How to Be a Leader that Inspires Your Sales Team

February 5, 2018

As a sales leader, you are evaluated by the success of your team – for better or worse.

As John Greene at PhoneBurner put it:

“Sales managers must take ownership of the success or failure of their sales team…As the leader of your business unit, it’s your job to educate, motivate, and provide a productive workplace…This is critical for your company’s growth and success.”

I want to focus on those four words I set in bold. Ownership, educate, motivate, and provide. If you can get these four things down, you’ll be well on your way to inspiring your team to new heights (and your business and career with it).

When people think of being an inspiring leader, they usually think of lofty speeches and pep talks, which is really just the superficial piece of the motivational puzzle. Don’t get me wrong, there is a time and place for that, but alone, it’s not enough.

Radical Ownership

This is the most important role of a leader (in any department, not just sales). You must hold yourself to higher standards and be able to shoulder the responsibility when things go wrong. At the end of the day, the onus for everything your team puts out is on you.

On a personal level, you need to deliver on your promises and show your team that they can rely on you and trust you. You need to lead by example. If you expect your team to be in the office by 9:30 every morning, you should strive to be there by 9:00. If you expect them to stay late at the end of the quarter to catch up on quotas, you’d better stay with them.

Going beyond that, you need to show them that you’ve got their back when things get tough. Don’t be that leader who claims credit for the record-breaking month only to throw half your team under the bus when the leads dry up.

This step is really about how you conduct yourself so that you become worthy of the team’s respect. Get this part right and you’ll have a solid foundation of credibility for everything that comes next. If you have their respect, people will take your direction more seriously and, in turn, feel respected themselves. They’ll be intrinsically motivated to meet your expectations.

One clear strategy to hold yourself accountable to this is to tie your compensation directly to that of your team. In addition to earning their respect, this is a good trick to force you to keep their success in mind when life tries to seduce you into taking a lazier route (which happens to everyone at some point).

Radical ownership is the most important lesson today and lays the foundation for everything that follows. If you’re really a top-notch salesperson deserving that leadership position, prove it and close some deals. By walking the walk, you’ll remove any excuses your team could use with you or themselves.

Ongoing Education

As a sales leader, you probably have more experience or knowledge than the rest of your team. Don’t hold that from them.

Sure, there are some lessons that they need to learn on their own, but generally, everyone wins when you share what you know and are open to new lessons yourself. So mentor your team and give them valuable feedback without either sugar coating it or tearing them apart.

The best leaders are able to be:

  • specific and sincere with praise
  • kind and clear with criticism

Both these points help your team members hear what you’re saying and improve themselves.

Now, you can’t just rely on your past experience. Especially in today’s rapidly changing technological landscape, it’s important to keep learning in order to keep your edge. Continue going to industry conferences, trying new strategies, and learning from your most promising salespeople.

This is another reason it’s important for sales leaders to jump into the trenches from time to time: to keep in touch with the team’s day-to-day tasks and see how the industry is evolving. If you never stop learning, neither will your team.

Extrinsic Motivation

If you’ve got the first two points down, you’re likely already inspiring your team with what is called intrinsic motivation, which is “behavior that is driven by internal rewards. In other words, the motivation to engage in a behavior arises from within the individual because it is naturally satisfying.”

So the motivation I’m going to discuss in this point is less about inspiring speeches and more about extrinsic motivation, which should be designed around goals and rewards.

Great salespeople tend to be results driven. In order to make sure that your team is headed in the right direction, you should give them motivating and tangible goals. A quota is a good place to start, but you can do better. Strong goal setting is an entire subject on its own, but there are a few key things I’d like to highlight:

  • Incentivize success past quotas. Rewards should accelerate, not plateau, after quotas. Why would you want your best performers to slow down?
  • Align incentives with company goals. This means incorporating client-fit and retention metrics into goals and compensating accordingly.
  • Break them down. While it’s good to have one quarterly or annual goal to focus on, help your team break that down into individual weekly and monthly goals. Take their target revenue number and break that into the number of prospects needed, presentations made, etc.

On the rewards side, it’s not always about giving more. Commissions are a classic and effective part of sales compensation, but they leave a lot of room for flexibility. You should include your team in the conversation when determining incentives and let them help choose their rewards. Don’t be afraid to get creative.

Beyond cash, what do they value? More vacation time? Recognition? Attending a special conference? A chance to work on bigger accounts? This will likely vary from team to team, so ask them in order to get the most bang for your buck by offering incentives aligned with their intrinsic motivations.

Providing a Productive Workplace

An inspirational sales leader also needs to be a great manager. Though it’s important to lead by example and connect with your team, your role doesn’t stop there. One of your most important jobs is to clear obstacles for your team that could hurt performance.

It’s your duty to coordinate with the company’s executives and directors and be a robust advocate for your people. They need to know that they always have a voice with you, that you’ll negotiate to get the budget for the things they need and make sure that they’re properly recognized for their big wins – and, circling back to radical ownership, protect them when things aren’t going well. You need them focused on building relationships and closing deals, not playing office politics.

This might also extend to mediating amongst team members. Sales naturally gets competitive, and while you should encourage some healthy competition to boost results, don’t allow it to become petty or personal. Do your best to keep a cooperative spirit above all by setting team goals with shared rewards and compensation.

One of the most important times that this applies is making sure that the team has all the tools it needs to be effective. Ask your people what challenges they face or where the systems are weak and what they feel the tool or solution is.

Invest in technology and training that improves their job satisfaction as well as sales numbers. Remember, investing in the people on your team goes a long way.


This philosophy of how to be an effective leader has helped thousands of sales teams blow through their goals, including the teams at my own digital marketing agency. Not only do these strategies bring in the dollars, but they make everyone better off, happier, and proud of what they do. Admirable goals for any business leader.

Now get out there and inspire your sales team to close some deals and then reap the rewards of their – and your – success!


Eric Siu is the CEO of digital marketing agency <a href="">Single Grain</a>, which has helped venture-backed startups and Fortune 500 companies grow their revenues. He's also the founder of two marketing podcasts, Growth Everywhere and Marketing School.