Are You a Sales Manager or a Sales Leader?

sales manager sales leader

How do you get a sales team to execute on their commitments?

Throughout my years of coaching sales managers, this is one of the most common questions I hear, and with good reason. It is arguably the most critical issue facing most sales managers.

I have to say, this always impresses me as a rather loaded question. Countless blogs, papers and even entire books have been written on this very subject.

In fact, I have had lengthy discussions on how to create a team environment that creates peer influence, how to drill down to the root cause of behavior problems that you can address through meaningful coaching, and how to get a seller to internalize the ideal behavior for his or her own personal reasons.

All of these are great discussions, but they don't really get to the heart of the issue.

The Law of Leadership

I read a quote the other day by John Maxwell that got me thinking: "Leadership is influence, nothing more, nothing less."

This quote comes from the book, The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership and specifically from the chapter, The Law of Influence.

I have come to realize that the role of management is to ensure that a person or team operates within the rules set forth by the company. If the rules are broken, the manager is tasked with doling out any discipline needed to correct the behavior.

Leadership, on the other hand, is the ability to influence the behaviors of people who are already operating within the rules of the company. The objective of leadership is not to drive compliance, but to help people to reach their highest potential.

What Makes a Sales Leader

A leader evaluates the results of current behavior and identifies gaps between these results and the seller's personal targets. A sales leader then works with the seller to identify the root cause of these gaps and then together they define appropriate corrective actions or "developmental assignments."

This leader will then evaluate the completion of any developmental assignment to ensure it has in fact helped the seller to improve his/her fundamental skill so that future performance will also be improved.

The sales leader repeats the process until there are little or no gaps, either in behavior or results. It is critical to note that NONE of these leadership activities can occur without influence.

Will You Allow Influence?

Recently I had the pleasure of participating in a Maxwell seminar where the Law of Influence was discussed in greater detail. John expanded the discussion to define the three questions a follower will ask of a leader to determine if they will allow influence:

  1. Do you care about me?
  2. Can you help me?
  3. Can I trust you?

Now to be clear, it isn't that a would-be follower will necessarily ask these questions outright, but if this person doesn't truly believe that the answer to each of the above is yes, the leader will not have the influence necessary to coach and impact the success of this person.

I can hear the snickering of some sales managers now, especially at the first question. I get that. If you were promoted into a management position from a sales position, you may very well be managing your team much like you were managed.

Perhaps you grew up with the Monday morning "motivational" meeting designed to recognize those who are achieving and humiliate those who are not by publicly reviewing each person's performance. Unfortunately, in many cases, these discussions bear no resemblance to sales coaching and rarely is any influence gained.

The company laid out the rules (sales quota), you have broken the rules (missed quota) and now your manager enforces the punishment (public humiliation). If you want to be a sales LEADER, you must examine your ability to INFLUENCE the individuals on your team, not punish them.

If your sales team were to swallow the honesty pill, how would they answer these questions?

  • Do I truly believe my sales manager cares about me? Not just for the numbers I produce, but as a person. And does s/he care about how my job will help me to achieve my personal goals and ambitions?
  • Do I truly believe that s/he can help me? If I were to open up to him/her with my weaknesses and/or fears, would s/he have the skill and knowledge necessary to actually help, give me meaningless assignments and tasks, or simply insist that I improve my results?
  • Do I truly trust him/her? Will s/he maintain confidentiality and focus his/her energies on helping me, or will s/he use what s/he learns to humiliate or control me?

When people open themselves to influence there must trust. If a sales person is going to consider changing his or her behaviors and/or beliefs as a result of the sales manager's influence, s/he must trust that the manager knows what is best and has the sales person's best interest at heart.

Identifying the Problem

If the answer to any one of these questions is in doubt, you may have identified the root cause of your problem. People on your team may be telling you what you want to hear in order to operate within the company rules, but not allowing you to influence them beyond that.

If you want to be a better leader, start by laying the groundwork with each person on your team. Work with each individual to better understand their personal goals and objectives and commit yourself to helping them achieve THEIR goals. Build your skill and knowledge with whatever sales methodology you expect them to employ so that you can add value and impact their success.

Finally, engage them in meaningful conversations that will help you determine what you must do in order to earn and/or maintain their trust. When your people believe that you care, can help, and are worthy of their trust, you have a tremendous opportunity to influence them and deliver exceptional results.

The Guide to Sales Coaching from Axiom

Phil Forrester

Phil Forrester Senior Director - Client Success at AXIOM. He is a Sales Process Specialist with over 20 years of successful sales execution, leadership, and instruction. Phil is driven to the challenge of sales execution with experience in both start-up and large corporate environments.

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Topics: Better Coaching, Better Selling

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