Are You a Modern Sales Leader?

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There has been lots written and studied about the changing buying process, and how that affects the type of salespeople you need to adapt and match the times. What’s not talked about is the changing role of the sales leader.

The modern sales leader has a whole different profile than the sales leader of the past. While sales teams will continue to be made up of folks who know how to uncover pain and build value, the leader is someone who has an operational and metrics-oriented mindset.

Old School vs. Modern Sales Leaders

Name: The Old School Sales Leader

Modern Sales Leader

Nickname: The Gunslinger

Short Bio: The VP of Sales of old was someone who generally climbed the ranks through sales, closed lots of big deals, did steak dinners, went to golf outings and racked up a whole bunch of frequent flyer miles.

Hiring Habits: They’d hire for salespeople who were “door knockers,” could walk into a sales territory with a Rolodex and could “bag the elephant.”

Key Metrics: Internal sales meetings were all about what’s closing this month, and if a salesperson wasn’t performing they were told they needed to start hitting quota or they were out. A performance assessment only went so far as looking at the total size of the pipeline and doing some ride-alongs. A CRM system was something management wanted and only used to keep track of what was about to close and maybe house client contact names.

Management Tactics: In the old days, it was easy for a sales leader to manage it all. Notebooks, sticky notes and your Franklin Planner were pretty much all you needed. The office whiteboard was a savior because you could post up this month’s sales results, rank out sales performance and write “the number” up on the top so everyone knew the goal.

Name: The Modern Sales Leader

modern sales leader

Nickname: The Navy Seal

Short bio: The modern VP of Sales is coming from a different background – some may still come up through sales, but it’s those with a sharp operations mindset. Many of them come from unexpected backgrounds, like Amy Appleyard from Staples who was in finance and strategy before running inside sales, the fastest growing part of their business. Or Mark Roberge from HubSpot, who studied engineering at MIT before building the sales team at one of the fastest growing technology companies of our time.

Operational Style: The modern sales leader is hungry and competitive about crushing their sales number, but they dissect every part of the sales process, manage around metrics and fuse CRM into the sales process so deeply that it’s not a pain for salespeople to use – it’s just how they do their job. They have operations people at their right hand, define sales metrics and KPIs for every step of the sales process and are obsessing about conversion rates along the way. A salesperson’s weekly 1:1 still talks about what’s closing, but more time is spent on the behaviors and activities that will lead to sales results, and reviewing metrics so coaching can be focused around precise steps in the selling process.

Management Tactics: The modern sales leader has data coming from everywhere, and as more sales and marketing technology comes to market the amount of data they are amassing keeps increasing. They work side-by-side with sales operations, spend lots of time with spreadsheets, create metrics-oriented playbooks for their salespeople, use analytics tools to monitor the pipeline and forecast and have CRM reports and dashboards all over the place.

Breaking It Down

In summary, the old sales leader manages quotas, but the modern sales leader manages performance and sees quota attainment as the output of a successful process. There’s no question that any sales leader – modern or old – needs to focus on and obsess about hitting sales goals as the measure of success, but the way to get there is changing rapidly.

To make sense of it all, the modern sales leaders are regularly assessing all of the data, but figure out how to crystalize it all down into the most important key metrics and then publicize those metrics to the entire team so everyone is aligned. Salespeople get their own personalized sales metric scorecards so they know exactly where they are ahead, where they are behind and how they compare to their peers. Managers use that same information to provide coaching and support – it’s metrics-driven sales coaching, not quota management, and everyone is in complete alignment.

When alignment and visibility of performance on key metrics is present something kind of magical starts to occur – the salespeople are enabled to assess the information themselves and self discover where they are weak and where they are strong. This creates “aha moments” that inspire people to go talk to their peers and managers seeking best practices and ideas on how they can get better.

What Next?

Here’s a quick system in which you can rate yourself as to how antiquated or modern your sales team really is, on a scale of 1-10. Then, take that number and work towards becoming a more modern sales leader, no matter how low or high you score.


1 = Exposing metrics are feared instead of cherished. Working toward lagging indicators such as total sales instead of focusing on the effectiveness of leading indicators. (Read more here.)

10 = Full-fledged KPI strategy is aligned with the sales strategy, sales people manage their time around personal scorecards, with constant review of current sales metrics and full sales team collaboration around KPI-improvement.


1 = Little communication about ways to alter the current strategy. Manager tells the sales reps of the sales goal only, without any support or insight into how they can achieve those goals.

10 = Sales meetings are a family affair and performance around all key sales metrics are shared and discussed. Collaboration is the key to fostering a healthy ecosystem for this team, and everyone is a resource to everyone.

Performance Review

1 = Performance is based on one thing and one thing only and that’s the number of deals closed. If quota is missed, nobody can explain why with any level of precision.

10 = The entire pipeline is taken into account as well as how each manager and each sales rep is managing their KPIs and working to refine each step of their process. Strategic planning and hiring are all data-driven decisions.

Sales is changing fast, and sales leaders need to adapt. Take a fresh look at your own team, and ask: Are we a bunch of gunslingers, or are we well-planned Navy Seals?
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