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The 6 qualities of a successful sales leader

May 6, 2021

There are usually different career paths available to high-performing sales reps.

Why?

Because sales leadership isn’t for everyone.

The qualities that make someone awesome at selling don’t necessarily make them awesome at management.

Adam Buttaro has been a sales manager for 8 years. His background lies primarily in SaaS sales, where he consistently led teams to achieve their monthly quotas.

He has managed sales teams that have ranged from startups navigating through funding rounds all the way to today, managing the Agency Sales team at Wix and working with professional agencies that want to scale their business.

We spoke to Adam about the qualities of a successful leader.

But before we get stuck into the interview…

We want to explain the beginning of our conversation with Adam.

Like the smarty-pants interviewers we are, we prepared a list of sales leadership qualities to get the ball rolling:

  • Determination
  • Motivation
  • Creativity
  • Communication
  • Etc, etc, etc.

Adam responded to us:

“Sure, these are all great qualities, but it’s a bit dated.”

“Sales has changed a lot, especially over the last year. The qualities you need to get the most out of your team today are not the same as 10 years ago. They’re not even the same as 1 year ago.”

This is why B2B sales leaders need to be like chameleons. As the landscape of sales changes around you, you need to change with it. There’s new technology, new team structures, new working environments, new priorities and goals.

Today, you won’t get far leading like J. Jonah Jameson.

With that in mind, Adam ran us through the most important qualities of a successful sales leader in 2021.

Here’s what he had to say. 👇

The 6 qualities

It’s worth noting that these qualities are in no particular order, and there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to management. It’s all about using your disposition and ability to learn to your advantage - and to the advantage of your team.

The importance you place on each quality is really up to you. It’ll vary depending on the type of sales team you run.

With that said, it’s over to Adam.

1 - Leading by example

“This is, in my opinion, what separates the great leaders from the rest.”

“Great leaders will get in the trenches with their people.”

“I never liked managers who were all talk. A sales leader needs to be able to get on the phones with you when it’s crunch time, and I make sure I do this.”

“Becoming a better sales leader is always about taking the things you liked about your managers and emulating them. It’s also about taking the things you didn’t like and doing them differently.”

“Not everyone has management experience, but everyone has experience of being managed.”

“The managers who led me by example left the best impression. That’s why I lead in the same way.”

2 - Leading with empathy

“I think this has recently emerged as one of the most important sales leadership qualities.”

“More than ever it’s important to really give a hoot.” (Adam didn’t really say hoot).

“You need to be aware of what makes your reps tick. You need to know whose families have been hit by covid, for example. You need to know which people in your team are struggling. You have to take the time to get to know your team and look after them.”

“You need to lead with empathy.”

“Ruling with an iron fist doesn’t work. You’ll get the best results from a team who trust and appreciate you.”

3 - Great at motivating

“People used to motivate with ‘the carrot and stick’, but this doesn’t work anymore. People see straight through it.”

“You need to trust your team, this is the best way to motivate. That could mean offering good leadership opportunities, trusting them with important accounts, allowing them to cross-communicate with other divisions.”

“Your team will be encouraged when they impress themselves. Your job as a leader is to try and put them in the right positions to do it.”

“That’s not to say you shouldn’t offer incentives and other means of encouragement.”

“Every deal that gets put up, every promotion, every milestone. Congratulate your team. Make sure they understand how their goals contribute to the wider company mission. When a sales rep understands their importance to the company, they will be that much more determined.”

4 - Great at hiring

“A sales leader is only as good as his team.”

“You will get the most out of your team when there is mutual trust. Don’t just go through the motions in the interview, have a real conversation with the candidate! Ask the questions that matter most to you and your team day-to-day. Get a little personal and find out what drives their passions. How can this person help the team? Challenge me as a manager?”

“My favourite thing to discuss with a candidate is what they don’t want from their next manager. It allows me to create a formula of success that works for that specific individual. Sales management isn’t ‘one size fits all’. It has to be custom-fitted to each person I hire. My sales reps deserve that from me.”

“Hiring great sales reps also means understanding what makes a great sales rep. I look for a couple of key qualities.

Ability to convey their message

“I hire people who I know can speak and write well. The ability to convey your message is key, because your sales reps have to stand out from competitors who are cold calling your target audience.”

Coachability

“The best sales reps don’t have to come from a sales background. They don’t have to be a business major. I don’t care where they worked before. What I need to see is motivation and a willingness to learn. Sales strategy can be taught.”

“In sales, you can lose your best rep at any moment. If you can surround yourself with a great team, you’ll always have the right person to step up.”

If you’d like some more advice on hiring top sales reps, check out this article.

5 - Great at time management

“A manager can’t get involved in every problem their team encounters. There aren’t enough hours in the day. This is why time management and task prioritisation is so important.”

“This begs the question: ‘if I’m unable to put out every fire, how do we get past our problems?’

“There’s a mantra I love. ‘Each one teaches one’. Some teams have a mentor program, but we don’t. When I hire an account executive, I’ll introduce them to everyone on the team. I let them know that we all help each other out.”

“Eventually you’ll have a sales team who live by this mantra. It means that, over time, everyone will be self-sustainable and confident.”

6 - Willingness to learn

“I know I mentioned the importance of this for sales reps. For managers, it’s no different.”

“There’s no such thing as ‘the final product’ in any sales career. There’s always room for improvement.”

“If you’re starting out a career as a sales leader, you have to be willing to learn. Every day I read blogs, I read books, I listen to podcasts.”

“But this is the most important thing I’ve learnt...

“You work for your team, they don’t work for you.

“This is the single most important change in perspective a manager can have.”

“Rather than telling your team ‘I need you to do A,B and C, and you need to fall in line.’ You should be saying ‘These are our goals, let me know what I can do to help you get there.’

“If you can make this adjustment, you’ll be on your way to becoming a much better sales leader.”

Get more sales leadership tips!

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