In my previous Harvard Business Review blog I have written about sales leadership being the toughest of the functional leadership roles. No other position demands such a disparate set of competencies, ranging from financial management and forecasting, to inspiring and motivating a geographically dispersed team.

In my blog about the keys to sales leadership, I noted that visionary leadership is particularly important in the sales function. While working with sales leaders over the last two decades, I have found six areas of strength in the best of them:

1. Driving for results is the top priority. Nearly every sales leader I have had the opportunity to work with has had a relentless focus on achieving “the number.” That is, the revenue number for their team or organization. A vital component of the vision for a sales organization is the achievement of the top (and often, bottom) line growth objective.

2. Coaching and developing others is the cultural norm. These leaders posses a clear perspective on the importance of onboarding and inculcating new members of the team, as well as developing their existing talent. This vision includes a recognition that sales is one of the few disciplines in which professionals gain the majority of their knowledge and experience from peers and managers. There are few college degrees in sales.

3. Strategy is the name of the game. A strategy comes to life during the interaction between an organization and its clients. Most often, this happens with the sales organization in the acquisition and management of clients. As a result, the actions of everyone in the sales organization need to be carefully aligned to support that strategy. And the vision for the sales organization must express that strategy clearly.

4. Working as a team makes the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. I have seen few selling efforts succeed on the hard work of a sales professional alone (though in fairness I have seen some.) More often than not there is a team of support professionals from marketing, product development, and service that have helped to make for a successful client experience. Sales professionals are frequently in a position of leading that team, which requires cross-functional collaboration to be a part of that vision.

5. Motivating to action is the objective. A sales leader’s vision ought to inspire and create confidence in order to achieve the organizational goals. By its nature a powerful vision expresses a hopeful future about what your organization will be. That envisioned future state ought to provide a level of excitement about where you are headed and inspire people to carry out the actions required to achieve it. Further, as a sales leader, you are the message, so your behaviors must show that you are the exemplar of these characteristics.

6. Effective communication is the foundation. A terrific vision for a sales leader that is not well-communicated will lie fallow. This is more than just eloquent speaking ability – it has everything to do with conveying value. Not just talking about a vision, but also listening, and asking questions that provoke interest and uncover needs.

Visionary leadership is frequently discussed in theoretical or fuzzy terms. When sales teams in particular look to their leaders, they expect vision in practical, sometimes even tactical terms. They want that vision to be clear and unequivocal, and to be guided by that vision. Using these guidelines to help you craft a vision for your sales organization or team, you can create a pithy and concise vision that compels them to action.

Edinger Consulting