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ATD Blog

Growing Talent Development Firms: How Sales Leadership Attributes Fit

Thursday, September 24, 2020

My last several posts have focused on the overall sales engine structure needed to drive revenue. These included being clear on the purpose of your selling initiative, the processes that must be aligned with this purpose to execute on it, and the people required to implement these processes. Yet, even with all three of these in perfect alignment and in place, without sales leadership, none of these will be sustainable. Perhaps the most important component of an effective sales engine is the most senior leader responsible for overseeing the entire sales operation. Unfortunately, everyone has seen instances where the puzzle pieces, while designed to fit together, just can’t be linked because the sales leader is inept, unmotivated, inexperienced, or a little of each.

This and the following post will focus on assessing the fit between your business needs and the capabilities and experience of potential sales leaders that match those. In other words, what are the criteria for an effective sales leader and what should you be looking for should you need to hire one? Let’s start with the well-known but rarely followed mantra that the best salesperson does not necessarily make the best sales manager. This shouldn’t be surprising because in many cases the attributes that make a great salesperson are the same ones that make a poor sales leader. Have you ever experienced a top-gun salesperson who always makes their numbers but looks something like this?

They may be:

  • Highly energetic
  • Unable to sit still
  • A motivated self-starter
  • Independent
  • Talkative
  • A real schmoozer
  • Publicly optimistic
  • Focused on their individual goals

They may also:

  • Not show up for internal meetings
  • Be somewhat of a loner
  • Be unorganized
  • Lack the time to write reports
  • Feel they don’t need or want direction
  • Not follow the rules
  • Have a short-term focus
  • Be uninterested in the organization’s goals as much as their own

Sound familiar? Often, most of these characteristics describe a successful salesperson. But can you imagine working for such a person? It would be unnerving to say the least. While effective sales leaders may not be the total opposite of all these characteristics, their more prominent attributes are to be:

  • Highly organized
  • Planful
  • Realistic
  • Caring about nurturing others
  • Good coaches
  • People-development focused
  • Motivating
  • Interested in others’ company
  • Receptive to new and different ideas
  • Openly honest
  • Future-oriented
  • Big-picture thinkers
  • Systems- and process-focused
  • Able to recognize strengths and weaknesses
  • Aligned with the company’s goals

As you review these lists it becomes quite evident how different these two profiles are and thus why the best salespeople don’t always make the best sales leader unless they are able to transform their sales success into leading others. Certainly, the person who can embrace the above and manage the tensions between them could be the most successful sales leader. You need to ask yourself what, if anything, you are willing to sacrifice for your business regarding the attributes typically required for effective sales leadership.

In the follow-up post on this subject, I will identify the business context attributes that often demand a tight fit for a sales leader to be effective in addition to personal attributes. In the meantime, ask yourself how your internal salespeople stack up against the attributes of an effective sales leader for your business. How would you describe them for what you are specifically looking for in a sales leader within your organization? What part of your current sales leadership success or failure is the result of the right or wrong attributes match with your organization? What have you done to include an attributes assessment in selecting your past sales leaders?

For more insight, check out The Complete Guide to Building and Growing a Talent Development Firm.

About the Author

Steve Cohen is founder and principal of the Strategic Leadership Collaborative, a private consulting practice focused on business strategy and development. A 40+ year veteran of the talent development industry, largely on the supplier side, he has demonstrated a proven track record for building equity by growing top and bottom-line performance for eight different consulting enterprises in the education and training industry he has either founded and/or led. He has been called on to consult with numerous firms needing strategic planning guidance, business coaching, and board advisory services.

His latest book is The Complete Guide to Building and Growing a Talent Development Firm.

He can be reached at: 952.942.7291 or [email protected] or at his website:

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