Sales leadership should not be confused with sales management; sales management implies authority to manage the sales team whereas being a sales leader implies team buy-in and commitment from the sales team towards higher business goals.
In a rapidly changing sales environment, decisive sales leadership can be the difference between a company that thrives and a company that struggles to acquire enough customers to survive.
Sales leadership could be described as “the ability to get a salesperson to do something the sales leader wants done because the salesperson WANTS to do it.”
Here are a few qualities sales leaders have that separate them from just being sales managers.
- Sales leadership decisions are based on data
Selling is a numbers game, being a sales leader is part people artist, part data scientist. A successful sales strategy is measured in results – performance against targets. Were the sales results better than last quarter? How fast is the company’s revenue growing? Sales leaders know there cannot be “sales teams higher order needs” if the core sales results are not being delivered. Sales leaders through to sales managers or front line sales supervisors need to be number driven, using the data as proof of leadership effectiveness. Using data for sales and performance analysis allows sales leaders to make decisions for future sales growth or plans.
- Sales leaders have vision
The sales management aspect of running a sales team is mostly tactical, at the coal face level, sales leadership is about understand the business mission, the product strategy, the market dynamics, having a vision to where the sales growth can flow from and then putting in place plans and direction. Sales leadership is about taking the time to think strategically. Sales leaders impart there vision while stamping there mark on the culture of the sales organisation. Sales leaders devise sales plans, define, communicate and redefine the sales processes while uncovering sales effectiveness drivers using KPI’s.
- Sales leaders are empowering
Sales leadership is about getting the balance right between “Activity based management” and “Results based management”. Strong sales leaders empower their sales managers and sales reps to succeed using results based management. This means that Sales VPs or senior management sets the results and vision; they then empower the sales management and sales teams to execute the agreed sales tactics. Leaders lead and managers manage, this is why sales management is more focused on day-to-day sales execution and coaching the sales teams to sell more effectively. Sales leadership focuses on the data coupled with business mission to map out plans that gets buy-in and commitment from all the sales to the point where the sales team(s) WANTS to follow the sales leader and believe in the vision and strategic direction that the sales leader has communicated.
The effort and dedication to earn the title “sales leader” is high, and the business acumen along with business skills sales leaders must master require time and learning.
The path to sales leadership is no easy walk, and not every sales manager will join the ranks of company sales leader (usually a director or VP title. Why? Well research suggests that the average lifespan of VP sales is about 24 months. Why the short career? Today’s tough business market means the CEO has to deliver growth and change. If the sales leader does not manage the change, the CEO changes sales management.
So to be successful in sales leadership, a person has to have the vision. They take the time to think and plan ahead while executing against targets today. Sales leaders see the big picture. While sales managers know the “What” sales leaders know the “WHY and the “HOW”, sales leaders see opportunities and how to get them. Sales leaders inspire while keeping the sales team on track and on their toes. Sales leaders are tough, they say, “Let’s get moving or get left behind.”