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Are You a Good Sales Leader? How do You Know?

When I ask this question to sales leaders, the answer that I get 98.7% of the time is "Yes, of course I am." But then I ask "How do you know?" This is a much harder question to answer. The easy answer would be "I hit my numbers." Sure, you could use that, but is that the only barometer? No. In fact, it's not even a good one. I've seen lots of ineffective leaders that a) have a great team under them that produces in spite of the leader, b) ride a couple of their top performers to hit the goals while the rest of the team languishes, c) are in the right industry at the right time where the company could hit their goals no matter who was at the helm, or d) close all of the business for their team members. I could argue that all of these leaders hit their goals, but are not necessarily good leaders.

So what else should you look at you might ask? It’s an interesting question. There is no “standard” that you can hold a sales leader up to in order to determine if they are good. With that said, here are a few things to consider if you want to evaluate yourself or your sales leader:

  • Percentage of team members at goal – if you have a team of 10 and only two are hitting goal, are you good? Leaders should shoot for 50%-75% of their team members hitting goal at minimum.
  • Development – a key part of a sales leader’s role is to build and develop their team. A good leader is constantly improving the skills of the people on the team through coaching, feedback and training. They spend a good chunk of their time in the field making their team better. So, are your people selling more? Closing at a higher rate? If yes, your sales leader is probably doing a good job. If not, maybe the sales leader needs development. Likewise, are there people on the team that consistently underachieve and miss goals? Why? The sales leader should either be improving them or moving them out.
  • Hiring and training – are they successful at hiring good salespeople that get up to speed quickly and produce? If so, good! If you have a turnstile at the sales department door for salespeople who come and go but don’t work out, then you could have issues.
  • Forecasting/Communicating – do you want to frustrate a CEO or business owner? Just ask them if they believe the forecast submitted by sales. This is a key function of a sales leader – to give accurate numbers to the executive management team so they can plan and resource accordingly. Beware of the sales leaders with rose-colored glasses who always think they are going to sell $10M this month when the company typically sells $8M A YEAR! That is not the sign of a great leader. Likewise, a good leader communicates well upwards and to peers. I once had a CEO client who said “Bad news is not like wine. It does not get better with age.” What a great saying. Good leaders communicate all things, good or bad, so the management team can adjust.
  • Strategic/Planful – a good leader has a plan for HOW they will achieve their goals. They know which markets they want to pursue. They have specific plans with timelines for how they will execute. A less than good leader “just works hard” and is in constant reactive mode and hopes that their hard work results in hitting goal.
  • Company person – a good leader always has the company hat on. They are aware of what the client wants/needs, but balance that with what is best for the company. Less effective leaders are always selling the company on what they need to do in order to satisfy the client.
  • Systems – there are some exceptions, but we find the best leaders are the ones who create systems and processes where all of their sales people can thrive. That includes defining and documenting repeatable sales processes, driving accountability through leading and lagging metrics, and leveraging good onboarding systems. Less effective leaders NEED to hire great people who can figure it out because there are little or no systems in place.

I could go on and on with similar criteria. I stop here because these are the essentials. Every sales leader should be good at all of these. Sadly, that is rarely the case. Most sales leaders came through the ranks as good sales people. Then one day they got promoted and were magically supposed to know how to do all of these things with little to no training or support.

The good news is that most of these people are pretty smart. That’s why they were successful in the first place. Get them help so they can become a leader that consistently gets results AND is a great leader.

About Gary Braun

Gary is a founder and co-owner of Pivotal Advisors. He has worked for 20+ years as a salesperson and sales leader. Gary has been a guest speaker for many groups such as Vistage, Allied Executives, CEO Roundtable, Sales Management Association, and more. If you want to find out more about Gary check out his profile here.
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