Karin’s Leadership Articles

Sales gets a bad rap. No one wants to be that smooth-talking guy pushing a vacation club or spamming us on LinkedIn. By the way, if you’re that guy, please stop, I will never buy a program from a LinkedIn spammer.

But the truth is, leadership and sales have a lot in common: Inspiring a vision; building genuine relationships; finding creative solutions. Selling well is about caring and helping others achieve what they imagine. Leaders can benefit from honing some of their “sales” skills.

How I Became a Sales Leader

I’d been in HR for years when the Sales VP encouraged me to interview for a Sales Director gig. I was shocked. “Oh, I’ve never done sales…how could I lead a large sales team?” She just laughed, “Karin, you’re selling all the time. You’re constantly convincing us to take time out of the field to invest in leadership and HR programs. Trust me. That’s selling.”

She was right. And as it turns out, leading a team of several thousand sales people was one of my favorite gigs.

Today I find the advice I gave to new sales people useful in developing leaders as well.

7 Leadership Sales Skills

First, recognize that you already know how to sell. You’ve been selling from the very first time you convinced your parents to let you stay up past your bedtime. Think about all you’ve sold in your life, and use that to bolster your confidence.

If the thought of “selling ” your vision, your concept, or your idea sill intimidates you, here are some selling 101 tips that can help.

  1. Be confident in your “product” – If you don’t believe in what you’re selling, your “customer” won’t either. If you find yourself spinning the truth or speaking with strategic ambiguity consider your motives and your leadership. If you don’t buy it, they won’t (and shouldn’t).
  2. Create genuine connection – Relating on a human level and demonstrating that you truly care is much more important than any sales (or leadership) “technique”.
  3. Be truly humbleConfidence without humility will turn off “prospects” every time. False “humility (e.g. stupid self-deprecating remarks will make them gag.)
  4. Ask great questions – Find out what they truly need. Help them clarify their vision based on their scene, not what you’ve got to give. Listen more than you talk.
  5. Focus on helping – Work to find creative solutions that solve people’s problems
  6. Don’t sell past the close – Once the “customer” says yes, say thank you, and wrap it up. Don’t over-stay your welcome

Top 10 Sales Tips for Non Sales Professionals

Karin Hurt

Karin Hurt helps human-centered leaders resolve workplace ambiguity and chaos, so that they can drive innovation, productivity and revenue without burning out employees. She’s the founder and CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders, an international leadership development and training firm known for practical tools and leadership development programs that stick. She’s the award-winning author of four books including Courageous Cultures: How to Build Teams of Micro-Innovators, Problem Solvers, and Customer Advocates and Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results-Without Losing Your Soul and a hosts the popular Asking For a Friend Vlog on LinkedIn. A former Verizon Wireless executive, Karin was named to Inc. Magazine’s list of great leadership speakers. Karin and her husband and business partner, David Dye, are committed to their philanthropic initiative, Winning Wells – building clean water wells for the people of Cambodia.


  1. David Tumbarello

    Number 7.1 — Satisfy a need. Sometimes the customer (follower, charge, player, student) doesn’t realize their own need. Maybe they need to be contribute, to grow, to have fun, to have less distraction, to have more time, to share artistic pursuits, to hit a home run, to hit a single. An effective leader will understand the customer, learn what motivates them, and appeal to a specific need.

    • letsgrowleaders

      David. GREAT add. So true leaders help people discover what they need and grow from there.

  2. Steve Borek

    Be a servant leader. You won’t have to sell a thing to the constitutents. They’ll enthusiastically enroll.

  3. bill holston

    Great! Of course in the non profit world the clearest example of sales is development work. Believing in the product is the most critical on that list for me. When I was considering this position and thinking about fundraising my best friend made a great point, He told me that I’d be able to raise money, because I believe passionately in the mission. He was right. In the last two years I’ve had to stand in rooms of friends and ask for money. But because I KNOW how careful we are with the money and the lives we touch, I can do it.

    • letsgrowleaders

      Bill, Thanks so much for sharing your experience. What a beautiful example of really sales made easier because of a passionate cause.

  4. Matt McWilliams

    Never, ever, ever, ever, ever criticize the prospect’s (or team member’s) thinking. Same goes for other companies, managers, team members, etc.

  5. LaRae Quy

    So sad, but so true…sales gets a really bad rap.

    We all think of sleazy salespeople who use flattery to inveigle their way to a sale…

    Honest connection with others is so important…without it you cannot establish trust.

    Great post.

    • bill holston

      You are so right LaRae, sincerity, I’m seeing a theme here on that.

    • letsgrowleaders

      LaRae, Thank you. I was talking to a sales VP the other night. He shared how he never thought he’d end up in “sales” because of the worry that “that’s where people go when they don’t have the expertise to make it in their chosen field” yikes…. He was fantastic at building deep trust and connection, and is doing just fine. We need connectors who care.

  6. Terri Klass

    Great salespeople are authentic and believable. I hate to deal with salespeople who are pushy and make me feel as if I am not knowledgeable.

    So I would add: be yourself and never push the customer around.

    Enjoyed the post, Karin!

    • letsgrowleaders

      Terri, Great add…. being authentic goes such a long way.

  7. Alli Polin

    Love “don’t sell past the close.” I worked with people that taught their entire team ABC (always be closing) but there is a time when it’s enough.

    I used to do sales training and discovered that out of all of the sales philosophies out there the ones that were truly about listening, getting curious and creating solutions (vs pushing product) were by far my favorite.

    So true that’s what great leaders do naturally!

    • letsgrowleaders

      Alli, Hmmmmm…..yeah, I’m leary of the ABC model…. it’s important to ask for the “sale” but too much closing can feel pushy. Thanks for sharing your insights!

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