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Five ways to recognize a transformational sales leader

April 2015

Excerpted from More Than Revenue.

Successful sales leaders today must have the skills to lead their organizations through the changes required by an intensely competitive market in which conventional sales practices and old ways of thinking are no longer sufficient. The new sales leader is expected to change the way companies reach the market, intensify customer relationships and unearth new product opportunities, all while continuing to pursue the perennial goal of increasing revenue. In helping scores of companies successfully identify, assess and hire sales leaders with transformative skills, several key capabilities stand out as absolutely essential for sales leaders today:

Success driving development of new go-to-market strategies: Driven by new customer dynamics and buying habits, a hypercompetitive marketplace and the increasing importance of data analysis in the sales function, chief sales officers are expected not only to lead the sales function, but also to guide transformational change. They must excel in developing new, often unorthodox, go-to-market strategies, and they must be confident in leading their organizations to execute those strategies.

A broad skill-set: Transformational change is an activity that touches every aspect of a company — its people, processes, structure, culture and strategies. It is a complex task that requires a wide range of capabilities, including strategic insight and business judgment, social intelligence, self-awareness and exceptional people management skills.

Cross-functional influence: Transformation also requires the ability to influence and inspire other leaders and the broader organization, going beyond just the sales organization. The sales leader must work effectively with functions such as marketing, customer care and engineering to drive customer-centric, go-to-market initiatives.

Critical thinking skills: In the view of the executives we interviewed, the most valued sales leaders today are those who come to the table with a solutions orientation, and the ability to apply a consultative approach in thinking about — and solving — the most critical business challenges.

Ability to infuse the team with new talent: Now more than ever, companies are seeking sales leaders with track records of success in recruiting individuals who have new skill-sets, technical knowledge and the ability to execute ideas and proposals more quickly than ever before. These new additions to the sales team are needed not only to increase revenues and build market share, but also to create a pipeline of talent for future leadership needs.

Very few sales leaders excel equally well in all of these areas. Some may be adept at strategic thinking and envisioning change but lack the ability to get other people in the organization to share their vision. Others may excel at implementing change initiated by someone else but fall short at envisioning strategic alternatives. Companies must assess the full spectrum of their prospective sales leader’s capabilities and how it meshes with the organization’s long-term strategies. The best sales leaders represent more than sales; they represent the entire company, and work well across all functions within the company.