Estimated Read Time: 18.5 Minutes
As I delve into my tasks for the day, my alarm goes off for my morning meeting. My boss calls it the Morning Roundup.
I grab my notebook and pen, making my way to the main area with my co-workers. We chat as we wait for the routine meeting to get started.
My boss (the VP of Sales and Marketing and a co-owner of the company) walks up to the front of the room. As he stands in front of the whiteboard, I notice something different from the usual sales figures and numbers on the board.
The Account Managers’ names are on the side of the board with squares next to them. What are they plotting now?
The meeting starts as usual. As enough time passes for people to start wondering if they can check the email on their phones, my boss announces something new.
Rather than focusing on the sales figures (which are still important, people), he has decided to recognize something a bit more elusive – happiness.
He asked, “When was the last time you solved a problem for one of your clients and it make them happy and thankful? When was the last time your idea helped your client’s project and made them look like a superstar?”
He then launched into a story about how a client called him last week and raved about how wonderful a team member was. How that person developed a unique and creative campaign idea that fit his company’s needs perfectly. How this team member asked questions and delved into their company before providing solutions. However, when the team member did offer solutions, the ideas were more tailored to what was needed. The ideas could then evolve into the perfect solution by working together.
“That, ladies and gentlemen, is what makes customers happy. That’s what drives sales and the bottom line. But that’s what also keeps the customer coming back, recommending us, and allowing us the opportunity to do more. Which is why we’ve decided to recognize and highlight these stories. We want to shift our focus to making the customer happy. Developing that relationship. And tailoring solutions to their needs.”
“If you noticed behind me,” as my boss signals to the board behind him with our names on it. “Everyone has their names on this board. When we hear about happy customers, we are going to publicly recognize that rep and what they’re doing. We want to reward those doing their best. We might even give out an award at the end of the year to the Account Manager who makes customers the happiest. We want to make everyone happy – especially our customers.”
“Now, who was this star team member from my story? It was….”
A Great Sales Leader
Yes, all those years ago, I was the person who was recognized. I still remember it well. The heat on my cheeks. My boss and friends beaming with pride. And that small space filled with clapping.
It was one of the happiest days of my life – being recognized. I worked hard and it paid off.
And I am happy that I worked for a sales leader who took the time to recognize others. One who listened to his clients and was willing to make a change that bettered the company for all.
But you want to know another reason why he was a great sales leader?
Looking back to another time, I remember sitting at a desk across from that same boss. He was disappointed but kind. He did not yell, nor did he treat me like a child. He acted professionally and listened to my feedback.
He went over with me what I did wrong in the situation. How I can improve. Where I can go from here. He took the time to help me grow and to guide me.
I never made that mistake again.
No matter if it’s the high or the low, a good sales leader is a teacher and guides others to be the best they can be.
After watching him and many other sales people, leaders, and consultants throughout the years, I finally found 14 soft skills of a successful sales leader.
14 Characteristics of a Great Sales Leader
I should clarify that “leader” does not require being a manager like my old boss. A leader can be someone who takes charge and leads others, including their clients and prospects.
Active listening is regularly listed as a number one skill for business professionals for good reason.
As the name suggests, active listening is fully concentrating on what is being said rather than just passively “hearing” the message of the speaker.
A sales leader listens with all their senses. And shows interest via verbal and non-verbal messaging, such as maintaining eye contacts, smiling, and nodding. Just genuinely listen to the person, without letting your thoughts wander.
By listing in this attentive way, the person speaking typically feels more at ease, and therefore communicates more easily, honestly, and openly. Furthermore, they feel most respected and that you value what is being said.
As a salesperson, listening to your clients, prospects, co-works, and others in general is paramount. No one wants to hear you launch into a speech about how great you or your company are without prompting. And your audience can tell when you’ve been wanting to hear yourself talk more than listen to them – especially when you start belting out solutions before having a proper conversation. Listen to what they have to say, and then determine the next best steps or solution for them.
Now, of course, it’s productive to ask questions to guide the conversation to get the information you need; however, you must listen to the answers and avoid taking over the conversation.
2. Guide and Mentor
I’m not meaning that you have to be a mentor for someone at your company or in your industry – though that’s something you should probably think about.
No, it’s that a sales leader will help build, teach, and mentor their prospects and clients. They listen to the problem, and utilizing their knowledge, experience, and expertise, the sales leader will help guide them to the right solution. That’s why expert sales professionals often take on the title of “consultant.”
In addition, do you remember when I made a mistake with my old boss? What did he do?
He mentored and guided me – he taught me what I did wrong and how I can improve. A sales leader can do that for anyone – from co-workers to clients. Guiding someone to find the best way to improve or to find the best solution to fit a need – that’s the mark of an exceptional sales leader.
3. Emotional Intelligence
Emotional intelligence has been discussed for quite a while as a requirement for most business professionals. Here are 13 things emotionally intelligent people do.
