6 Tips to Successfully Step Into a Sales Leadership Role

Last updated: Jan 17, 2023

The career climb to a sales leadership position has a particularly steep learning curve compared to other fields. In sales, you’re used to being highly in control of your individual performance and the outcome, but that all changes when you find yourself stepping into a leadership role.


Suddenly, you’re responsible for the success of an entire team of individuals. Your finely tuned skill set for interacting with customers is now only useful in coaching your team members. Plus, you’re no longer chasing that singular goal: closing the sale.


Discover how you can overcome the most common pitfalls of new sales leaders. From team management to communication to prioritizing tasks, keep reading to see six essential tips for stepping into a sales leadership role.


Groups of sales leaders sitting together discussing their roles.

6. Create a Culture of Success

As the leader of a sales team, you establish the team culture. This includes your team’s mission, values, and aspirations. Fortunately, there are some clear steps you can take to establish a successful culture that lends itself to strong employee performance and sales:


  • Make sure new hires are the right culture fit.
  • Establish clear goals and performance expectations.
  • Give employees growth and learning opportunities.
  • Foster trust and knowledge-sharing among team members.
  • Celebrate contributions, including those unrelated to sales.
  • Use clear communication to inspire trust and passion among employees.


Like most businesses, your culture forms the bedrock of your company. If it’s not healthy, sales numbers will crumble due to employee disengagement, low morale, high turnover, and bad customer service.


5. Observe Your Team in Action

Too many new managers go into their office, shut the door, and never watch their team perform. That overly internal focus prevents you from observing and addressing important sales areas that can be improved, particularly when conversing with customers:


  • Listening skills
  • Ability to build relationships
  • Depth of business knowledge
  • Understanding of customer pain points and needs


Whether your salespeople are interacting with customers via video conferencing, on the phone, or in the store, it’s important to spend some time observing each team member.


Customer interaction not going well? Summon all of your self-control and avoid jumping in to help, which is a common mistake many new sales leaders make. Grabbing the steering wheel will prevent you from seeing your salesperson’s skills and what needs to be improved. Once the customer interaction is over, sit down with your employee to talk about their strengths, opportunities to improve, goals, and strategies moving forward.


4. Remember That Sales Is an Individual Pursuit

Many new managers make the mistake of viewing their sales members as a cohesive group that works together to accomplish a shared goal. Unfortunately, this is often a big mistake. Although your employees are technically on the same team, they’re primarily concerned with their own performance, particularly if they earn commission. In essence, it’s like playing an individual sport.


That means you need to curb your assumptions about their interest in team performance. In many cases, they couldn’t care less. That morning team meeting where you run through the previous week’s numbers? They can’t wait for it to end because there’s typically little to no need for them to depend on their colleagues. In fact, they’re often in direct competition for the same customers.


Instead, focus on carving out some one-on-one time with each team member. During this time, talk about their goals, struggles, and motivations. Helping them on an individual level, even if it’s only a few minutes here and there, will provide far more impact on their motivation and success.

 A sales representative training to take on a sales leadership role.

3. Don’t Get Distracted by the Little Problems

When you step into a new leadership sales role, it often means that your predecessor allowed many issues to creep into the workplace and fester. In fact, a Forbes article explains that you’re probably going to inherit many deficiencies that are bringing down the team, including HR and performance struggles. The key is to avoid letting these issues overwhelm you.


While important, many of these workplace issues aren’t always critical to reaching sales goals. If you’re overly focused on all these workplace problems that you inherited, your attention is being diverted from the efforts that have a direct impact on the bottom line. As a new sales leader, you can’t afford to let these problems distract you from your primary goal: hitting sales quotas.


Instead of immediately diving into these issues all at once, prioritize them and make a plan of attack. The most pressing issues that impact customer service and sales should sit at the top of your list. Once you’ve stabilized your sales numbers and gotten your team on the same game plan, circle back to the items on your list and develop a strategy to address them. If team members express concern that you haven’t worked on an issue they presented, let them know that you’re aware of it and putting a plan in place to fix the issue.


2. Look for Opportunities to Recognize Team Members

Employee motivation is an enormously important factor in the performance of your team. And few actions inspire employees greater than recognizing their accomplishments. Unfortunately, many new managers don’t provide enough recognition, and there are several reasons why this may be the case:


  • Being too busy to offer positive feedback.
  • Undervaluing the importance of praise.
  • Focusing on things that were done wrong rather than things that were done right.
  • Feeling too insecure to build the confidence of others.


Does your praise of employees always have to be a big, team-wide celebration, prize ceremony, or formal award presentation? No. In fact, some employees may feel uncomfortable with big displays in front of their peers.


Sometimes an informal – but sincere – chat where you congratulate them on a recent accomplishment is enough. The point is that you’re stopping and taking time out of your day to tell this individual that you recognize how well they’ve done, and you appreciate their contributions. You’re also giving important workplace feedback that says the tactics they’re employing are correct. The key here is that the more specific you are with your praise, the more authentic and effective it will be.


1. Fully Embrace Your New Role as a Leader

The key to becoming a great sales leader is often as simple as recognizing that you’ve stopped being a salesperson. Although this sounds obvious, far too many new sales leaders revert back to their old selling instincts, particularly when times get tough or an opportunity presents itself. However, you must resist the urge to jump in and chase that adrenaline rush of closing a deal.


Remember, you’re now there to support your sales team and help them succeed. If you jump in and start gobbling up sales that your team was supposed to make, you risk confusing and irritating them. Once you take a leadership role, you’ve stepped off the sales floor, so you can’t have it both ways.


Need some help transitioning to a sales leadership role? Want the skills to take the next step in your career? Find out how USF’s leadership courses can provide the critical leadership training you need to take charge of your team and start your leadership career off right!


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