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Critical Skills For Sales Leaders

by David Brock on December 6th, 2018

I’ve written a lot about the need for new skills for sales people, the traditional selling skills are in sufficient for success in the future.  I’ve even gone so far as to suggest we stop training sales people in traditional selling skills, focusing on skills critical for the future.

One might expect, the same applies for sales leaders/executives.  After all, if the skills critical for sales success are changing so much, doesn’t that imply the same thing for sales leaders?  Well, possibly–but mostly no……

The for sales leaders is different than the sales person’s job–it’s about leadership.  The fundamentals of leadership haven’t changed–the issues have, as have some of the tools available to leaders.

We tend to think the job of the manager/leader is to “make the numbers.”  The reality, is that’s the job of sales people.  Leaders provide the strategies, structures, systems, tools, processes, training, people/talent, coaching and development that enable sales people to make their numbers.

This has always been the job of leaders and will continue to be.  The problem with many leaders is they don’t do their jobs well, or they focus on one part of their job, ignoring the other parts.  The problem is, leaders have to do everything.

What’s this mean from the point of view of skills critical to do the job?

Here is a baseline of skills/attributes for great sales leaders:

Systems thinking, mental models, personal mastery, building shared visions, driving team learning, comfort with ambiguity, uncomfortable with the status quo, master of change/change management, EQ, talent focused/manager/developer, understanding/reducing complexity, personal accountability, comfort with technology, time focused, balanced strategic/execution orientation, trusting/trusted, strong internal/external communications skills, the ability to build collaborative networks, problem solver, insistent on ethical behaviors.

This is a starting point.  At the same time, there’s a lot of redundancy in just the areas I’ve identified.  For example, Systems Thinking and Understanding/Reducing Complexity have huge overlaps.  The latter could be a subset of the former.  Or Building Shared Visions and Building Collaborative Networks are virtually the same.

Others might question what might seem to be obvious omissions–for example, one of my hot issues:  Coaching.  Coaching is a skill/capability that is a subset of several items in the list (driving team learning, for one).

It’s interesting to note that I haven’t identified any sales specific skills in this list.  The ability to forecast, the ability to lead a channel development effort, the ability to drive sales strategies aren’t identified.  It’s not that they aren’t important, but they are subsets of far more important leadership capabilities (i.e. personal mastery).  But focusing just on selling creates a problem–which is why so many sales managers aren’t performing.  Sales leaders are business leaders and people leaders.  The best sales leaders have a very broad perspective, paired with the ability to translate things to “what does it mean for the sales function.”

Over the coming weeks, I’ll be diving into these much more deeply.

The astute reader will notice, the first five are straight from Peter Senge’s, The Fifth Discipline.

You will notice a huge emphasis on learning and mastery—both at an individual and organizational level.  Given the rate of change, complexity, time compression and challenges all of us face, a lack of focus on learning is a sure predictor of failure.

I’ll stop here, I’ll be diving into each of these more deeply in the coming weeks, but a question to the readers:

What would you add?

 Book CoverFor a free peek at Sales Manager Survival Guide, click the picture or link.  You’ll get the Table of Contents, Foreword, and 2 free Chapters.  Free Sample

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