What Does Effective Sales Leadership Looks Like: Definition, Habits, Best Practices

Cassy Aite
August 4, 2022
What Does Effective Sales Leadership Looks Like: Definition, Habits, Best Practices

Leaders must be close enough to relate to others, but far enough ahead to motivate them.

John C. Maxwell shared some wise words, but how does one achieve this?

How do you make strategic decisions that fit your organization’s vision and mission while motivating and inspiring your sales team to emerge as a capable sales leader?

Admittedly, it’s tricky.

True sales leadership has a required skill set that goes beyond having extraordinary selling skills—you also need sales management skills and perspectives to lead from the front.

We’ve created this guide to help you understand effective sales leadership. Read on to learn the common attributes and personality traits of a sales leader and tips to help you lead from the front.

What is sales leadership?

A woman thinking

Sales leadership is the ability to strategically guide an organization’s sales department to achieve commercial objectives while empowering each sales professional.

As a sales leader, you have a profound impact on not only company culture and overall business success but also your sales reps’ individual growth and success. In fact, a study conducted by Steve W. Martin found that 69% of salespeople who exceeded their annual quota rated their sales manager as excellent or above average.

If you engage and coach your salespeople properly and lead through a systematic sales process, you‘ll see a higher win/loss ratio, improve revenue, and reduce salesperson turnover. 

In a nutshell, the more effective your sales leadership, the more likely your sales department will thrive.

Sales leadership vs. Sales management

Let’s get one thing straight: a sales manager and a sales leader are different roles. They are not interchangeable.

A sales manager makes people work for them. They hold a certain role, rank, or seniority within an organization, and are responsible for sales forecasting, delegating, budgeting, hiring and firing, and the likes. But they don’t lead.

On the other hand, sales leaders inspire people to follow them. They are committed to the organization’s growth, but they don’t just prioritize team success—each salesperson’s success is equally important to them.

Let’s take a deeper look into the differences between sales leaders and sales managers.

Giving instructions 

Managers have a reactive approach when giving instructions, whereas leaders are proactive. 

As a sales manager, you get instructions from the upper management, which you then implement through your team. But when you’re a sales leader, you come up with new ideas and directions, as well as assist with their implementation.

Changes in the workplace 

Both sales managers and sales leaders deal with workplace changes, albeit differently. While the former helps their team respond to change, the latter empowers the team to be the ones initiating change.

Relationship with team members 

When dealing with team members, sales managers give clear instructions to salespeople and tell them how to improve. 

Sales leaders, on the other hand, coach their team members so they better understand their role within the organization. They influence salespeople’s perspectives and attitudes, empowering and motivating them to develop and exceed their professional goals. 

Becoming a strong sales leader: Common habits and personality traits

A sales meeting in progress

Successful sales leaders share certain attributes and personality traits.

Developing the following habits can go a long way in enhancing your sales leadership skills and building high-functioning, successful sales teams:

Spotting and leveraging talent

The only way to flourish as a sales leader is to have a strong sales team. Your team members will define you, so you need a keen eye for sales talent.

During the interview process, gauge the candidates’ coachability. Be explicit about:

  • what they will be selling and to whom, 
  • the style of selling that they will be doing, and 
  • the tools they will be using.

Also, use the interview process to sell the job opportunity. Top sales talent has many takers, which is why you need to pitch your organization to them to build a strong sales team. 

Try identifying the candidate’s superpower at the interview stage and visualize what they can bring to the team you want to build. Hire curious, persistent, and adaptable individuals who have a strong selling record.

Once you’ve hired team members, shift your focus to leveraging their strengths. Conduct strength assessments like CliftonStrengths and StandOut assessments to learn more about your team members throughout their tenure and assign them responsibilities accordingly.

Giving feedback

If there is one thing a sales leader should do well, it’s giving feedback.

You need to be observant and know the right words to help your salespeople improve. Develop a habit of coaching immediately on all aspects of team performance, but do it with empathy. See feedback as an opportunity for betterment—not chastisement. 

