Why Sales Leaders Need More than a Great Vision

By Warren Shiver on Oct 9, 2012

2 Minute Estimated Read Time

Competitive sales organizations are usually run by leaders with great vision. But vision alone won’t get your team to the top.Over the last 15 years, I’ve worked extensively with at least 50 sales and marketing leaders to help them transform their sales organizations. Most of those leaders had great vision, but not all of them were destined to execute on that vision successfully. 

I remember one sales leader who stood up during a sales transformation launch meeting and announced zero tolerance for any failure to get on board -- even for the company’s top performers. Many executives say things like this, but very few actually follow through on it. This sales leader did. Two of his top reps continued to sell the way they always had instead of adapting to the new program. And he let them both go. 

That was a sales leader who truly had the courage of his convictions. Here are four other questions I would ask to find out whether or not a VP of sales has the qualities to lead a successful transformation.

1) Can you balance a long-term vision with short-term goals?

Sales transformations always involve a mix of both short and long-term goals. Sometimes the activities that will help us the most in the long term won’t do much to help us make our number at the end of each month or each quarter. Strong sales leaders have an ability to strike a balance between the two. Examples of short-term goals would be changing your compensation plan, or launching a new product or solution. A long-term goal would be putting a new sales process in place, or implementing a new SFA/CRM system and gaining full adoption.


Any one of these goals can be a tricky juggling act on its own. Balancing several at once requires the ability to prioritize, delegate, and remain committed to the long-term vision for change.

2) Do you have staying power?

Sales organizations need a leader who can stick around long enough to get the organization to align with his or her vision. In this video interview, Gerhard Gschwandtner and I discussed the fact that the average lifespan of a sales VP is somewhere around 24 months. That’s not nearly long enough to sustain and support a strategic change.

3) Do you inspire confidence?

Sales transformation is all about change, and change tends to make people nervous.

What’s more, the changes that accompany a sales transformation relate to major challenges and pain points. That means that change will affect your entire organization, including your customers.

Do you have an ability to inspire confidence in reps who may be reluctant to let go of their comfortable habits? Do you have the self-assurance to sell your CEO on a vision for new and better technology to help lead your organization in the direction it needs to go? Do you believe in the message you’ll send to your customers to help them understand these changes and how they’ll benefit? Confidence is key to executing on your vision for transformation. 

4) Are you a student of selling?

Sales VPs need to have an aptitude and appetite for keeping up with the times. Do you know the current state of best practices? Do you read reports from CSO Insights, Sirius Decisions, and the Sales Executive Council (SEC)? Do you read Harvard Business Review and attend industry events?

Certainly there are tried and true selling skills that will never go out of style, but many of the best sales executives I’ve worked with have been in the profession for anywhere from 15 to 30 years, and they make an effort to continually adapt. If you’re not curious about what you don’t know, you’re missing opportunities to improve. 

Warren Shiver

Written by Warren Shiver

Warren Shiver is the founder and managing partner of Symmetrics Group, a management consultancy focused on end to end improvement in sales force effectiveness. Through Warren’s leadership, Symmetrics Group has helped numerous organizations build high-performing sales teams focused on the right go-to-market strategy, disciplined sales process and well-designed enabling tools. Clients and consultants appreciate Warren’s uncompromising focus on quality and measureable impact and how he embodies the firm’s core values.

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