How to Move from Sales Manager to Sales Leader | Jeff Beals

More than 50% of today’s sales reps do NOT make their annual quotas.  What does this tell us?  We have a leadership void in the sales profession.

Good leadership is critical to sales success, but many so-called sales leaders act like low level sales managers.  In order to become an effective leader of a consistently high-producing sales team, you need more leadership in your life and less management.

What’s the difference between sales management and sales leadership?

  • Managers = tactical/small details
  • Leaders = strategic and visionary

Leaders find ways to empower people, helping them excel but still holding them accountable.

The ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu said, “A leader is best when people barely know he exists – when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say, ‘we did it ourselves.’”

But leaders also have to get results.  The great management theorist, Peter Drucker once said, “Effective leadership is not about making speeches or being liked; leadership is defined by results, not attributes.”

Therefore, if you are a sales leader, here is your job:  Drive revenue by empowering those who work with you to make decisions at the lowest level possible, while gathering and basing decisions upon quantitative facts which are interpreted and applied according to your experience and intuition.

The Dichotomies of Sales Leadership

  1. Sales leadership is both an art and a science.
  2. You must empower while requiring results.
  3. You must provide support while demanding accountability.
  4. Demand respect, but you should never lead by fear or intimidation.
  5. You must be strategic and big-picture oriented but still accountable if your department isn’t taking care of the little things.
  6. You must produce results while still maintaining ethical standards.

Sales Leader Roles

  1. Visionary leader – Be clear and definitive. Explain why things are important.
  2. Coach – You should relentlessly develop talent and coach it. Don’t be a “sales rep in chief;” be a leader who develops others.
  3. Analyst – Create useful metrics that mark progress, not just report results. You need a balance of metrics that are forward looking and backward looking.
  4. Restrained Adviser – You need to teach and demonstrate but be careful about doing everything for your people. Let them learn how to fly so they can live outside your nest.
  5. Teacher – Make sure sales reps do an outstanding job when on the phone or in front of a prospect. In many cases, it’s not WHAT you sell; it’s HOW you sell it.
  6. Counselor – Show your sales reps how to read clients’ words, emotions and body language. As John Hoskins, author of “Level Five Selling,” says, “If you want to learn how to sell, learn how buyers buy.”
  7. Motivator – Salespeople tend to be very responsive to recognition and rewards. They love affirmation.  Use this as a tool to drive results.

- Adapted from a Forbes article by Scott Edinger

 Tips for Hiring Sales Reps and Sales Managers

  • The best indicator of future success is frequent past behavior
  • Don’t be fooled because someone is outwardly talented or highly charismatic.
  • Keep your ego in check and don’t be intimidated. If you always try to hire people smarter than yourself, it makes you look good.

Managing & Retaining Sales Professionals

A lack of training is one of the most common reasons why sales professionals leave a company.  Sales managers must provide resources and teach reps how to succeed.  Any company that fails to prepare its salespeople runs the risk of having its offerings commoditized. For instance, if your sales reps are conducting amateurish sales calls, they are going to be considered mere vendors or product-pitchers.  In today’s complex and fast-moving marketplace, companies cannot afford to have an unprepared sales team.  Instead, teach your sales reps to discover what prospects truly value, then customize pitches directly to that value while using their deep product knowledge.

You cannot lead from behind a CRM screen. While it is important to employ appropriate technology, you need to take personal, face-to-face time with your direct reports.  Too many so-called sales leaders spend all their time hiding behind computer screens engrossed in CRM data. Remember that the CRM system works for you, not the other way around.

Your most important Company functions as a sales leader (outside the sales department)

  • Setting sales strategy.
  • Making sure marketing and operations know what is important to sales.
  • Providing sales forecasts and actual selling data to the leadership.
  • Resource allocation for the sales team.
  • Standing up for your salespeople/department (this creates fierce loyalty to you).


Be careful that you don’t become too involved on internal committees/task forces or too busy representing the company on community boards and organizations.  I’ve seen sales professionals sucked into so much committee work having nothing to do with sales that they have hardly any time left to lead the sales team.  Sales is the lifeblood of the company; we need all sales hands on deck.

Author : Jeff Beals
Position : Consultant

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