But the core of emotional intelligence discussed here is being able to understand how others are feeling and managing your emotions, as well as managing their emotions towards you.
This means a sales leader must be able to perceive and decipher the emotions of others and themselves. This includes body language, voices, and so on. After detecting the emotions, a sales leader can comprehend the emotion language, understanding and appreciating the complicated relationships emotions have. An emotionally intelligent person can then harness and capitalize upon changing moods to best fit the task at hand. This means being able to manage emotions in themselves and in others.
Although no one can control other’s emotions, it’s a vital skill to be able to pick up on a prospect’s mood and gauge how to proceed with the conversation.
4. Open and Effective Communicator
What do salespeople spend most of their day doing?
Communicating – from phone calls to in-person meetings, it’s all about communication.
So, whether it’s writing an email or discussing a project, you always have to keep your audience in mind and adjust accordingly.
Adjust? Yes, do you talk to your co-workers the same way you talk with your mom? No. And it’s not just the wording and tone, but also that they have different goals and needs.
Furthermore, in order to build trust and be transparent, you must be open. An open and effective communicator is honest about the ups and the downs. If something happened to an order and you have to solve a problem, then tell your client. Be honest about the possible solutions/options and they will greatly appreciate it. That’s what builds relationships.
A sales leader should be able to effectively and openly communicate in order to get your points across and reach your goals.
There are two parts in being flexible.1. Being able to change plans at the drop of a hat – meetings being moved around, answering questions not included in the demonstration, and anything else that will inevitably come up for a salesperson.
It’s crucial to be flexible, but it must also be in a positive and constructive manner. Understanding how to handle frustrating times, by staying calm and offering solutions and alternatives, is part of being flexible.
Despite the need to be flexible, it’s the mark of a true sales leader in knowing when to say “no” to avoid being overloaded.
2. The second part of being a flexible sales leader is understanding when it’s smart to change direction or tactics.
Do you remember my story about changing focus from sales numbers to client happiness? That was not a decision made on a whim as the story might have led. My boss had looked at what was going on and was flexible in his thinking. He was able to quickly change tactics, to make the best decision for the customers, employees, and the company overall.
I should also note, we saw a significant increase in sales over time after this change.
6. Right VS Right Now
This is a difficult mentality for many salespeople.
Everyone wants to “get it done” as soon as possible and don’t want to bother their clients with questions – many salespeople are actually scared to talk to their clients beyond pitching a product and telling them yes.
However, that’s where a true sales leader comes out.
Can you tell your client no?
Can you advise them against a product they have their heart set on?
Can you discuss openly with your client that it’s best to get the right product for their needs rather than something that’s just “convenient.”
I can’t help but think about Charlie and the Chocolate Factory when I hear the phrase “Done Right Versus Right Now.”
That spoiled little girl wanted everything “right now.” She had to always have her way. But if her father told her no, had a firm hand with guiding/parenting her, and choose the best way to approach the situation, rather than the “easiest,” then things would have been rather different.
As a salesperson, are you going to allow a spoiled child to navigate the situation? If so, are you prepared to then get yelled at when they don’t get the results they want?
A leader approaches the situation as, “Do you want it done RIGHT or just done RIGHT NOW?”
It’s vital as a salesperson to be able to put yourself in other’s shoes.
By understanding what people are motivated by, thinking, and feeling, you’re able to guide conversations in a productive way.
As a sales leader, you must be able to uncover pain points, motivations, and any other elements in the equation. Otherwise, how else are you going to know when to keep pushing, when to hold back, or when to ask more questions?
And even though they probably won’t remember exactly what you said, you can bet they will remember how you made them feel. Whether that’s if you provide excellent ideas and really listened to what they said or if they feel that you were taking advantage of them and didn’t have their best interests in mind. At the end of the day, it’s about making sure that your client knows you care and that you are always in their corner.
Empathy is not about “gut feeling,” it’s about taking the time to understand your clients, co-workers, prospects, and other people in your life, which, in turn, helps you build meaningful relationships.
8. Relationship Builder
Speaking of building relationships…
Whether it’s sitting in on initial discovery calls, assisting with proposal conversations, or flying onsite to meet with current customers, a sales leader understands the importance of building a relationship with their customers, prospects, and even team members.
By utilizing active listening, asking questions, and checking in on a regular basis (outside of just sales and project calls), sales leaders get in-depth understandings, knowledge, and relationships. This allows them to truly grasp what messaging and features prospects and customers are ‘clicking’ with and what’s not resonating.
In addition, sales leaders build credibility with both the prospect/customer and their own team by meeting outside of the organization’s walls. Salespeople, all too often, opt to let their team handle meetings, as well as finding the products/solutions. That’s pushing the work off on to someone else and playing more of a manager role, but those who are involved in the daily grind not only have more of an appreciation for the work their team does but can also better coach their team and clients.
