The traits of a good sales producer and the qualities of a good sales team leader are very different.
As a sales producer, the job is about you (your sales goal, your commission, your recognition). Leadership is just the opposite. It’s about putting other people in a position to succeed while you step out of the spotlight. The best leaders know the job isn’t about them — it’s about helping other people contribute so the team wins.
It’s little wonder the transition from top sales producer to effective sales leader is difficult — in fact, the skills are so different that some consultants will advise you not to push your best sellers into management at all. Top performers who’ve earned the opportunity and do want to make that move need to be prepared for the transition into leadership. Judging by the amount of content written around this topic, organizations still haven’t figured out how to do it right.
The transition was tough for me personally. I wasn’t prepared to lead a team of sellers and I stumbled hard out of the gate. If you or your team are considering making this leap, my advice is to start out by reflecting on the traits that make an effective leader and consider these five qualities reflect your current competency and where you might need further development or support:
Influence is a critical component of running a successful team, especially in sales. To influence others is to understand not only yourself but also the impact you have on your team. Influence is something you earn, and it’s a skill that can be developed over time.
How do you gain influence? You give others opportunities for wins. You praise where appropriate. You reinforce positive behaviors. You serve others. Over time, you build the trust that is such a critical component of influence. Remember, you have to give trust to gain trust.
Someone who has influence is respected, consistent yet flexible, and follows through on everything they touch. When leaders influence sales teams, they do so by demonstrating positive, culture-aligning behaviors.
As a top producer, you know what it’s like to exceed the standard set by your company and what it means to raise the bar on performance. Your hard work and high standards have already influenced the wider team to work harder on their own goals. As a sales team leader, you need to help the team see what level of success is possible and help them reach that pinnacle.
Leading from a position of influence isn’t about barking orders but rather is about sharing your compelling vision of the future, being a good listener, removing distractions and knowing when silence and reflection are your friends.
However, influence is not a one-way street. You must connect and communicate with your sales team to understand what they need, and you need the ability to adopt different leadership styles based on that awareness. When you learn how to influence, you can significantly impact your team’s morale and success.
Leadership isn’t a job — it’s a responsibility, an opportunity to change lives, shape careers and help others realize their full potential. One way to inspire is to align your vision with the company’s beliefs and values. When you convey that vision to your sales team and help them understand their role, they can begin to take ownership and connect the vision to their own performance.
Inspiration isn’t just about vision, however. By investing time and interest in people, you’ll show your belief in them and give them the confidence to dream bigger, strive harder and achieve better performance. People aren’t necessarily loyal to companies, but they are loyal to leaders who inspire them through their words and actions.
Other signs of an inspirational leader are:
- They create an inclusive workplace environment.
- They listen to their team members.
- They have the courage to have hard conversations.
- They share the impact other people have had on their lives.
- They live the change they want to see in others.
You need to walk the walk. An inspirational leader is authentic, inclusive, driven and wants to create significant change and impact. People will follow leaders who create a culture that encourages personal and professional growth.
Innovation can’t thrive where complacency is the norm or when everyone sticks to the status quo. As a sales team leader it is critical that you model and encourage creativity and a growth mindset.
Business and the art of sales are evolving at a rapid pace, and you need to develop an innovative culture to match. Innovative sales teams have higher productivity and engagement. Their leaders encourage curiosity and solicit new and better ideas that benefit individual producers and the broader organization. They help their people understand that everyone can be creative with small, incremental breakthroughs that ultimately lead to bigger success. These leaders support experimentation — understanding that not everything will work — and provide a psychologically safe environment to take risks.
Innovative leaders are catalysts for change. They understand that without innovation, there is no growth, and without growth, everyone loses.
As a producer; it’s all about you. But as a sales leader, it’s about your awareness of the sales team’s needs and the help you can offer them.
Great leaders are good listeners who are focused on helping others find success. They believe in giving credit and recognition to those working hard to achieve their goals, removing barriers and leading by example in the service of others.
A 2020 study of professional and retail work teams found that leaders who are humble or demonstrate humility were more likely to achieve positive workplace objectives. A great leader understands that the company’s success is a team effort.
Employees and executives agree that poor communication causes workplace stress and operational failures — including lost sales.
David Grossman, author of “The Cost of Poor Communications,” found that, among 400 companies with at least 100,000 employees, each company lost an average of $62.4 million per year because of inadequate communication to and between employees.
By developing your communication skills, you contribute to an engaged culture where employees are well-informed and feel secure sharing their thoughts with colleagues and leaders.
These five qualities of a good sales team leader are essential to your team’s success and your ability to move from top producer to effective leader. The path to successful leadership isn’t easy but it is doable. You should feel encouraged that few people begin their careers understanding leadership—it’s a skill that takes time and an ongoing commitment to growth, and that’s true for everyone.
Ryan Estis & Associates is a training and development organization helping companies, leaders, salespeople and individual contributors embrace change and achieve breakthrough performance in the new economy. We offer keynotes, live classroom training and online learning that blends interaction, energy and actionable content designed to elevate performance. Contact us for programming inquiries and assistance determining the curriculum that could best support your learning and development objectives.