Revenue leadership redefined: Mastering the art of people-centric revenue leaders

Jamie Dalton 16 May 2024

The shift toward people-centric sales leadership has been gradual but is here to stay. In a cost-conscious, high-interest rate economy where profits are harder to secure and more candidates are available, organizations are no longer settling for someone who can merely do the job. Instead, they are focusing on how the job is done.


Building effective sales leadership

If revenue growth and decline are such universally accepted and critical performance indicators, why wouldn’t an organization prioritize attracting and retaining top-tier talent for the roles of chief revenue officer and the revenue team? Developing sales leadership skills is not an overnight endeavor; it typically takes at least a decade to become a truly effective sales leader. 

Many sales professionals reach a pivotal moment around their first decade in the field, when they reflect on whether to continue as individual contributors, with limited leadership responsibilities, or to pursue a leadership path and begin managing sales teams. At this critical juncture, hiring teams should consider several factors about a candidate’s background: the culture of their previous companies, their mentors (as great sales leaders rarely develop in isolation), the key metrics used to measure their performance, their approach to overcoming initial challenges, among other aspects. Think of this as assessing the foundation of their sales career—how solid is it? 

Also, consider the nature of your company’s revenue growth journey. Is it likely to be challenging, demanding a leader who has shown resilience, rather than one who has purely experienced growth? Since salespeople are adept at selling themselves, it is crucial to thoroughly vet candidates, including detailed reference checks and collaborating closely with your executive search partner to understand the environments in which these candidates have thrived.

“It’s hard to believe how you can be successful these days without leading with empathy and a human touch.”

CEO (recent hiring manager), global tech organisation

Broadening the search

While relevant experience might seem indispensable, focusing solely on it can lead you to compete in the same limited talent pool. To broaden your options, consider meeting leadership talent from other sectors that share similarities or overlaps with yours. When doing so, it’s crucial to thoroughly assess their professional history—understanding where, what, why, when, and how they have operated. While many criteria are transferable across sectors, not just in tech, building a comprehensive and accurate profile of their career journey before they meet you is essential. This doesn’t mean they can’t adopt a new way of selling—many CROs have proven highly adaptable—but understanding these nuances from the start is key to a successful evaluation. 

It is generally expected that a CRO and anyone in their senior team will excel at the fundamentals of sales leadership, from establishing sales processes and forecasting deals to managing performance and planning succession. A CRO should be outstanding in all client-facing aspects and competent in other areas like finance, legal, operations, and investor relations. Similarly, if you are a vertical leader within the senior team, expertise in your specific sector is a given. However, we are now seeing that it is not enough for CROs to merely perform their roles. They are demanding more from their sales leadership hires. 

Strategies for hiring the right CRO

Before the pandemic in 2020, we observed some tech companies starting to prioritize people-centric CRO and sales leadership over traditional command-and-control styles. Despite this, top performers who consistently delivered revenue growth often succeeded, regardless of their methods. Fast forward just over three years, and mandates now commonly prioritize leadership style, making a people-centric approach essential rather than optional. But how do we assess this quality effectively with the help of an executive search partner? 

While not exhaustive, here are some strategies for assessment: 

  • Evaluate the type of environment and culture in which they have thrived as managers. 
  • Analyze how they discuss their team members. Do they often use ‘I’ and ‘me’, or do they prefer ‘we’ and ‘together’? 
  • Consider how they address and manage their team’s development and performance challenges. 
  • Inquire about colleagues who have followed them to new roles. Leaders who inspire loyalty and are followed by their team members to new companies demonstrate strong people-focused leadership. 
  • Ask what their peers and both direct and indirect reports would say about them. Their response can reveal more about their leadership style than the content of their answers. 

The people-centric check list

When interviewing a potential CRO or senior revenue leader, consider the following  


  • Leadership Approach – What do they say and how do they say it? But do they light up when talking about team members, are they passionate and excited to tell you about the success stories across their direct / indirect reports, or do they mention off-hand as a metric. Do they dive into this question or give you a preprepared answer? Do they ask questions about your business and how people are developed? Also, do they strike you as mentally resilient (very tough one to assess) and have the ability to adapt their leadership style to different people? One approach to meet everyone’s needs doesn’t work anymore – you need to be a chameleon. One simple but effective test – how to they engage with and make small talk. Are you left with the feeling: ‘that was a really positive exchange.’


  • Leadership Style – find someone who leads by curiosity instead of directing with a command and control approach. In practice, this means they ask questions around why they do things the way they do, then instead of directing the change they take people on a journey. This approach fosters buy-in and allows the person to feel in control of the transformation process. Sales people have likely been doing their job a certain way for many year before they come under this persons leadership, if they are going to align this persons approach with the strategy of the company they need to.


  • Value Creation – seeking long term value over short term gain is the classic trait of a people centric CRO or CRO SLT member. They think in years, not quarter by quarter. Their desire is to make significant and lasting positive difference on the companies and people they lead. Although they are working incredibly hard they know it takes 2-3 years to make the impact of their changes truly felt. This is because it take a long time to build lasting meaningful relationships with new and existing colleagues – they need time to build up that rapport and earn (never take) their respect. Everything they do has a ‘what’s the bigger picture’ approach around: ‘how do I create a platform which allows my employees to do their best work.’


  • Communication Style – This is a great indicator of a person’s ability to take feedback and listen to people who disagree with them or share a contrary opinion. It doesn’t faze them and actually they seek it out and use it as a positive. On the other hand, challenge a non-people centric leader and they will often fluster, waffle, get defensive, lose their stride, or even disengage. Communication style is so important, how do they deliver the tough message and frame that in a way which shows empathy and, more importantly, gets buy-in. What you say is important but how you say it is what people are left with when they are reflecting on the messaging days or weeks later. It is so important to how they will be perceived as a leader. A recent client pointed to a people centric hiring manager after a call and said “if you met XXXXX at the water cooler you would have no idea how senior he is, he is the most approachable person I have ever seen. Everyone of all level talks with them and feels as though they are listen to and their conversation is acted upon. ” After working with them for several months I completely agree.  
Image of Leathwaite employee Jamie Dalton

Jamie Dalton

Jamie is a Consultant in the Commercial & Digital practice in London. He executes on global leadership searches, primarily in the UK, Europe, Asia, Middle East, and North America. His primary areas of focus include Chief Revenue/Marketing/Product Officers as well…

See full profile