Think sales leadership is superior to sales management? Think again

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During a recent sales coaching session, I asked my audience to raise their hands if they preferred the title Sales Leader over Sales Manager. Nearly everyone’s hands flew into the air. After all, we’ve had it beaten into our collective head that leadership is what all professionals strive for. It’s the apex, the top of the food chain. Leadership-oriented tasks are more noble, more thoughtful. Dare I say superior. Management-related tasks are menial and monotonous. Lower-level thinking. Right?

Wrong.

This line of thinking couldn’t be any further from the truth. There is a distinct difference between leadership and management, but it has nothing to do with nobility or superiority. The difference is simply a matter of being process-driven or people-driven.

Sales management is primarily focused on achieving sales targets by monitoring and controlling the performance of salespeople. It involves the development of sales strategies, setting sales targets, and creating sales plans that ensure the team achieves its sales targets. The sales manager is responsible for monitoring the sales team’s performance, analyzing sales data, identifying weaknesses, and taking corrective measures to improve performance. The primary focus is on the numbers and achieving the sales targets at all costs.

Sales leadership on the other hand is focused on inspiring and motivating the sales team to achieve the desired results. It involves leading the team to achieve their full potential by setting a clear vision, creating a positive culture, and providing the necessary support, resources, and training. The sales leader is responsible for creating a sense of purpose and passion within the sales team, encouraging them to go beyond their comfort zones and achieve their full potential. The primary focus is on creating a positive and empowering environment that fosters growth, creativity, and innovation.

The difference between sales management and sales leadership can also be seen in their approach to coaching and feedback. Sales management focuses on providing feedback to improve performance, while sales leadership focuses on coaching to unlock potential. Sales managers tend to be more critical and directive in their feedback, pointing out what went wrong and how to fix it. Sales leaders, on the other hand, tend to be more supportive and empowering, focusing on strengths and providing guidance to help the salesperson achieve their full potential.

Another key difference between sales management and sales leadership is their approach to risk-taking. Sales managers tend to be risk-averse, as their primary focus is on achieving the sales targets. They tend to rely on tried and tested methods and are resistant to change. Sales leaders, on the other hand, are more open to taking risks and trying new things. They encourage their team to experiment and innovate, knowing that this is the key to long-term success.

Sales management is a science. It’s metric-based and data-driven. It’s all about leads, pipeline, goals, tracking, reporting, KPIs, and compensation. It takes planning, strategy, tactics, and execution.

Sales leadership, on the other hand, is an art. It’s interpretive and fluid. It’s about culture, expectations, experience, behavior, and values. Sales leaders need to have super-sharp people skills. How do I sell the vision? How do I sell my ideas? How do I understand people’s motivation? And how does this affect culture?

The word “leader” should not be any more appealing than “manager.” Both are required for a fully-functioning, high-performance sales team. And oftentimes, you will split your time between sales leadership and sales management. Lead the people but manage the processes that help them succeed. People support a world that they help create, and they support processes that they feel help them succeed.

Master them both and your sales team will be in a class of their own.

Lance Tyson is president and CEO of Tyson Group. He is a bestselling author, expert sales negotiator, trainer, coach, and brand consultant.

Questions about OPED guidelines or letters to the editor? Email editor Jake Kyler at [email protected]


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