5 Steps to Identify Future Sales Leaders

Unless you’re going through the carwash or getting frozen yogurt from a hole in a wall, there’s no such thing as good business without good people. Even that tile-wall fro-yo dispenser was someone’s (obviously) good idea. But even in today’s technology-filled world, nothing truly comes automated in sales. This is a people business, as we’ve said many times. To gain a competitive edge in today’s amped-up playing field, you need strong sales leadership—the kind that will inspire and direct your team of sales reps to be the best at what they do.

Great sales leaders sometimes move on, or retire, or make their way up the executive staircase. Suddenly you have a leadership gap to fill. In every business, good thought leaders understand the indisputable fact that success depends on the people you hire, and that you can cultivate the potential of the talented individuals in your corporate “family.” In many cases, you will find your next great leader among the ranks of your sales reps. Unfortunately, your future golden boy or girl will not come with a sticky note on her or his forehead that says, “Follow me! I’m a leader!” The task at hand is how to identify that future head of the pack.

Under Pressure
Sales is not an un-stressful job. It’s fast-paced; often you’re juggling different deals concurrently; certain customers have (ahem) challenging personalities. There’s a lot to keep track of and there’s a lot at stake. How do your sales reps hold up under pressure? How do they cope with constantly changing situations and environments, as well as the consistent stress that comes with the job?

The ones who can handle the pressure best might look like workaholics: They’re always available to the customer, and they have a gift for anticipating situations and quickly realigning priorities to be there for the customer. Rather than acting surprised or bowled over by the stress, they accept it as an integral part of the work they do. In other words, stress doesn’t floor them, because they understand it and, if anything, see it as just another challenge to overcome. Like a surfer, they ride those gnarly waves into the safe shallows.

How’s My Driving?
Paint an overall picture of a potential new leader’s job performance. What’s that look like? What level of quality does she or he deliver? Is this person enthusiastic only when it comes to personal gain, or is this individual contributor doggedly determined to ensure customer satisfaction first?

As far as people skills, how does this person rate? Do you get the sense they’ve reduced the customer to a cartoon—arms, legs, a head, and a dollar sign for a body—or are they driven by the customer’s best interest and overall satisfaction? What about camaraderie? Are they versatile in dealing with different types of people and do they operate well in tension-filled situations? If they’re everybody’s BFF, that might not make for the best leader, but being a likeable and resourceful extrovert is for sure an asset, if not a necessity, for any good team captain.

Can-Do ‘Tude
When looking for a leader, you’re looking for a self-starter, one who will do her or his own research and initiate new assignments, new challenges, and farther-reaching targets to hit. Sales leaders are self-motivated; they don’t stand around discussing the latest YouTube video of pugs in tiaras till something “worky” comes up. Among the ranks of reps, who alone is uncovering the thing that no one else knew needed to be done?

A Thick Skin in the Game
How well does your potential head of the team take direction from higher-ups such as sales managers and staff supervisors? The best sales leaders seek out and are able to accept feedback because they know it’s a) helpful and b) motivational. Career cultivation is important to them: They get the “coach” relationship between a sales manager and themselves.

Take Me to Your Fearless Leader
How courageous are they about making decisions? Are they confident enough to try something innovative, even knowing there’s risk involved? Do they craft solutions to problems without the burden of fearing they might make a mistake?

Follow the Leader
Your leader is out there; most likely right within reach. Spend time observing your sales team and look for signs. If it’s easier at first, take a process-of-elimination approach. In sales, as in life, there are always more followers than leaders. Look closely for the attributes shared here and you will find what you are looking for.