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Here's Why Sales Leaders Make Effective CEOs Sales is a very useful background to have as a CEO, as many of the required traits and skills learned apply directly to the role and responsibilities of leading an organization.

By Mark Banfield Edited by Chelsea Brown

entrepreneur daily

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

When I started my career in sales more than 20 years ago, I quickly learned that there are specific skills that would help me stand out in a crowded field. Later, I discovered that these same skills would shape my leadership style and ultimately drive my success as CEO — the position I currently hold at digital employee experience (DEX) company, 1E.

Sales is a very useful background to have as a CEO, as many of the required traits and skills learned apply directly to the role and responsibilities of leading an organization. Here are my key takeaways from my sales career on what it takes to be an effective leader in today's business environment.

Related: So, You're in Sales But (Secretly) Yearn to be a CEO. Here's How to Make That Happen.


Great leaders create an inclusive, purpose-driven community that makes people feel like they're a part of something bigger than themselves. We constantly see this play out on sales floors, where everyone unifies by working towards a common goal. Enterprise salespeople instinctively understand the value of team camaraderie is just as important as the product or market.

Building a community is all about the people. You can have star players within an organization, but you don't win with just them. You win when you have a cohesive team that works together in unison. At 1E, we build a community by relying on good operations, minimal politics and ensuring everyone feels like they are a part of the decision-making process. When you have a great community, you build trust within an organization and are able to get people focused on a shared outcome.

A study from McKinsey and Company found that 70% of workers feel their sense of purpose is tied to their work. Employees who feel a sense of belonging and purpose are more motivated and productive. This is essential for leaders to cultivate in the age of the Great Resignation, where work burnout is more common than not.


To succeed in sales, you must have a strong degree of emotional intelligence so that you can quickly and accurately read people and situations. This means having a high degree of empathy to meet your customers where they are and understand any barriers to their success.

In the sales world, oftentimes people with the most potential don't meet their goals because they lack empathy and the ability to connect with prospects. The best way to relate to people and establish strong connections is through authenticity. This criteria also applies to CEOs and employees. Employees don't want their leaders to be putting on an act — leaders need to be themselves to gain the trust of their workforce.

Authenticity in the face of adversity is also key. In sales, there will always be certain roadblocks that enter your path (i.e., product delays), but the best salespeople are resilient. This is the same for CEOs — setbacks are natural and often out of a leader's control, but employees will look out for how a CEO responds in the face of adversity and how they guide the company accordingly.

Related: Here's Why So Many Successful Entrepreneurs Got Their Start in Sales

Creating significance

A key responsibility of any leader is to create significance. Everyone — regardless of their title or ranking in the company — must feel significant in their role. Similar to how a sales team functions, every employee must feel like they're part of a greater mission to drive an organization's success. At 1E, we like to cultivate a smart and healthy environment. Smart means we utilize good systems and processes, and healthy means we operate on minimal politics.

For example, we recently decided to discontinue a new product line after our teams had spent significant time working on it. After analyzing the data, we concluded that it was not aligned with our business priorities and our customers' needs. We knew this would be disappointing to the team, who spent countless hours on this project. To make everyone feel heard and important, prior to making the decision, we held a healthy debate with the entire team about the pros and cons of moving forward. This allowed us to reach a consensus while also letting every person feel like their opinion mattered. Moments like this continue to motivate people to show up and do their work every day.

Fostering excitement

Sales success at scale is largely tied to constantly motivating and energizing, but this applies to other areas of business as well. Organizations can't succeed unless their workforce is excited to come to work each and every day. This excitement should span from large business decisions to smaller logistical topics.

Just as you can't truly sell something you're not passionate about, you also can't oversee anything effectively unless you're passionate about it. Passion creates the energy and excitement needed to motivate people in their jobs. Constant guidance and linking back to an objective and greater sense of purpose helps spread this passion throughout an organization. At 1E, we are tied together by our mission to evolve the way technology is experienced by employees.

Related: How Howard Schultz Turned an Entry-Level Sales Job Into a Coffee Empire — And a Net Worth of $5.7 Billion

Just as a sales leader harnesses the power of community, authenticity, significance and excitement to help their teams achieve a common objective, a CEO does the same to motivate an entire organization. As such, many of the core principles and values of a salesperson translate directly to those needed to be effective in the CEO role.

Mark Banfield

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® Contributor

CEO of 1E

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

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