What Makes a Good Sales Manager Become a Leader? Good Question

August 26, 2011 at 5:00 AM

What is good sales management?  How can a sales manager become a good leader? What is leadership? How should we choose our leaders?

I get asked these questions routinely about how sales managers can become leaders. Everyone wants to know how they can hire and develop leaders and expand their talent management.  But many of these questions above remained unanswered at many companies. We seem to be as confused about the real nature of leadership as ever before lately.

Real leadership is hard to describe. They are people in your organization who struggle with finding the true essence of leadership, especially sales leadership.  We tend to follow people who are good-looking, well-spoken and have nice personalities regardless of whether they are any good at actually leading.  This is especially true in sales management.  We tend to promote the star sales person; the ‘smooth talker’ or the quick wit.  Are these people true leaders?

True leaders move the needle.  They get results when the odds seem impossible.  They grow revenue when most is declining.  The data is telling:

  • Since 2008-2010 on average, 11% of all sales managers have grown revenue double-digit when their company’s revenue DECLINED double digit.
  • Every organization we study has increased sales productivity by over 12 % on at least one sales team in the past 2 years.
  • Last year, sales manager quota attainment actually WENT UP indicating some sales teams are doing well.

Then what makes a sales manager turn into a great leader?

  • The common view of leadership is that leaders (and especially sales managers) give orders and others obey.
  • The new way sales management can become a leader  is through a ‘social process’.  It’s not a set of qualities inherent in people, but rather exists in the interactions between a leader and those who look to him or her for leadership.
  • The ‘social process’ view requires leaders who are prepared to ask questions and involve others in determining what to do rather than seeking to provide an immediate solution or decisive action. They work with their followers to solve problems, rather than pretending that they have all the answers.

“I already know this stuff.”  said one Sales VP that I coached this week.  Then I ask: “Why do you continue to choose and train leaders according to the old model?  Do you still believe that all we have to do is find a person with the magic set of leadership qualities and all will be well?” 

The world is changing.  Sales Management is changing. Leaders are changing. 

Ask yourself what kind of leader are you?  Can you change?  Is it realistic? Don’t know?

Anthony Valli, a sales manager at a B to C  company, recently asked me.  And I told him the truth.  He was a ‘direct and obey’ sales manager.  Always having to be the smartest guy in the room, Tony changed. He now is the only sales manager out of 9 in his company that is exceeding his quota. In fact, Tony is the only sales manager that has decreased his turnover year over year.  His key reason:  3 commitments he made to his sales reps to do every week:

  • Ride in the field 3 times seeing customers
  • Have a one on one of 30 minutes with all 16 direct reports
  • Have a sales meeting every week collaborating with every sales rep

 I challenge you to ask your direct reports what kind of leader you are.  Find out how people think of you. Take a different approach. Step up to the new leadership challenge as a sales manager. 

Or get left in the dust by your own followers……

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Topics: Talent Management, Sales Leader, Sales Management

Posted by Dan Perry

Dan Perry
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