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Why is Sales Leadership So Tough? And What to Do About It

Sales leadership must be one of the toughest jobs in business. Just plug the term into Google, and more than 30 million results come back in about a half-second.

You’ll find articles from Harvard Business Review, Forbes,, and many, many others. They relay advice about the most effective habits of sales leaders, the characteristics of true sales leaders, the difference between sales leadership and sales management, and leadership behaviors that drive sales force improvement.

My advice? Read them. Not all 30 million. And not as a steady diet. But, if you are or aspire to be a sales leader, and you want to continually improve your performance, you should be well read on the topic of sales leadership.

I know firsthand about the trials of being a sales leader because I was one earlier in my career. It is a definite challenge, especially for those leading and managing change initiatives. Time and again, we at Richardson Sales Performance hear feedback like this from our clients:

“The most important lesson learned from this training program is the value of having executive-level support. From the CEO to the COO to the division presidents, [we have] unanimous support and vocal champions for the consultative selling approach.”1

“…the Sales VP championed what was the beginning of [our] Foundational Sales Program, an initiative to gain consistency across all sales teams in language, process, skills, and attainment of the five core competencies the company deemed most important.”2

Sales Leadership Priorities

Leadership of any kind takes a special kind of person: one who can motivate employees, set strategy, achieve results, satisfy stakeholders, and align with partners and influencers. Leading a sales function overlays an additional layer of complexity, requiring the discipline to keep sales manager and sales professionals focused on the right behaviors to hit their numbers.

If you are like most sales leaders, you probably came from a sales background. You were a great seller and got promoted to sales management and then to higher levels of leadership. But the skills that got you where you are as a leader are different from the ones needed to lead your people.

Even if you know what to do, the hardest part is doing it. You might be tempted to step in when your sellers are faltering and a sales opportunity hits a snag, but in doing this you do yourself and your sellers no favors. As a sales leader you have to rely on your team. You can’t hit your numbers by yourself; you need to develop every seller to be the best that they can be. In fact, I would say 60% of your time as a sales leader should be spent developing your people. If you work 40 hours each week, that’s 24 hours you need to devote to coaching and developing your team. If you work 60 hours each week, which is more likely, that’s 36 hours spent on development.

Sales Leadership and Sales Training

Even if you send your team to sales training, you still need to put in the time to learn what they’re learning and then coach to those behaviors so they become embedded in the culture. When sales leaders coach their teams, they become a force multiplier, keeping sellers on track and actively engaged in transforming their own performance.

What about all the other important things you need to do as a sales leader? Use the remaining 40% for strategy, reports, meetings with executives, and everything else. Excelling in sales leadership is an issue of time management, and it isn’t easy. But, if you can commit the majority of your time to coaching and developing your people, your results will reflect the greater contribution everyone makes as part of an effective, well-performing team.

1.All quotes for reference only; not for publication. This quote comes from the AlliedBarton nomination for the 2015 Brandon Hall awards program.
2.From the 2014 Stevie Awards, Sales Training or Coaching Program of the Year, WellPoint

About the Author

Nancy Sells, a Senior Training Consultant with Richardson, helps take Richardson’s global clients in new directions, not only strategically but geographically, calling on her experiences working with Fortune 1000 companies around the globe while representing the world’s largest commercial news distribution service.“Selling is my passion.” With a successful career in sales and sales management spanning 20 years, Nancy’s focus became helping good salespeople become great salespeople. She also helps customer service teams in Call Centers and Inside Salespeople achieve greater efficiencies, and supports senior management leaders in their efforts to become change agents.

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