Consider using the BIG acronym for giving feedback:

  • Behavior: Mention the specific behavior you want to improve
  • Impact: Tell them how changing the behavior will impact their performance
  • Get agreement: Help them understand and agree to make the change

Also, feedback is a two-way street. Welcome feedback from your team members to update processes and improve your own leadership. Not only will this help create a more positive workplace culture, but also help you build a loyal team.

Develop a command instinct

True sales leaders know how to exercise the power their title and position have to hold their sales team to a higher level of accountability. 

Consistently measure and hold salespeople accountable against their quotas. Create an environment that encourages sales team members to continually seek improvement, thereby driving overall departmental performance. 

You can also create peer pressure by publicly recognizing and praising overachievers, giving underachievers the necessary nudge to redeem themselves.

Active listening

As a sales leader, you’ll find yourself constantly flooded with all kinds of information—product knowledge, customer inquiries, demand generation trends, presentations, team member conflicts, and general communication. 

When you have good listening skills, you can receive and interpret all this information better. Otherwise, it’s all just noise that may result in you missing out on important information.

Be present in conversations and avoid interrupting people speaking with you. Allow them to finish the sentence and frame of thought. Take time to process what was said and think about what you’re going to say. 

You’ll notice when your team members feel like they are being heard, they will be more open to sharing perspectives and ideas, which is the whole point of being a sales leader.

Leading by example

Modeling your expectations through your actions is an excellent tactic to ensure your salespeople follow you and see you as a trustworthy leader. Go over your wins and mistakes while sharing feedback. This will give your salespeople something tangible to see you as the authority and everything you say will hold more weight. 

For example, you can record and share your own sales call and go over it with your team, where you dissect both the good and the bad and encourage team members to ask questions. Not only will this show off your expertise, but also make you appear more human.

As a result, your team members will be more inclined to take your suggestions and apply feedback.

Be strategic

Another important responsibility of a sales leader is to build strategic gameplay using the most cost-effective sales model that can surpass the competition.

To do this right, you’ll need to build on your knowledge to correctly deploy field marketing sales professionals, segment the market into different verticals, and assign reps to specific customer or product types when necessary. 

Moreover, as every sales organization is unique, you need to rely on your individual experience and expertise to determine your organization’s strategic direction and coach team members accordingly. This will also help you keep your team on track and focused on winning.

How to become a better sales leader

A woman looking at her laptop

When you transition into a leadership position, use your experience and the skills you developed during your time as a sales rep or manager to make sound decisions and provide helpful feedback for improving the sales operation.

Here are a few sales leadership best practices to get you started on the right track:

Build your leadership skills

In addition to a clear understanding of the sales process and operation, you also need general leadership skills to emerge as a successful sales leader. 

Strategic decisiveness, coaching capabilities, emotional intelligence, communication skills, and empathy are useful traits that easily translate to any leadership position, and sales is no exception.

Take classes to gain knowledge or sign up for a middle-management or team leadership role. You’ll also find several sales training programs focused on building sales management leadership skills that can help you further sharpen your leadership skills.

Leverage your existing skill sets 

You cannot call yourself a leader if you have no prior experience in the business function you're leading. Think about it: would you take someone from a sales role and appoint them as your company‘s new chief financial officer (CFO)?


Take note of the things you learned when working your way to the positions of sales development representative, account executive, team leader, and then sales manager. Consider how you closed more deals, motivated your co-workers, and made strategic decisions based on your client’s reactions. 

Channel your experience when solving problems in your new position and improve results. 

For example, if you’ve always found repetitive manual work time-consuming and monotonous, implement sales automation strategies to free up your sales reps’ time and have them focus on the more important sales functions like sales prospecting and lead scoring.

Get a mentor or sales coach 

Getting a mentor doesn’t seem to be spoken about enough. 

Effective mentoring can help you better understand day-to-day challenges and what it takes to succeed in a sales leadership role. Seeing an established sales leader in their element can help you improve your own skills and supplement your existing knowledge. 

