Sales managers can make or break a commercial operation. At a pivotal time in my career, an influential boss convinced me that if you want sales team to implement your commercial plan well - no need to convince the entire sales team - convince the sales managers. "A team of good sales managers can move mountains" he said. I've come to learn that indeed whilst a team of good sale managers can move mountains - a team of good sales leaders will always move mountains. So how do you know when your dealing with a sales manager v a sales leader? Here are my 5 key differences:
1. Sales Leaders look like they've got plenty of time. Why is it that the best at anything look like they're doing it with little effort? They're not running round like headless chickens with "conflicting priorities" because they know what the priorities are and they're not wasting time on the small, pointless stuff that gets thrown at all managers these days. They do this by understanding that their job in not to fix everything . One of the best articles I ever read on this subject appeared in the Harvard Business Review in 1999. Entitled "Management Time: Who's Got The Monkey?" An amusing and insightful article, it's been a great reminder to me over the years of how the best sales leaders ensure that they're not constantly taking on the "problems" of their teams and making them their own.
2. Sales Leaders demonstrate more courage than sales managers.
They have the courage to have the difficult discussion where honest appraisal and feedback leads to improved relationships, performance and culture of their teams.
Plenty of sales managers make the critical error of taking the "easy" way out of a difficult discussion or not being prepared to own an unpopular decision. This element can often be the x-factor which sets the sales leader apart from the sales manager. So, a bit like emotional intelligence, the question a lot of organisations are asking is can courage be developed? Through experience - we can learn to be braver in certain situations but organisations are finding that courage is something that needs to be encouraged to set it apart from the competition. This has led to a great deal of work on courage in leadership and some programs like the one developed by Dina Pozzo at Insium have begun to develop practical solutions to the conundrum of developing this vital element of leading successful teams.
3. They get the best out of their people.
Ok - so you've got this far in the article and you've discovered it's the "no-rocket-science" guide to sales leadership... which is true. But ask yourself how many sales managers follow the formula for coaching and get it completely wrong? And this is what gets them into the most trouble with the performance of their employees. The manager goes about coaching in either a formulaic approach or forgets to tell people what's expected of them. The sales leaders make it very clear to everyone in the team what is expected of them in terms of behaviour then they coach around those behaviours - making it look a pretty easy task. By understanding the need to focus on strength and the difference between the pursuit of excellence and the pursuit of perfection - they ensure their teams approach their full sales potential.
Then there's the subtle difference related to their ability to provide a mix of direction and delegation in the right measure. This requires a deep understanding of their team's ability, performance and motivations. They understand that even the most seasoned sales person needs direction sometimes. Understanding when and how much of the direction/delegation mix to apply is key.
4. They're business savvy but aren't the subject matter experts.
Maybe this is best summed up by a colleague's comment to me on this subject when he said "An average sales manager has all the answers, a good sales leader knows all the questions". Clearly a person leading a team needs to have a certain understanding of the business, what drives performance and how to make the most of the opportunities. But the sales leaders are willing to give up some of their time spent on knowing everything there is to be known about the products to better understand what it'll take to ensure the sales people are doing the best they can. This takes courage (see 2) and the ability to not do stuff (see 1).
5. They get the numbers without focussing on the numbers.
The best sales leaders I've ever worked with seem to always hit their targets. But importantly, they see that the sales figures happen if you put the sales plan in to effect. They usually break down the target into bite sized chunks. (e.g the unit sales per day required, market share gain etc) assess the conversion rates of the sales activities required (leads > calls > conversion), then put a plan in place and make it happen. Having the confidence that the plan will deliver on the result is key here. Do the work on the plan then implement it as flawlessly as possible and the sales numbers will look after themselves.
A bit like the "who's the best you've ever seen...." debate at a dinner party/pub - one could argue for a number of different characteristics that differentiate the best sales leaders vs the rest. Please feel free to offer one or two that might knock off my top 5.....