How can sales reps be fearless in targeting accounts and closing new business if they don’t have a fearless leader to look up to? In a job as stressful as sales can be at times, a strong leader is essential to driving team success and encouraging reps to keep going.
As the person responsible for a company’s revenue generation, a lot rests on the sales VP’s shoulders. Hiring or promoting the wrong person for this critical role could spell disaster for not just the sales force, but the entire company.
So what type of person is best suited for this role? Here are six qualities that the best sales VPs possess. If you’re hiring for the top sales job, keep an eye out for these attributes above all others.
1) Big-picture thinker
Individual sales contributors are obsessed with their individual quotas -- as they should be. Sales leaders, on the other hand, need to maintain the opposite mindset. Instead of being hyper-focused on specific deals, sales leaders need to look outside of the sales department to ensure the team’s actions are benefitting the company as a whole.
For instance, closing too many deals in a short period of time might overwhelm the customer support department, but as long as reps keep getting commission checks, they’ll keep closing. It’s up to the sales leader to identify organization-wide imbalances and correct accordingly.
At the same time, sales leaders must keep their eyes on the ultimate prize: Hitting company revenue targets. Research conducted by Steve W. Martin underscores just how important goal-orientation is in sales leadership.
“In personality testing, top sales managers scored 19% higher in the self-discipline facet, 20% higher in the success-driven facet, and 27% higher in the priority-focused facet than underperforming sales managers,” Martin wrote in an HBR article. “As a result, they have the natural disposition to fixate their team on achieving their revenue goals at the exclusion of all else.”
3) Excellent communicator
Sales is a dynamic world, where tactics, goals, and commission plans are constantly in flux. Sales leaders must be clear and effective communicators to ensure each rep is fully aware of what’s happening across the company and moving in the right direction.
This might seem like a no-brainer, but it bears repeating. Consider that sales reps are the people tasked with communicating with customers and the external world on behalf of your company. If there’s any type of employee business leaders need to make sure is totally up to speed at all times, it’s salespeople.
Much of sales success hinges on reps’ motivation. If reps don’t understand, or worse, begin to question the reasons behind their actions or the organization’s strategy, they’ll become lax in their work. And the proof of an unmotivated sales force is often in end-of-quarter results.
Great leaders can inspire teams to achieve great things. “Charisma” isn’t necessarily a meaningful addition to a sales VP job description, but it’s something a hiring manager can spot when they see it. Don’t underestimate how important this trait is to a sales VP. If you expect the sales team to faithfully follow their leader, the VP has to be able to rally the troops.
Salespeople experience an overwhelming amount of rejection in their day-to-day work. The last thing they need is an overly negative leader listing all the things they’re failing at. Far from inspiring people to do better, this approach just encourages reps to check out completely.
Salespeople will take their cues from their leader. Do you want your reps to be positive on the phone with prospects? Do you want them to support each other and learn to capitalize on their strengths instead of nitpicking weaknesses? Then you’d better hire a sales leader who can recognize the bright side of each dark cloud.
6) Tendency to coach more than manage
What’s the difference between coaching and managing? Managers tell their direct reports what to do and how to do it. Coaches support employees on their path towards self-improvement.
There’s a time and place for both approaches in leadership, but sales VPs should skew toward the coaching side of the spectrum. Sales isn’t a rote labor type of job – there’s lots of room for individual expression and interpretation. And that means ordering a rep to do a task one way or the other just isn’t going to work. Much more effective is guiding salespeople to the right path, letting them scrape their knees a bit, and then helping them up and allowing them to formulate their personal best strategies.
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