Sales leadership encompasses strategic decision-making and the ability to inspire others. Sales leaders grow company revenues by motivating their teams to achieve revenue goals. This makes it best for those with long-term vision capable of spotting and acting upon market trends and opportunities, but anyone can become a sales leader with experience, training, and mentorship.
Sales leaders rely on tools like customer relationship management (CRM) or business intelligence software to help them spot trends, patterns, and areas of opportunity. A CRM like Salesforce Essentials helps those in leadership positions by giving them easy access to dashboards that show where problems and opportunities lie. Visit Salesforce and sign-up for a free trial to see if these tools are right for you.
What Is a Sales Leader?
A sales leader is a visionary who guides their sales organization toward meeting or exceeding their goals by demanding excellence and inspiring the team to perform at their peak. They do this by combining the use of emotional intelligence, effective communication, and performance data to drive results. They also create effective sales strategies that align with the company’s revenue goals and create a sales culture that leads to success.
Several key traits make sales leaders stand out among other sales professionals, including strategic thinking and having a powerful vision for achievement. The ability to coach, motivate, and inspire others to perform is also critically important as is the ability to close deals. These attributes separate sales leaders from other, more operational or tactical sales roles. See our sales leadership article to learn more about the attributes of a sales leader.
Sales leaders are often found in upper management in roles like vice president of sales or director of sales because their role requires that they make strategic decisions and create or shape the company vision. However, anyone in the organization can serve as a sales leader as long as they are in a position to inspire others into achieving the company’s revenue goals.
Sales Leadership vs Sales Management
Sales leaders focus on the big picture. They create the sales strategies their teams follow, and they create the vision their sales organizations believe in and are inspired to achieve. They set the tone and play a pivotal role in creating the sales culture. They also use their influence and power of persuasion to help their teams close large deals when necessary.
Sales managers are focused on the tactics behind making the sales leader’s vision a reality. They focus on individual sales activities, each stage of the pipeline and how well their team performs within each. Sales managers also focus on detailed performance metrics like daily calls or number of product demos, and reports. When they see trends needing improvement, they take action to improve the behaviors or other factors behind unwanted trends.
Both sales leaders and sales managers are necessary to the success of the entire sales organization. The high-level strategy and vision that motivate and inspire are needed just as much as the tactical actions that get deals closed and offer sales professionals the tools and tactics that they need to do their jobs. While a single person can act as both, each role serves a different function and, together, produce the results companies are looking for.
Things That Sales Leaders Do Every Day
These individuals participate in daily sales management activities like evaluating sales data, making strategic sales decisions, creating and upholding the company vision, and inspiring the sales team. They perform these activities by doing things like reviewing sales reports and deciding to prioritize deals. However, sales leaders also deliver speeches at sales meetings to acknowledge and inspire their teams to perform at the highest levels.
Here are a few of the most important sales leadership do daily.
A sales leader thinks strategically and is not only concerned about things like making the next sale but about the company’s performance as a whole and how the sales team can make a positive impact on revenue goals. They look at the big picture, the health of their sales teams’ pipelines, and markets that they could successfully penetrate. Great sales leaders are concerned about all deals and opportunities but don’t allow one or two to sidetrack them.
Focus on the Big Picture
Sales leaders are visionaries, with powerful visions of what their sales organization can achieve. They convey their vision to their teams with effective communication and by creating a sales culture that fosters achieving their vision. They remain focused on the big picture and do not allow setbacks or even wins along the way to cause a shift in their overall vision. Sales leaders are great at selling their vision to their sales teams who then carry out their vision.
Coach, Motivate & Inspire
Coaching, motivating, and inspiring their teams are what sales leaders are known for. They challenge their teams to exceed their goals and coach them along the way with practical and effective ideas and solutions to obstacles that come up in the sales process. Great sales leaders inspire their teams to be the best and to believe that anything is possible. These traits are what moves sales organizations to achieve company goals.
The best sales leaders know how to close deals. They’re often called upon to attend client meetings with senior executives to help close a deal. Doing this allows their team to learn from their example, which then creates additional success stories. They also need to sell and close their teams on company goals. This is important because the sales organization needs to believe in and fully support company goals to achieve revenue expectations.
How to Become a Sales Leader
There are a variety of paths to becoming a sales leader, but each path is made up of three categories. These categories include having sales experience, relevant training, and mentoring. However, time, energy, and dedication spent in each category can accelerate your journey to becoming a sales leader.
Leverage Your Sales Experience
The first thing you need is experience in sales, whether in the form of joining a company or starting a business and selling your own products. No matter where or how you gain sales experience, you’ll need some successes and failures to learn from so that you can show and tell your sales team how you achieved your own success in sales.
Attend Skills Training & Education Courses
The right training can help you focus on areas you need to improve in and take the areas you’re good at to the next level. Proper sales education can open your mind to a variety of sales techniques and approaches to closing deals and developing leadership capacities in coaching, motivating, inspiration, and communication.
Pro tip: As a sales leader, one of the most important skills to have and to continuously improve through training is communication. Communication courses for sales leaders, like those offered by The Sales Pro, can give you the edge you need to compete and to connect with your team. Check out its courses to see which ones are right for you.
Find a Mentor Who’s Had a Similar Journey
Having a mentor who is currently or was recently a sales leader mentor who has been where you are can help you become a sales leader faster. They can allow you to shadow them so that you can see firsthand what a sales leader does. You’ll be able to observe and even emulate some of the successful behaviors that make them great sales leaders. If your mentor is in your organization, they can even put in a good word for you to get your first sales leadership role.
