How a Sales Manager Can Think Like a Leader

Almost every sales manager was, at one point in their career, a peak-performing sales professional, top dog on the team. When promoted, everything changed—except, perhaps, them.

This presents a problem because managing and leading a sales team requires a completely different mindset from selling. Yet what sales managers have to rely on are the instincts and competencies they developed when they were selling.

That’s why, above and beyond any specific techniques they learn, every sales manager needs to re-frame their thinking around leadership mindsets so their decisions will be driven by what’s good for the team not what’s good from a salesperson’s perspective. Here are some examples of what that means.

War #1: Player vs. Observer

Every great salesperson I’ve known wanted to be in on the action, down on the field, making the plays. That strong drive is what made them great and brought them stellar results.

But sales managers are not put in the job to keep selling. They are put into the job so they can help others become the best salespeople they can be. Great sales managers see themselves as observers and coaches, not players.

This switch is perhaps the hardest of all. But it’s only by observing that a sales manager can properly evaluate what the problem is and offer suggestions to a rep that will lead to lasting improvements.

War #2: Results vs. Inputs

Sales is a results-oriented profession. Every month you and your salespeople get judged and paid on sales results. So a company culture that is focused on results is healthy and necessary.

The irony for sales managers is that a constant push to reach a sales number can keep them and their teams so focused on end goals that they miss opportunities to identify problems with skills and processes and improve future results.

To do the latter, they have to focus on the inputs that produce sales process results, such as:

  • How well reps identify customer needs and prioritizing the customer’s solution criteria
  • How well reps understand and can explain your solution’s competitive advantages and weaknesses
  • Whether reps can shape a proposal or presentation that presents the best possible case to the customer

War #3: Tasks vs. People

Effective salespeople have high energy. They like to do stuff, they like to complete tasks. It’s what contributed to their success as salespeople. “Getting things done” sounds like a good attribute for a manager too, doesn’t it?

Not so fast. A sales manager who is overly task oriented can spend too much time making sure mundane To Dos get done while ignoring the development needs of their salespeople.

Sales management is a contact sport. It’s about the relationships you develop with your sales reps. So instead of focusing only on completing tasks, focus on your people. That means filling your time with coaching and helping your reps create their personal development plans. It means figuring out what motivates and demotivates each of your reps.

Developing Your Leadership Mindsets

How many of these instinct wars did you identify with? I’ve met very few sales managers who had problems with all of them, but have also met almost no one who has none of these issues. As the classic cartoon character Pogo once said, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” So the secret is finding out which sales instincts pose the biggest problem for you and developing a better leadership mindset.


About the Author

Kevin F. Davis is the author of The Sales Manager’s Guide to Greatness: Ten Essential Strategies for Leading Your Team to the Top (Greenleaf Book Group, March 2017). Kevin is President of TopLine Leadership, Inc., a leading sales and sales management training company.

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