How to Become a Sales Leader

Jan 19, 2023

Collin Stewart

Being a great sales leader involves more than just the ability to sell. You also need to have a strong managing process and enjoy coaching others–something our latest podcast guest excels at. 

Michael Covre is a sales leader at Shopify, one of the world’s leading multinational e-commerce companies.

He joined the Predictable Revenue podcast to discuss the ins and outs of successful sales leadership, including how to become a sales leader, an inside look at his managing process, and tips for leading people successfully.

Is sales leadership right for you?

Most early career salespeople dream of stepping into a leadership role, but that may not be the best path for everyone. 

The first step to choosing a path for advancement is understanding what excites you and motivates you throughout the day. If you enjoy coaching other reps and picking apart the sales process more than closing deals, that’s a sign that leadership may be a good fit.

Start by taking on more of a leadership role within your team; for example, helping to train new hires or diagnose gaps in the sales process. You don’t necessarily need to be a manager to have an impact on the rest of the team.

Study the different data points within your funnel, look for ways to improve, and make an effort to give back to the rest of your team and organization.

Advice for new sales leaders

The first 90 days in a new sales leadership role are crucial. If you’ve never taken on this type of role before, start by focusing on what you’re good at–in most cases, that will be closing deals and driving revenue.

Remember that the company has invested a significant amount of time and money to put you in this role. The sooner you can offer an ROI, the better. This is what authors Michael Cafferky and Jon Wentworth refer to as the “break-even point.” 

Start with who, not how

The most important thing a new sales leader can do is to build trust with their team. Get reps to buy into your vision and team culture and ensure they understand the company’s long-term mission.

From there, you can start building systems and processes–but only after you’ve focused on your people first. 

The three processes every sales leader needs to succeed

Sales leaders are responsible for creating processes on every level, but there are three foundational pieces to start with: your rep operating process, team process, and business process.

  • Rep operating process: On a one-to-one level, what do coaching meetings look like?

  • Team process: Are you driving team engagement and connecting reps to the right resources? Are you helping the team build internal relationships throughout the company? How will you collect feedback from your team?

  • Business process: How will you work cross-functionally to solve problems and forecast revenue? 

As a sales leader, you set the tone for the rest of the team. Choose a few non-negotiables (i.e., operating with integrity, keeping Salesforce up to date) and demonstrate those behaviors to your reps from day one.

How to create a great sales team culture

Culture isn’t something you impose on your team as a leader. Instead of hiring reps to fit a certain culture, let your team drive the culture. If they have a hand in creating the culture, they will likely stay accountable long-term.

Look for salespeople who share common values and objectives but also bring a diversity of ideas to the table. Ideally, these will be high-achievers with a growth mindset who want to learn more.

Lastly, remember that not every rep will be the right fit for your leadership style, and you need to be able to identify those people objectively during the hiring process. If you need help building or expanding your sales team, click here to learn how we can help.

How to Become a Sales Leader

Coaching your reps

One-on-one coaching is an important part of sales leadership, but few managers have experience in coaching before taking on the job. 

The easiest way to set your team up for success is to follow a coaching flow throughout the month. For example, the first week can be used to reflect on the last month, the second and third weeks on personal/career development, and the final week on performance pacing. 

Following a regular schedule ensures you don’t let any of the above topics slip through the cracks. 

Coaching low performers

Many sales leaders fall into the trap of overcoaching their lowest performers. A better approach is to understand the root cause of the issue: is it behavioral or non-behavioral? 

If it’s behavioral, that’s difficult to change. The rep may not be a good fit for the role, in which case you’ll need to either let them go or transition them to another role or department. 

If the issue isn’t behavioral and the rep has the right attitude, you need to identify what’s going wrong. What skills are they missing, and how can you build those up? Work your way backward through the sales process to find the issue.

After you’ve identified the problem, don’t just assign a training regimen; have the rep co-create an action plan. They should be able to verbalize their plan to build that skill set. Check in with them daily as they begin to work through it and adjust the plan as needed. 

Coaching middle to high performers

If you have reps consistently reaching or exceeding quota, that’s a great opportunity to extend a new challenge. 

Encourage them to take on extra responsibilities and assignments. Invite them to attend leadership meetings, empower them to try new techniques, and share their learning with the rest of the team.

Look for ways to foster collaboration so one rep’s success feeds others. For example, how can you systematize and use it in training new hires if they’ve developed an effective cold call strategy?

How to develop your managing process

The first step to effective management is to document your systems and processes. Tie key metrics to each step in the sales cycle, then set KPIs as benchmarks so you can see where reps are succeeding and falling short.

You can take this further by tying certain skills to each step in the sales process. That way, when a rep struggles with a certain step, it’s clear which skill they need to work on. Establishing clear guidelines will also help reps self-assess their performance.

One of the most important aspects of leading people is to set expectations. Make sure your reps understand exactly what they need to do each day: how many calls or connects they need to make, which accounts they’re targeting, and what the process looks like from start to finish.

Managing tips for new sales leaders

Ask yourself what you need to do as a sales leader to set the team up for success. This may involve creating strong relationships with other functions, sitting in on calls to provide feedback, or checking in with your reps one-on-one.

Every team has different needs, challenges, and goals. Your sales leadership style should reflect what your reps need from you at any given time. 

If you’re new to leading people, start by leaning on your strengths and gradually improving your weaknesses. Surround yourself with leaders who excel in the areas you find challenging so you can grow those skills.

Final thoughts on sales leadership

As a sales leader, your biggest success is your team’s success. Focus on your strengths, building trust with your team, and co-creating a positive culture. From there you can expand your processes to drive revenue faster and more effectively. 

If you want to connect with Michael to learn more about sales leadership reach out via LinkedIn.

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