Article | 7 min read

9 great sales leadership competencies, qualities, and skills

Want to know what it takes to succeed as a sales leader? Here are the key characteristics and skills needed for effective sales leadership.

By Donny Kelwig, Contributing Writer

Published February 24, 2020
Last updated March 8, 2022

In most organizations, the highest-performing sales reps are eventually promoted to sales leadership positions. But being good at sales doesn’t automatically translate into being a competent sales leader. Leading a sales team to success requires a whole new set of skills, attributes, and capabilities.

So, how do you become a successful sales leader? Read our comprehensive guide to sales leadership to find out.

Leading a sales team to success

As a sales leader, it’s your job to guide your team to success and generate revenue. To do that, you must know how close—or how far—sales reps are from meeting their goals. Monitoring sales metrics and data makes it easier to set achievable targets while also pushing individual sales reps to improve their skills. Numbers are hard to argue with, and they can clearly illustrate progress (or a lack of it).

Sales leaders should know how to assess historical and current sales data so they can accurately measure the performance of individual reps and the entire team over time. Tracking sales performance allows leaders to course-correct if they notice troubling patterns and to reward reps when they meet or exceed their goals.

Sales management vs. sales leadership

Sales leadership and sales management might sound like interchangeable terms, but they’re quite different.

Essentially, a sales manager is responsible for seeing the bigger picture and pointing the entire sales team in a singular direction. They typically train sales agents, oversee sales activities, and run the day-to-day operations.

A sales leader, on the other hand, works to set and implement the sales culture and vision of the company. They focus on motivating sales reps and empowering sales managers to drive the team to succeed. Aside from inspiring and coaching their staff, sales leaders must also be analytical and able to make data-driven decisions.

Qualities of a good sales team leader

Everyone has their own leadership style. But there are three main qualities that all sales leaders should possess.

  • Excellent listener

    sales leadership

    In a sales leadership position, you must listen closely to your team and determine whether you need to act on their input. There may be something going on that you don’t know about, and closing off avenues for communicating those issues only allows the problems to fester. If you decide not to act on a rep’s feedback, make sure to clearly explain why.

    Whatever the case, show your reps that their feelings and thoughts matter to you and the company. Employees who feel heard and appreciated are much more likely to care about their work.

    An effective sales leader will also conduct 1:1s regularly so they can measure progress, identify obstacles, recognize achievements, and discuss professional development opportunities. Just be sure your meetings stay productive and don’t fall into the trap of being too casual.

    You should also avoid continually canceling or rescheduling your 1:1s. Not having time to meet with employees is the third most common complaint people have about sales leadership. It’s also the quickest way to make your reps feel like they don’t matter.

  • Fair-minded coach

    sales leadership

    Great sales leadership requires understanding the strengths and weaknesses of your individual reps and developing their talents in a way that benefits the business.

    Rather than always telling your reps exactly what to do, give them space to find the solutions on their own. Sometimes, experience is the best teacher—and reps can’t get that if you’re constantly directing their every move. Encourage them to problem-solve by asking questions like, “What do you want to achieve?” or “What could you do right now?”

    7 secrets of sales leadership

    Read the full list of sales leader secrets to find out how these managers are getting the most from their teams.

    A good sales director also never assumes that employees know what action to take. They recognize that everyone comes from different backgrounds and training. What might seem like sales 101 to you might be a foreign concept to a newcomer. Being a fair-minded coach means you consider the various factors at play rather than bull-headedly trying to paint everyone with the same brush.

  • Honest about ability

    sales leadership

    The role of a sales team leader is to give everyone their best shot at success without straining the company’s resources. It’s the sales leader’s job to acknowledge the employees who are excelling and to spot those whose sales productivity is lagging. If you invest too much time in the latter, you’ll end up losing time and money.

    While it’s your responsibility to help fill the gaps in a sales rep’s performance, you can only manage an employee so much. You must know when the void is too wide to fill and cut your losses. That way, you can focus your efforts and resources on the employees who have the potential and drive to succeed.

Sales team leader skills

Here are the essential skills sales leaders need to thrive in the role.

  • Hiring ability
    The success of your team hinges on the people you hire. You need to know how to read people during the interview process and recognize the qualities that will make them a strong addition to the team. You should have a knack for asking the right questions and identifying talent when you see it.
  • Adaptability
    Every salesperson has unique experiences, learning preferences, skills, and selling styles. Great sales leaders can work with and motivate different personality types. Sales leadership involves being able to understand and adapt to each individual sales rep so you can get the best performance out of them consistently.
  • Strategic thinking
    Sales team leaders must know how to set a goal and what actions are needed to achieve that objective. To guide their sales reps in the right direction, they need to read and interpret data accurately. Gut instinct may help to some degree, but being able to make strategic decisions based on data is a must in sales leadership.

Sales executive competencies

Leadership in sales is a delicate balance of understanding tech and people.

Sales management leadership competencies

  • Sales technology knowledge
    Data is only valuable if you can act on it fast. And that’s just not possible if your reps are entering data and sending every single sales email manually. Technology can’t be avoided in sales at this point, which means sales team leaders must be familiar with sales management software.
  • Recruiting
    Regardless of the amazing tech options out there, salespeople are still the most valuable part of the equation. Great sales leaders are also competent recruiters who can build a high-performing, cohesive team and minimize turnover.

Developing sales leaders

If you’re in a sales leadership or managerial position, part of your job is to keep your eye out for employees who might make good leaders in the future. Perhaps they don’t have all the sales leadership qualities quite yet, but those can be acquired over time. One of the key sales executive skills is the ability to motivate, so be on the lookout for team members who have it. Take note of sales reps who have a knack for bringing out the best in their teammates, too.

If you want to know how to be a sales leader who gets the most out of their team, dive into literature and lectures by motivational speakers, and learn how to inspire reps to do their best all the time—not just when you’re looking.

A final tip for how to be a good sales director

One of the best things you can do as a sales leader is to stay on top of trends. Advancements in sales methods and technology, like sales force automation, are happening at lightning speed. If you get too devoted to a routine, you might miss out on opportunities to make a good thing even better.

Read sales books and follow other business leaders, and don’t be afraid to try out new strategies. If you have all the qualities of a good sales leader, you’ll be able to guide your team and make changes seamlessly and successfully.

7 secrets of sales leadership

Read the full list of sales leader secrets to find out how these managers are getting the most from their teams.

7 secrets of sales leadership

Read the full list of sales leader secrets to find out how these managers are getting the most from their teams.

Learn more