Besides, when a client has a project, do you think they will call someone they have a relationship with or some stranger who gave them their card at that last business meetup?
And if there are issues, wouldn’t it be better to have a relationship and trust already established?
This could mean situational awareness, but I find that Emotional Intelligence covers most of that.
Instead, I’m talking about being aware of your client’s needs, wants, goals, and much more – asking the right questions and being aware of their and your situation.
A while ago, I wrote a blog providing promo selling tips. It discussed how to prep for a client or prospect meeting so you come in knowledgeable and can create meaningful conversations. Do your homework and be aware of any pros, cons, pitfalls, and anything else you can before you walk into a room.
Be aware of what is going on with your client by asking why – why do they want shirts? Why do they want awards? Why are they looking for that particular product?
Be aware that asking questions and providing insights will provide value beyond fast turnaround times and being the “lowest price.”
Awareness of yourself, your clients, and what the rest of the industry is doing will allow you to transcend the ordinary and become a leader in sales.
When was the last time you put away the catalog, trinkets, and samples and just listened to your client?
When was the last time you connected people, without it having to create a sale for you?
When was the last time you were helpful?
I’m not saying that salespeople have to do everything for free. What I’m saying is that people remember when others are helpful.
For example, when you connect two people with mutual interests and needs – maybe two clients/prospects. Or when you answer a question rather than going straight into an unnecessary product pitch.
When was the last time you were a consultant and business partner before a salesperson?
Do you remember me mentioning that people remember how you make them feel? People remember when you’re helpful without an agenda. Just as you do.
Confident people inspire confidence in others.
When you’re confident in what you’re selling, people will feel that confidence and are more likely to “buy into” what you have to say.
Whether it’s pitching a program to a prospect, training a co-worker, or upselling to a current customer, it all requires confidence.
Confidence also means being positive and confident even when rejection (in its many forms) continues to bear down. Being optimistic and confident in yourself, your team, and your products in the face of adversity is where a true sales leader will shine.
Creative means two things to me.
The first is being a strategic thinker. Although some might not think that requires creativity, strategy still requires a unique way of thinking few seem to be able to do. Whether that’s bringing together siloed departments, adopting social tools and tech, leading by example, establishing an insight-driven sales methodology, or creating a multi-pronged strategy to track results of a recent campaign.
Secondly, being creative means looking at a problem in a unique way, then developing a one-of-a-kind solution. Whether that’s focusing more on client’s happiness or noticing that your client is looking for a custom recognition program.
It’s about finding a unique perspective that is outside the realm of the “usual,” and developing a unique solution, especially if it’s scary to others in the same industry.
Selling with a story explains products or services in ways that resonate; it connects people and creates momentum. Stories speak to the part of the brain where decisions are made.Don’t lead with a bunch of stats – people’s eyes will glaze over faster than you can say “glazed donut.” If you’re wanting to use facts and figures, sales leaders share stories and metrics together to provoke thought.
Bonus: Some products can be used to tell a story. When was the last time you sold something that connected and resonated with the audience? Or when was the last time your work told a story?
13. Recognizes Others
Do you remember the last time you were recognized in a meaningful way?
How did it make you feel?
That’s how your co-workers, clients, and other fellows feel.
A sales leader remembers how meaningful and thoughtful recognition can make an impact. Just like how my VP recognized me and how I (and my co-workers) all worked hard to get that recognition. It meant something to us.
Leaders understands how powerful that is and use it to guide the behavior they want to reinforce.
Most of the time, our goals are too small – we don’t aim high. Although a sales leader should be realistic, it’s also amazing what people can accomplish when they have a growth mindset and aim higher.
With growth mindset, there are two parts.1. A sales leader should have a growth mindset to be constantly strengthening themselves and acquiring new skills/abilities over time. You must understand the importance of constant improvement – not getting stuck in your ways.
You must keep pushing yourself to improve – to learn, to grow, and to smash those goals. (Ever heard of grit? Angela Lee Duckworth had a great TED Talk about it.)2. A sales leader needs to push beyond boundaries. A sales leader must think bigger. Set higher goals. Beyond the constant learning and evolving, a sales leader must be willing to take risks to grow and get those bigger clients, projects, and accounts. High impact sales leaders know that they need to quickly adjust on-the-fly in order to affect the current month, quarter, or even year’s sales velocity. You must aim high and push yourself to be better and to do more.
Hard skills can be taught, but soft skills are what differentiate the sales leaders.
These 14 soft sales skills are what will help you reach your goals and push to be a successful sales leader.
Have you found other soft skills required to be an outstanding sales leader? Tell us in the comments!
Kristina Hublar is your friendly neighborhood Marketing Specialist at Bruce Fox, Inc., which means she is the person behind the keyboard for the social media, emails, website, and other marketing efforts. In her spare time, you’ll find her plotting her next road trip, bobbing along to music while crafting, spending time with loved ones, or with her nose in a book.