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The 3 Skill Sets Every Exceptional Sales Leader Must Have

This month’s blog is the byproduct of a conversation with the CEO of a potential client. He was looking for advice with his vision to take his company’s sales force to the next level. They have built a small but effective sales team; they’re close to securing a sizeable round of funding, and their product is cutting edge. There’s one big obstacle though. The CEO isn’t sure if their current sales leader is the right person to pilot the next phase of his company’s growth. To help him answer that question I shared with him my list of the three skillsets every exceptional sales leader must have.

Before I share my list, I’d like to give you a little more color. This list fits best with companies that currently have revenue in the low to mid millions that are looking to jump to the tens of millions. Because of resource limitations, a sales leader at this company size is asked to tasked with a LOT.

1. Train, Develop and Lead the Team.
This is the base skill set that most people identify with a strong Sales Manager. Skill sets 2 and 3 (below) are advanced skills that separate Sales Managers from Sales Directors/VPs of Sales. But what does training, developing and leading a team at this phase look like? Simply put, the sales leader’s job is to demystify the sales process for his/her sales reps. Show them how to get an appointment, help them build a territory attack plan and coach them on how to overcome obstacles. Yes, even experienced sales reps often need guidance with these activities after joining a new company. This guidance requires lots of hands-on time with their reps in the field, especially with new hires.

I want a sales leader that can explain, in detail, how they teach and develop these skills to new reps. A simple question to ask is “Can you share, in detail, how you coach and develop new sales hires to hit their quota?” One ingredient that I’m looking for when evaluating their answer is stamina. Without question, developing a young and growing sales force requires long hours, patience and often lots of travel.

2. Can Build a Sales Playbook.
We’ve written in the past how a Sales Playbook Can Improve Sales Hiring Success. More fundamentally, effective Sales Playbooks are the path to predictable sales growth. A sales playbook will contain (but not be limited to):
– The steps in the sales process.
– Activity metrics.
– Sales messaging.
– The path to quota attainment.
– The most common sales objections and how to overcome them.
 – A strategy to organize and stay on top of a sales territory.

Depending on where your company is on the growth path you might not have enough data to answer many of the metrics questions. I want a sales leader that knows how to find these answers and turn them into a repeatable path to sales. Out in the field, your sales reps must run through the equivalent of an obstacle course and a hurdles event to close a deal. Every hurdle or obstacle that their sales leader can remove for them increases the sales reps’ chances of making the sale.

3. Build a Repeatable and Scalable Sales Hiring Profile.
A great sales coach and a solid sales playbook are nothing without exceptional sales talent. Even if your company can attract A players consistently, your sales leader will usually have the final say in which candidates get hired. Effective sales leaders understand talent and more importantly, they know fit.

Dig into how they built their team(s) previously. What resources did they have? Were they involved in creating the selection criteria or did they follow a model that someone else built? Your company has a daunting challenge ahead if you haven’t already developed a repeatable and scalable hiring profile. It takes a talented sales leader to help bridge this knowledge gap. To help you bridge this gap, we wrote How to Hire Top Sales Performers.

Three Final Tips on Picking the Right Sales Leader.
Tip 1. Assess the state of your sales force before you start evaluating potential sales leaders. The three skill sets I listed above are not equally important. How you weight them depends on the unique needs of your company. Prioritize them by what the team needs today AND what the team will need to get to the next level. This extra step can help prevent you from hiring a strategic genius when you need a tactical executor for example.

Tip 2. It’s possible that you won’t be able to attract a sales leader that possesses the right mix of skills to get your company from point A to point Z. In that case, you need to find the sales leader that you’re confident can get you to the next level, say point N. Often, this leader will grow with the job, and they’ll be ready for the next challenge once you get there. Even if they don’t, you will successfully reach that next plateau. At that point, you can either replace them or add a higher level sales leader to help lead and develop your current sales leader along with the rest of the team.

Tip 3. Intelligence and work ethic don’t correlate very well. Translation, a sales leader with an ok plan that executes ruthlessly is far more valuable than a sales leader with a brilliant plan and mediocre execution.

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Chris Carlson

My name is Chris Carlson and I’m the founder and President of Sales Talent. This blog grew out of my desire to document and share what I’ve learned in my two plus decades of sales recruiting and leading Sales Talent. Our posts are aimed at sales professionals and leaders that speaks to talent selection, team building, or career advancement. If you have a topic that you’d like my take on, please reach out to me.

You can find Chris Carlson on LinkedIn or contact him directly at: