean you're not a capable sales rep with professional growth potential.

Still, if you're not completely reluctant about your sales leadership skills, it might be worth exploring the possibility of pursuing a leadership role as your career develops.

Mostly E's

As I mentioned, a lack of interest in sales leadership or minimal faith in your sales leadership skills isn't necessarily a poor reflection of your abilities as a sales professional.

Some exceptional reps don't enjoy leadership roles. If you answered mostly E's, that's probably where you're at. If that's the case, lock in on your current responsibilities, and improve your individual sales skills. And who knows — you might develop an interest in sales leadership as your career progresses.

Bear in mind, the list of traits I provided isn't exhaustive, and the quiz in this article isn't definitive. Still, if you're interested in pursuing a sales leadership role, you'll need to address the qualities listed above — among others.

Not everyone is cut out to be a sales leader. So if you're interested in taking on that kind of role but worried about your qualifications, it's in your best interest to develop or refine the skills and traits addressed in this article.

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Originally published Oct 27, 2020 8:30:00 AM, updated October 27 2020

Topics:

Sales Management