It’s a common misconception that management and leadership are the same things but they’re not. Managing involves dealing with or controlling things – for a sales manager this could be anything from fighting fires to telling reps what they should be doing.
Whereas leadership is about leading people and guiding them to achieve. Both require different skill sets and have vastly different results when it comes to teams. According to author Tom Peters:
“Management is about arranging and telling. Leadership is about nurturing and enhancing.”
While sales managers need both management and leadership skills, many tend to manage more than they lead. After all, it’s easy to monitor and react to statistics, processes, and deadlines. But it’s much more challenging to inspire and develop a team to achieve by developing and executing a clear strategy. When a sales team is over-managed and under-led it can lead to several problems that may impact your sales results, team turnover and the overall culture of your sales organization.
Managing is not motivating
One of the biggest issues with managing people rather than leading them is that it can be demotivating. Very few people are inspired to succeed when they’re told that they’re not meeting quota. By focusing in on the numbers or process constantly, sales managers risk alienating and demotivating the majority of their team and make them feel unappreciated.
According to CSO Insights 20% of salespeople turnover each year – that’s a significant investment walking out the door. They also found that sales managers only spend about 20% of their time actually helping sales reps sell, something that’s unlikely to be a coincidence. Reps that feel supported are more likely to feel motivated and willing to stay. In fact, 87% of millennials and 69% of other employees say that development opportunities are important to them in a role. That’s one area where leadership is particularly important.
Directing traffic serves a purpose but it’s far more exciting to take your team on a journey to get them to where they need to be. Rather than focusing in on what someone is doing, strong leadership can help guide salespeople on how they can improve and set a clear path to help them achieve it. This is particularly important in this day and age where buyers are well-informed and savvy. They require salespeople who are well-informed and adaptable, and reps need strong leadership to learn these skills.
Leadership is liberating
Sales teams that are truly led are liberated and unconstrained. They’re given wings to do their job well, rather than being bogged down in red tape and control. This doesn’t mean that leadership equates to anarchy, far from it. But a good leader knows how to influence behavior. They will help their team find a way through the necessary elements of their role so that they can focus on what’s really important – selling better and closing deals.
The numbers are of course important, but a good leader knows which numbers to focus on and how to use them to influence their team. That final step is what makes the difference between a manager and a leader. Numbers and processes are good, but ultimately they are just a tool to inform decisions. If you want a salesperson to perform their best, then you need to look at all the aspects of their role. The numbers can inform this, but they will rarely tell the whole story.
Bain & Co has conducted detailed research over several years about what makes a leader. Their research has identified leadership attributes that focus in on the human aspects of performance and grouped them into four key areas:
Leadership is less about monitoring and more about creating an environment where people can thrive. This involves building trust, encouraging people to learn and inspiring them to achieve. It’s about building a sales culture that reaps dividends long into the future.
How to shift the balance from managing to leading
There are several things that you can do to focus on leading over managing. One of the most important is to set a strategy and be clear about its goals. It should set the stage for what they need to achieve and how they will go about doing this. This can then be constantly reiterated through communications, coaching sessions, rewards and KPIs. This gives them clarity and also creates a cadence for them to look forward, develop and strive for their goals.
By linking your team’s development, through training and coaching, they not only see that you’re investing in them but that there is a purpose to what they’re being asked to do. It is here where you can rely on management tools – track leading indicators to identify where to focus your energy. Use all the data available to identify the key areas of focus and inform coaching and training programs. While your reps don’t need to know the detail of the analysis, they should be able to see how the areas of focus link to the overall strategy.
Another important aspect of a sales manager’s role is to make it easier for their team to sell. Many sales roles inevitably come with a lot of non-selling tasks and there’s always room for improvement. This often provides a good opportunity for leaders to seek out feedback and suggestions from their team. By giving their team a forum to have their say, the can feel some ownership over the issues and feel like they are proactively involved in trying to address them.
The role of a sales manager certainly isn’t easy, but it can be far more effective by making a conscious effort to balance the need to manage with the importance of leading.