The note below is based on observing and interviewing more than 100 sales leaders from large to medium and small enterprises over the past five years.
Many friends and colleagues have asked me in my circle about the most essential traits of a new sales leader. I consider those to be "listening, leading, innovating, and improving." What do I mean by that?
Let's start with the idea that every company requires different skills to take it from point A to B,, C, and so on. Of course, it might need various sales leaders at every stage (or a leader that can transform while the company grows). You can find those skills in people coming from organizations slightly ahead of yours, or you might find those skills in your organization. So it's something ordinary to see new leaders taking a company from one point to another.
But, on top of those regular sales and leadership skills, every new sales leader needs to have the four core ones - listening, leading, innovating, and improving.
Listening - the skill to first listen to and learn from the existing team and see how the company got to where it is. Meet the teams, learn about the product, learn about the culture, mentally train yourself to fit and make sure you hear everything there is to be heard. You need to know the history of a place to understand how to innovate and improve it. And with that, you will succeed.
Leading - the skill of leading the existing team you find while also adding new people throughout the team (mix-and-match the current talent with new talent to ensure you keep the culture alive while also bringing more knowledge to the company). Lead the team to become their best version. Lead by example and make sure you build a successful team. Be their colleague and their leader, and you will surely have success!
Innovating - the skill of knowing when and how to innovate - changes at a rapid pace and how to utilize the existing talent to get the company further. Innovation only sometimes requires new hires, but it absolutely requires an eye for talent.
Improving - take the company to the next level by improving in every area. Improving doesn't always mean change. It means taking something that exists and making it better. Take a company from point A and make it ready to become a point B company. Improving requires many skills to ensure you utilize both the existing and new talent in the company and bring it to the next level.
Unfortunately, even though companies hire great leaders on paper, the most significant sales leadership flaw we're seeing today is "the lack of listening skills." That automatically translates into terrible leadership that will only bring success in the short run. Someone once told me: "bunnies, not crocodiles," - have big ears to listen to, not a big mouth to speak. It's mandatory!
We see a lot of new sales managers (not leaders) that go into various organizations with the "I know it better" mindset. They don't listen - and unfortunately, they're missing out on many things. They will surely make similar mistakes without knowing the company's past ("Those who do not learn the history are doomed to repeat it"). They come in to change everything and end up at a point where they take the company backward, not forward.
Unfortunately, that is one of the biggest mistakes a sales manager (not a leader) will make. And unfortunately, it's a mistake a company sees very late due to the law of inertia ("if a body is at rest or moving at a constant speed in a straight line, it will remain at rest or keep moving in a straight line at constant speed unless it is acted upon by force.").
Yes, that law also applies to sales - once you hire a new sales leader, the company will still grow if it is growing, lose business if it is losing, and so on - all due to inertia. You will see the change after a few months or quarters once leading, innovating, and improving happen. And then you will know if they listened or not.
As a separate note, the sales leader is usually not hired cause things are going bad (sometimes yes, but scarce) - the new sales leader is hired cause things are going great, but the company requires outside knowledge ("Always hire people smarter than you") to take them to the next great level.
So the first thing a new sales leader needs to do is listen: listen to the people, the culture, listen how things have been done until they got hired. Then check how they can lead, innovate and improve.
Listen, lead, innovate and improve!