Important Differences Between Sales Leaders and Sales Managers

By Jeff Beals

A sales manager is the person responsible for making sure the sales staff is in place, equipped to succeed and motivated to compete. Good sales managers think quickly on their feet and take immediate, decisive actions to mitigate any threat to the organization’s ability to sell.

Sales managers facilitate the sales process and protect the organization’s ability to do deals. While the term “sales manager” is the typical, generally accepted title of the person in charge of sales, the term “sales leader” is more appropriate. A manager supervises details. He or she makes sure tactical work is accomplished in an efficient manner. A leader makes sure those tactical tasks are completed but sees the business from a broader, more global perspective.

Even if your company is a small one, with only one person in charge of the sales staff, sales leadership is more important than sales management. The sales leader empowers the sales staff to carry out their work and rewards them for deals completed. Anyone who serves as a company’s sales manager would be wise to see himself or herself as a leader and behave accordingly.

As the sales leader, you need to carefully analyze employees’ personalities and push the right buttons to help them succeed at the highest levels. Urge them to accomplish more while still setting them up for success.

“It’s putting people in stretch assignments,” said Joe Moglia, former CEO of TD Ameritrade.

Moglia believes two primary things are critically important when choosing people for a job and when assigning new goals to an existing employee: alignment and listening. You can’t succeed with one and not the other. The leader must thoroughly understand the assignment and the people being considered for it. The most talented people in the world will fail if their personalities and abilities are not in alignment with the job. When it comes to listening, the leader must ask the right questions and then focus on what employees say and what body language they exhibit. Listen to find out whether the staff member is really excited about the assignment.

Effective sales managers accept responsibility. They realize that they are in charge and accountable for what happens, but they don’t see themselves as bosses. A leader is not a foreman. As a leader, you must depend on the abilities and hard work of your staff members. A successful sales leader is one who establishes interdependence. He or she trusts and depends on the staff while the staff trusts the sales leader to guide, provide resources and create a safe, pro-selling atmosphere.

Sales leaders have so many responsibilities – recruiting reps, training them, keeping them motivated, forecasting/budgeting, working closely with marketing, etc. – but there is one area of a sales leader’s job that is crucially important but often underrated: resource acquisition.

The most effective sales leaders do what it takes to make sure their sales teams have the tools and budget they need to close deals.

Attracting new clients is so important that every organization should devote considerable resources. That said, not all do. Leaders of various organizational departments in a company jockey and position for resources. Some are better at it than others. If the sales leader isn’t good at playing corporate politics, the sales staff might be at a resource disadvantage against the competition.

If you’re a sales leader, do not let this happen. One of your most important duties is to provide your sales team with everything it needs to succeed. You don’t ever want to give your salespersons an excuse for not performing. Lack of resources is a convenient excuse for a sales person but should not be an excuse for a sales leader.

One of the best ways to ensure abundant sales resources is to establish your personal clout inside your organization. This is accomplished by doing good work and practicing good internal politics.

Clout is affected by timing. Make a pitch for greater sales resources right after you score a high-profile victory. Make the pitch when the higher-ups most value you and believe they could least afford to lose you.

ATTENTION SALES LEADERS:

If you hold a leadership position in sales, I have the perfect resource to help you become even more successful!

It’s called the “Sales Leader Mastermind Group,” and it kicks off this fall.  I will personally lead and facilitate this group along with my partner Beth Mastre.  I’m recruiting members for it right now.  There are four in-person meetings per year – All the other meetings are virtual, so you can join in no matter where in the world you might be.  My mastermind group members will also have their own personal discussion forum.

Sales leadership can be a lonely existence.  Joining this group will help you create a stronger sales culture, attract talented sales reps and drive more revenue while you better manage both your personal and professional life. Click here to see an info piece about this mastermind or contact me personally at (402) 510-7468.