Becoming a sales leader requires work in all three areas. Your sales experience is what will help you decide whether or not you even want to become a sales leader. It will also give you stories to pass along to your team. The right training and education will sharpen your skills and put you on the path to strategic and visionary thinking and leading. And finally, having a great mentor will help you become a sales leader much faster than if you were trying to do it alone.
Benefits of Sales Leadership
Sales leaders benefit companies by being able to exponentially grow their revenues by championing their mission and vision to the teams that bring it to life in customer interactions. They also benefit companies by communicating opportunities and trends in the market to other leaders in the company so that they’re able to respond quickly. Sales leaders also provide valuable insight when working with or as part of an executive team to create long-term strategies.
Another benefit of sales leadership for individuals is demonstrating the ability to influence others positively in a way that drives sales. Highly productive sales professionals who have shown leadership skills have a value that goes beyond the level of an individual producer. Your company will want to keep you, while competitors will have their eyes on you as a potential candidate.
Who Sales Leadership Is Right For
Sales leadership is right for ambitious people who want to inspire others to make a big impact within an industry or to an organization. Sales leaders care about their sales organizations and want them to do well by performing at their highest levels. They’re able to challenge their teams and create a sales culture that fosters peak performance.
Below are specific types of people sales leadership is right for:
- Seasoned business owner: The seasoned business owner looking to exponentially grow sales can inspire their sales team and attract heavy hitters to join the company using sales leadership skills.
- Ambitious salesperson: The ambitious salesperson can benefit from sales leadership by expanding their reach and level of impact beyond personal production. They can inspire others and rise through the ranks of the sales organization as a sales leader.
- Startup entrepreneur: Startup entrepreneurs need to be sales leaders so they can sell their ideas and products to investors, customers, and their new teams. They need to inspire others continuously with their visions just to survive.
- Sales manager: Similar to the ambitious sales professional, the sales manager wanting to play a bigger role and make a bigger impact can aspire to become a sales leader to expand their influence beyond the team they’ve successfully managed.
Sales leadership is right for people with high levels of ambition who are strategic thinkers yet pay attention to details. They communicate well and know how to inspire others. They are also great sales professionals and want to make a difference with their teams. Sales professionals with these qualities should explore sales leadership as their careers in this profession progress.
Examples of Sales Leadership in Action
In addition to learning what sales leadership is and what it takes to become a sales leader, sometimes it helps to have specific examples of sales leaders. Sales leaders come in a variety of forms, including entrepreneurs wearing a variety of hats, including that of a sales leader. We can learn a lot from well-known entrepreneurs who have embodied sales leadership to grow their businesses, inspire their teams, and make a positive impact on the world.
Here are a few examples of well-known sales leaders in action.
Richard Branson is one of the most successful entrepreneurs on the planet, having built a trail-blazing brand and businesses that have challenged established players in mature industries. Industries he has penetrated include the music industry with Virgin Records, the soft drink industry with Virgin Colas, and the airline industry with Virgin Airlines. His bold vision and ability to rally others around it to sell his products and services makes him a great sales leader.
Branson started by selling magazines in which he sold ad space. He then got into the music industry by selling music via mail order and then through retail stores. Branson went on to start his own record label. As a sales leader, Branson was actively selling his brand and vision, attracting sales and business leaders who helped make his vision a reality. This shows how sales leaders go from selling their products to making a larger impact with their visions.
Anita Roddick made a huge impact on the highly competitive cosmetic and skin care industry with The Body Shop. Originally, Roddick started with a shop selling natural beauty products while championing new best practices like fair trade and no animal testing that are now more commonplace than when she first started.
She began by selling her products locally and then expanded nationally and internationally. Roddick used her business to bring about awareness and change in the skin care industry. Through sales leadership, particularly being able to inspire others, she was able to get her employees who interacted with and ultimately sold products to customers to buy into her vision of fair trade and no animal testing, a vision that goes beyond just selling products.
Oprah Winfrey is one of the best sales leaders, successfully selling her own products as well as products of others that she believes adds value to her audience. She has inspired others with her vision and message, which has resulted in a long-running magazine, her cable TV network called OWN, food products, and the Weight Watchers weight loss company that she owns a stake in.
Winfrey’s ability to connect directly with her customers and inspire them along with her ability to attract talented people who believe in her vision is what makes her a successful sales leader. She’s been so good at it that her ability to inspire people to purchase products or even join a movement is known as the “Oprah effect.” To demonstrate her impact, Weight Watchers grew by 1 million members shortly after she joined forces with them.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
How do I find a sales mentor?
There are a variety of ways to find a sales mentor. Look within the company you work for and reach out to sales leaders like sales vice presidents or directors who are where you want to be and ask them to mentor you. You can also become a member of a coworking space like WeWork, where there are plenty of entrepreneurs and sales leaders willing to be mentors.
How do I find sales leadership training?
You can find sales training by doing a Google search for the particular type of sales training you’re seeking. For instance, type in “prospecting training,” and you’ll find a list of training options specific on prospecting. We’ve also written an article on sales training, which can point you in the right direction.
When asking the question, “what is a sales leader?” what should come to mind is a strategic individual who possesses the ability to inspire their sales organization while challenging them to perform at their best. They know how to close deals and coach others to do the same, which separates them from sales managers who are focused on day-to-day sales activities.
However, even the best sales leaders need tools to support them. CRMs like Salesforce Essentials contains data necessary for formulating a strategy. Sales leaders can create reports and dashboards at the click of a few buttons that reveal trends in product sales and patterns of sales behavior and activities across their teams. Visit Salesforce Essentials and sign-up for a free trial to see if these tools will assist you in your sales leadership endeavors.