Before taking on the sales leadership role, request a sales executive you admire to shadow them. You can also sign up for mentorship or leadership development programs to get access to additional training sessions, and leadership scenario role-playing opportunities, among other things to improve your leadership capabilities. 

5 sales leaders to inspire you

A mean sitting on a couch with a laptop on his lap

It’s never a bad idea to follow like-minded individuals who regularly share sales advice and strategies, helping you develop better leadership skills. 

Here are five leading sales influencers you need to follow right away:

1. Jill Konrath

Jill Konrath is the very definition of a true sales leader.

With a long-lasting career as a sales consultant and trainer for Fortune 500 brands to back her advice, she uses her platform to share fresh sales strategies that can help you win bigger contracts and build a strong sales department.

Easy to see why LinkedIn has selected Konrath as its #1 B2B sales expert for two consecutive years.

Favorite Jill Konrath quote: “Sales is an outcome, not a goal. It’s a function of doing numerous things right, starting from the moment you target a potential prospect until you finalize the deal.” 

2. Neil Rackham

Neil Rackham is the brilliant mind behind the bestseller SPIN Selling, so following him for sales leadership advice is really a no-brainer.

What sets Rackham apart is his unique perspective on sales issues. Use his advice to build a relentless team of sales professionals who are always prepared for every sales call, presentation, and pitch. 

Favorite Neil Rackham quote: “The traditional selling models, methods, and techniques that most of us have been trained to use work best in small sales. For now, let me define small as a sale that can normally be completed in a single call and which involves a low dollar value. Unfortunately, these tried-and-true, low-value sales techniques, most of them dating from the 1920s, don’t work today.

3. Grant Cardone

Grant Cardone is another multi-bestselling author of books like Sell or Be Sold and The 10X Rule. Besides his selling and leading accomplishments, we’ve featured Cardone on our list because of his views on investing in one’s own education.

Cardone borrowed $3,000 from his mother to buy a sales program, and since then has been an advocate for sales education. He has built a massive business for himself making difficult decisions and having the power to stick with it and invest heavily in educating himself further instead of giving up.

A woman booking more sales meeting with Hoppier

Precisely why we also recommend signing up for sales courses for you and your employees. You can use our Hoppier virtual cards to allot your salespeople a learning allowance and have them sign up for sales classes on popular e-learning platforms like Udemy and Skillshare.

Learn more about booking more sales meetings here.

Favorite Grant Cardone quote: “I have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars investing in myself and my people, in hopes of making us all better, more motivated, more strategic. Some of the programs didn’t work, but I keep investing, knowing that it will be off in the long run.“

4. Lauren Bailey

Having launched and led multiple sales organizations towards success, Lauren Bailey is no stranger to getting featured on top sales leaders' lists.

With a career spanning over two decades, you can turn to Bailey for smart, actionable advice to develop your sales leadership skills. She also has a #GirlsClub program dedicated to helping more women gain the skills and confidence to apply for (and slay!) leading roles in the sales community.

Favorite Lauren Bailey quote: “When you can help build the confidence of your sellers, they are going to be more successful.“

5. Donald Kelly

Donald Kelly is a well-renowned sales trainer and host of the popular sales podcast The Sales Evangelist.

Having been on the front lines of selling, Kelly is the perfect sales expert to follow to learn fresh and relevant anecdotes and tips. Tune into his podcast to hear him interview a diverse profile of sales experts, entrepreneurs, and thought leaders and decode strategic B2B selling tactics and get in-depth insights into the fundamentals of effective sales leadership. 

Favorite Donald Kelly quote: “The greatest salespeople are the ones who are almost like therapists. They know that great questions lead a buyer to come to a conclusion about whether this is something they should invest in or not.”

With Hoppier, you can change the way you handle learning allowances and sales meetings for the better. Explore all the different ways you could use Hoppier to bring your sales meetings, corporate gifting, and even after-work drinks to life.

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