Sales leadership qualities: what skills really matter?

From Google’s Larry Page to Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, the leaders of some of the world’s biggest companies did not start their professional careers in commercial roles. Yet they went on to drive huge revenue growth at their organisations, while reshaping what we consider to be good sales leadership qualities.

The perception that salespeople need to be pushy and extrovert has been greatly exaggerated

Look further down the ranks in many businesses and you’ll find a similar trend: highly successful salespeople who joined from entirely unrelated careers and then used their outsider status to get ahead.

Advocates say such figures can bring fresh perspectives to firms and may be better at understanding customer needs than traditional salespeople. But given the importance of sales leadership qualities, isn’t it a bit risky to entrust revenue generation in your business to relative novices?

Successful salespeople need specific skillset

For one thing, sales is a highly pressurised and target-driven profession, and salespeople are subject to constant scrutiny and feedback. For another, you need a certain mix of skills, knowledge and discipline to get on, and it can’t be learnt overnight.

“If a senior commercial officer is not credible in the contact sport of selling, he or she will not last long,” says Professor Craig Wortmann, executive director of the Kellogg Sales Institute at the Kellogg School of Management.

Hiring people with no direct experience poses risks but, as advocates point out, great salespeople also need to understand and empathise with their clients, and sometimes coming from a non-sales background helps.

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