March 26, 2024

What Distinguishes an Exceptional Sales Leader?


In the realm of sales, the norm is to elevate individuals to leadership positions largely based on their accomplishments as solo contributors, although success in sales does not necessarily equate to proficient leadership. To excel as a sales leader demands a wholly distinct set of skills and a different way of thinking.

Despite managers being a primary reason for staff turnover and significantly influencing productivity and employee engagement, it’s rare for companies to equip sales leaders with the necessary leadership training. All too frequently, we let down these new leaders—and their teams.

A sales leader’s key duty is to foster and develop their team, as their achievement is derived through the success of their team members. For many new leaders, this requires a significant alteration in perspective, yet even those who are willing to take on this challenge may not fully grasp what it entails.

Numerous sales leaders are under the impression that the best way to aid others in succeeding is to shape them into smaller versions of themselves: “This method worked for me, so you should follow it as well.”

This assumes, erroneously, that the same method will work for everyone. A more critical problem is that simply instructing people on what to do does not motivate them or elicit the best from top-performing sales staff.

This issue largely stems from the manner in which we train sales personnel. In the life sciences sector, training is often focused on product knowledge and understanding of the disease area, leading individuals to believe that their value lies in the information they provide.

When representatives are promoted, they continue this mindset into leadership, coaching and rewarding actions based on the number of calls made, the delivery of key marketing messages, entries into customer relationship management systems, and other tasks. While these activities are important, this approach does not constitute coaching; it’s merely management.


A paramount role of a sales leader is that of a mentor. There’s extensive discussion on how mentoring links to sales effectiveness, with leaders acknowledging its critical importance for achieving sales success. So, the puzzling question remains: why aren’t more managers engaging in it?

Many attribute the lack of coaching to a shortage of time. However, a closer examination reveals additional underlying reasons why managers refrain from coaching. In our research involving over 200 sales leaders, 63% of organisations admitted to lacking a unified definition of coaching, leaving managers to interpret “what constitutes coaching” on their own, and half of the companies confessed to not providing their managers with any coaching training.

Senior executives criticise sales managers for attempting to lead their teams from “behind the desk,” yet they fail to supply them with the necessary skills or tools to do anything beyond issuing orders. And since most managers feel more at ease with the commercial aspects of sales—overseeing activities and metrics—they tend to dedicate their efforts there.

Coaching centres on the personal element of sales. It aims to unlock the best in individuals by recognising their potential, sometimes more than they recognise in themselves. This involves fostering self-awareness, boosting confidence, and supporting sales representatives as they advance towards their objectives. Such skills are not innate; they require development.



To be a successful sales leader involves providing someone with the training, freedom, and support needed for success in their role. This encompasses three key elements: the what, the how, and the why.

New managers are proficient at instructing their team on what needs to be done. The issue arises when this becomes their only mode of interaction, leaving them with little else to offer. Many resort to micromanaging, endlessly repeating instructions. Alternatively, recognising the limited value this approach offers, some choose to lead from behind their desks.

Encouraging team members to develop new skills, overcome obstacles, and surpass their current limits requires guiding them on how to improve. This ‘how’ is effectively achieved through coaching.

A coach’s role is NOT to dictate actions but to assist in strategising and planning how objectives will be met. This necessitates listening more than speaking and engaging in queries like, “How will you achieve this? What steps will you take next? What obstacles are you facing? How can I assist?”

Often, individuals might not fully grasp what improvements are needed, so an adept leader continues to guide with a perspective of seeking to understand: “What if we tried this? Would it help to…?” This fosters a conversational approach while maintaining the sales representative’s sense of ownership and accountability.

The ‘why’ forms the third pillar and is perhaps the most vital: Why does this matter? Why are you undertaking this? Why is it significant to you, your clients, your team, and the organisation?

Individuals are more likely to commit to goals that they’ve set for themselves and that hold personal significance. With a clear understanding of the ‘why,’ they are more likely to discern the ‘how.’ Absent the ‘why,’ a person might comply yet often lacks true dedication.



Research by Gallup indicates that merely about a third of U.S. employees feel engaged at work, and just 21% fully agree that they trust their organisation’s leadership. The encouraging aspect is that managers wield a significant influence on employee engagement. The same interpersonal skills that enable top salespeople to build trust and forge valuable relationships with customers are the ones that allow exceptional sales leaders to cultivate motivated, confident, and high-performing sales teams.

The role of a leader is to facilitate the growth of their team members, encourage them to step out of their comfort zones, and help them advance their skills and careers, rather than doing the job for them.

As sales professionals transition into leadership positions, it’s crucial to ensure their success:

  • Clarify the concept of coaching so that everyone understands its meaning and what is expected. Sales leaders require support in redefining their role.
  • Offer training that focuses on both the mindset and skill set needed for effective sales leadership.
  • Provide managers with a sales playbook, a common language, and a unified understanding of “what good looks like” to set and maintain clear expectations for their teams.


A sales leader who contributes significantly more than merely administrative duties from behind a desk will discover that their team places trust in them and seeks them out for major opportunities — because they are assured that the leader supports them and is dedicated to eliciting their utmost potential.

Read the original article here.