The Five Skills You Need To Be A Great Sales Leader


Just like star athletes often struggle to transition to the role of “coach,” a star sales rep can struggle to succeed as a sales manager. As a manager, your success no longer hinges on personal performance. Instead, it hinges on your ability to create a thriving team. At the same time, your responsibilities increase. You now own your team’s sales numbers, productivity, and engagement. For all of these reasons and more, research shows that this transition is both a time of high stress and a pivotal moment in a manager’s career

sustain-leadership-habits-previewTo learn what it takes to reach the upper echelons of sales leadership, I interviewed David Priemer. Priemer has spent two decades in sales leadership positions across four high-growth tech startups (including five years as a Vice President at Salesforce). In those twenty years, he spent a lot of time studying the patterns and research around what makes great sales leaders tick. He packaged his insights into one bestselling book: The Sales Leader They Need: Five Critical Skills to Unlock Your Team’s Potential. Below is a breakdown of each of the five critical skills in his book, as well as one practical tactic you can take and apply right now to improve that skill.

David Priemer, Author of The Sales Leader They Need

1. Promoting Transparency

Promoting transparency is about providing the “why” to go with the “what.” This helps your team to act with greater purpose and to be more invested in your team’s outcome.

Tactic to Promote Transparency: Share insights into how and why the business runs. In his book, Priemer shares an example from his role as VP of Sales. He would routinely show his team members the presentations he delivered to his executive leadership and board. Priemer writes, “I would point out specific trends and patterns in the data from our CRM and how they were interpreted and delivered to our executive leadership.” In some cases, he would even outline the narratives the data was leading him toward before delivering them up the chain. “That allowed my team to intercept any inaccurate conclusions and make any necessary adjustments in the CRM to reflect the true state of our business,” he explained.

2. Protecting and Advocating

Protecting and advocating is about demonstrating to your team that you have their back. Show your team that it’s important to you to identify and clear the roadblocks preventing them from achieving success. Even a small change to a key process can mean the difference between sales success or failure. For example, you might shed your team member of one low-value responsibility or arm your team with a simple one-page overview of your integration strategy.

Tactic to Protect and Advocate: Ask your team members to complete this sentence: “I could sell more of our products/services if _______________.”

Challenge your team (either individually or as a group) to complete the sentence with the single most impactful variable or blocker. The response is often a tangible and actionable insight.

3. Driving Accountability

Driving accountability is about making sure everyone does the things they’ve committed to doing for the company and each other.

Tactic to Drive Accountability: Deputize your team. Sharing your leadership responsibilities with your team members is a powerful way to not only preserve your precious bandwidth but also to:

●      Drive mutual accountability

●      Promote ownership and compliance

●      Build important delegation skills

●      Groom future leaders

●      Learn more about your team

One of the best ways to deputize your team is to involve them in the process. Ask them what additional roles and responsibilities they feel would be helpful to take on. “I've had team members suggest that someone be responsible for deciding how to use our monthly spiffs and promotions budget to incentivize the team. Others wanted to take charge of coordinating group social outings. And others wanted to plan customer events in the region,” Priemer shared.

4. Coaching Your Team

Coaching your team is about diagnosing and fixing execution and operational issues in your sales funnel to drive growth and continuous improvement.

Tactic to Coach Your Team: Ask each member of your team, “What skill can we work on together?” This question has three big benefits:

●      Self-awareness: This question helps your reps develop a point of view on their own strengths and areas for improvement.

●      Commitment: When people come up with suggestions on their own, they are more likely to take ownership. Asking a rep to identify a skill to work on and improve strengthens their commitment to the effort and outcome.

●      Alignment: This question also helps you determine how accurately your rep’s assessment of their own needs aligns with your assessment.

5. Getting and Giving Feedback

Getting and giving feedback is about sourcing the insights both you and your team need to learn fast and win.

Tactic to Get and Give Feedback: Give your team members feedback using this 3-Step process:

Step 1: Identify the specific behavior: Whether it’s something you’d like to see stopped, changed, or repeated, it’s important to call out the behavior.

Step 2: Highlight the impact of the behavior: Explain the “so what?” behind the rep’s actions. Provide your rep with the background, reasons, or rationale behind why you’ve decided to call out the behavior.

Step 3: Discuss specifically what the rep should do moving forward. You have two options here. First, you can be directive and tell the rep exactly what to do. Second, you can engage the rep in a discovery-based discussion and ask them for suggestions on how they feel they should proceed. In either case, you should come to a mutual agreement.

Putting These Insights into Action

Just as countless professional athletes have made a successful transition to manager, so too can successful sales reps. It just takes intention and effort. Start applying each of the tactics shared above, and you’ll be well on your way.


CEO of LEADx, and NY Times bestselling author, of Great Leaders Have No Rules and Employee Engagement 2.0. Get a FREE demo of the LEADx platform at