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5 Reasons Why Salespeople Make the Best Business Leaders Salespeople shine as outstanding wartime CEOs in times of crisis, keeping calm in the face of chaos and immediately putting solutions into action.

By Kristopher Tait Edited by Micah Zimmerman

Key Takeaways

  • Despite facing daily challenges, salespeople persevere because they're in it for the wins.
  • Sales professionals possess exceptional communication skills and a high level of emotional intelligence.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Warren Buffett, Ginni Rometty and Howard Schultz share a common background — they all worked as salespeople before becoming CEOs of Berkshire Hathaway, IBM and Starbucks, respectively. Buffett worked as an investment salesman, Rometty got his start in a sales role at IBM, and Schultz had a stint as a salesman for Xerox.

Each serves as proof that salespeople make excellent business leaders. But let's look more closely at five reasons why salespeople possess the attributes that set them apart as exceptional corporate leaders.

Related: What Does It Really Take to Be a Successful Salesperson? The Answer Is Simpler Than You May Think.

1. A customer-centric mindset

Salespeople are inherently focused on understanding and serving their customers — that is, quite literally, the "name of the game" for them. That's also why they understand the importance of delivering value, cultivating strong relationships and ultimately meeting, if not exceeding, customer needs.

This customer-centric mindset allows them to develop a deep understanding of the market. It equips them to identify emerging trends and make strategic decisions based on insight. Successful CEOs share this understanding of their customers, their product-market fit and how they design products and services that drive growth. It also sets them apart as accomplished leaders.

Related: Want to Level Up Your Success? Follow these 4 rules

2. Strong communication, influence and relationship skills

Sales professionals possess exceptional communication skills and a high level of emotional intelligence (EQ) — not to mention the powers of influence — which allows them to adeptly navigate delicate situations by reading the room and gauging the non-verbal communications between participants. They possess keen powers of perception, and by tapping into their EQ, they can convey complex ideas clearly and concisely, negotiate deals persuasively, and ideally build trust with key stakeholders.

These communication and relationship-building talents translate beautifully into the leadership domain for CEOs who must articulate their vision, motivate teams and develop a culture of open dialogue daily. Furthermore, CEOs must frequently seek support for their strategic initiatives, which also necessitates strong partnerships with external stakeholders.

3. Results-oriented and goal-driven

Salespeople perform extremely well in a results-driven environment. They are most effective when setting and pursuing ambitious goals and work best with a single-minded focus to achieve them. This results-oriented mindset is essential for excelling within a high-performing business culture, where accountability and a focus on outcomes remain critical.

One thing that stuck with me and I want to emphasize is the 'ambitious' note mentioned above. Rarely do you overachieve by merely aiming for the number in front of you. Once you get your target number, consider adding 50% to it and determine the steps required to hit that number. This approach works in almost every role you can think of.

CEOs with a sales background bring this goal-driven mentality and overachieving mindset to their leadership roles, and they uniquely understand the importance of defining clear objectives and implementing actionable plans to drive their organization forward.

Related: Why AI Won't Replace (Great) Salespeople

4. Resilience and persistence

The sales profession demands steadfast resilience and persistence in the face of rejection and setbacks. Salespeople often face numerous "nos" before finally securing a "yes." This ability to bounce back from failures and maintain a positive outlook helps build a strong character that can weather storms effectively. As C-suites, salespeople bring this invaluable resilience to their leadership roles, allowing them to push through challenging situations and inspire or stabilize their teams during periods of uncertainty.

Personally, I remember being told not to take an initial 'no' as a final answer but instead to use that 'no' as a reason to revisit my argument, my plan or my offering and ensure I'm providing sufficient details to explain why whomever I'm talking to should care or be inspired to action. It was an awkward lesson to learn initially, but a vital one — and one I've also made sure to share with my broader team.

Salespeople shine as outstanding wartime CEOs in times of crisis, keeping calm in the face of chaos and immediately putting solutions into action.

Related: 5 Tips to Keep Team Motivation Going During a Pivot

5. Exceptional problem-solving abilities

Adaptability and agility are essential traits in the sales world. Despite facing daily challenges, salespeople persevere because they're in it for the wins. To succeed, they rely on strong problem-solving skills to overcome objections, address customer pain points, and ultimately find innovative solutions to close deals.

Early in my career, I tackled the demanding aspects of sales — cold calling and handling constant rejections. But with consistency comes crucial learning experiences, like understanding how to influence, speaking with a smile, adding tone and excitement to your delivery, and confidence. These experiences contribute to rapid growth; while you don't notice it on the spot, they are an investment in your future self.

This ability to think critically and adapt swiftly is equally vital for CEOs. They regularly encounter complex business problems that demand quick and effective solutions. Based on their sales background, CEOs can confidently handle these challenges, as they have sharpened their problem-solving and adaptability skills throughout their careers.

In the words of William Clement Stone, "Sales are contingent upon the attitude of the salesman—not the attitude of the prospect." It's like the golden rule for both salespeople and business leaders, a shared mindset. No matter how tough things get, the crucial factor determining success lies in your skills, attitudes, and ability to lead.

Kristopher Tait

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® Contributor

US Managing Director, Croud

Kris Tait is Managing Director of Croud US and has been an integral part of the business, establishing Croud in the US by winning new clients, including St. George's University, Audible and The North Face, driving forward our service offering and delivering upon ambitious growth plans.

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