5 Traits That Make Sales Professionals Ideal CEOs

Published: August 25, 2023

1hendrikWhen we think of CEOs, we don’t always associate the position with a background in sales, but it’s more common than you think. According to “The Chief Marketing Officer Matters,” more than 25% of CEOs started with a marketing and sales background. Many of the most influential CEOs today, from Warren Buffet to Mark Cuban, started in sales. So, there must be something about being a salesperson that lends itself to moving up into the C-suite.

Great salespeople possess many qualities that translate into being a CEO. I started my career at Procter & Gamble selling laundry detergent and diapers. There were challenges along that journey, but those lessons learned early in my career have been invaluable. In fact, it propelled me to work at Showpad and help companies navigate sales enablement challenges. Let’s explore some top qualities a salesperson possesses that translates well into the C-suite.

1. They Put People First

Just as a salesperson puts the buyer first, CEOs know that everything starts with the people they work with and the type of leader they show up as every day. CEOs should consider having regular open forums or town halls with employees so they can gain a keen understanding of what drives employees and ensure their needs are being sufficiently met.

There is no substitute to having a good team that’s aligned with your vision but also challenges it to push forward thinking and keep the company ahead of the curve. CEOs should look beyond the people that agree with everything they say — having team members who think unlike the CEO and have opposing points of views spurs active discussion and new innovation.

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2. They Are Passionate

It’s no secret salespeople need to be passionate to succeed. Convincing people to make a purchase requires enthusiasm, because why would someone have interest in buying your product if you don’t sound sold on it yourself? When it comes to leading a company, employees want to work for a leader who’s passionate about the company’s vision and its impact on the industry. It starts from the top, and a CEO’s passion works as a motivator for the company as well. Employees will see how much their leader cares about what they do and will strive to follow, thus improving their productivity and making a positive impact on the company culture.

3. They Are Authentic

Just like it’s easy to tell when a salesperson is just regurgitating sales speak, it’s also an easy spot that a CEO is not genuine. Any business leader needs authenticity to gain the trust and respect of their team. One of the best lessons you can learn as a salesperson is to be flexible and adapt to unexpected changes in the industry. Being thrown into the fire makes you better able to think on your feet and build authenticity, which is fueled by adversity and knowing how to respond to change. Especially in today’s modern business landscape, CEOs are constantly being asked to do more with less and be agile, so leading with authenticity is essential.

4. They Are Persuasive

Persuasiveness sells products and services: It’s the quintessential attribute a salesperson must have, and this trait translates well into leading, and growing, a business. CEOs are consistently selling a strategy to their team. They have a keen understanding of the market and industry they are working in and can easily spot any impending challenges that may hinder the business. Persuasiveness works in their favor as they can easily convince the executive team and the board when the company may need to adjust its strategy and remain agile — especially in today’s ever-changing economic conditions.

5. They Are ‘In The Know’

Salespeople are on the frontlines of a company, interacting with buyers and learning the latest trends. As leaders, CEOs need to be cautious not to lose the value of sitting on the frontlines. As such, joining customer meetings at times ensures they are informed on the latest pain points customers are facing and trends on the horizon. Being on the frontlines is crucial to being able to empathize with customers and provide long-term value to them. When customers see a CEO involved on the frontlines, they can trust that the business is in good hands with someone who truly understands their needs and knows how to address them.

In a world where so many CEOs are disconnected from what is truly going on in their company and the industry, having the skillsets of a salesperson is crucial. The best leaders are the ones who have worked their way up and understand the value of the corporate climb. They are the ones who come in their first day as CEO knowing the ins and outs of the company from experience and, combined with the traits needed to be a good leader, not many fit the bill quite like salespeople.

Hendrik Isebaert is the CEO of Showpad, a provider of sales enablement technology.


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