Sales Leadership vs. Sales Management

sales leadership

Orig. Post May 9, 2013 by Zorian Rotenberg, Insight Squared | Re-Post January 2, 2015

Leadership seems like a simple concept but it frequently perplexes us. Many of us confuse leadership with management – they are different.  Additionally, it is misleading that leadership is sometimes thought of as the rank or seniority of someone’s role in an organization. This is incorrect. To make things more confusing, many see leaders as those who possess charisma, make powerful speeches and have personal attributes such as charm.

Perhaps my favorite definition of leadership comes from Dwight D. Eisenhower: “Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because HE wants to do it.”  Another great definition comes from Peter Drucker, the dean of modern management, who stated: “Effective leadership is not about making speeches or being liked; leadership is defined by results, not attributes.” Sales leadership is similarly about getting the sales team to achieve results (to Drucker’s point) by leading the team in a way that THEY want to follow and not because they are told to do so (to Eisenhower’s point).

Sales leadership is different from sales management. It is more about setting a vision and direction and ultimately about the entire sales organization genuinely wanting to follow their leader to succeed. In this sense, sales leadership is more strategic and comes as a result of a sales leader setting the vision and strategy as well as about defining the culture of the sales organization. This comes as a result of setting goals, objectives and top priorities for the sales organization and then empowering the sales managers and sales reps to succeed.  Sales leaders do this by creating the organization’s Sales Strategy. They also author the Annual Sales Plan.  The sales leader defines and communicates the Sales Process and the Sales Effectiveness Drivers.  They author the Sales Playbook where they communicate the Vision, Strategy, Culture, Sales Process, Sales Effectiveness Drivers and also the tactical Sales System which the sales team must use (and must be trained on consistently). Then the sales leader empowers their sales managers to drive the sales team to succeed. As a result, the Sales Leader is the person who leads the sales organization to generate predictable and repeatable revenue for the company. There is one last critical point  that must be made to complete this paragraph — today’s top sales leaders have a common denominator: they are data-driven (they run their organizations by the numbers). For the Sales Strategy to be effective and for the sales leader to lead the sales team in the right direction (and scale the process of predictable and repeatable revenue generation), they must be analytical and thus make decisions based on real data and not just by gut instinct.

Everyone wants to follow this Sales Leader. The sales team wants to follow him or her because THEY want to and because they know that this will bring about a positive change, both to the organization and to themselves. There are few organizations today that have sufficient Sales Leadership. Many companies have good sales managers but they don’t always have good sales leaders. As I wrote in another blog post, sales management is much more about day-to-day execution and about coaching their sales teams to help them sell more effectively.  Also, Ken Thoreson, a renown sales management expert, defined this difference between a sales leader and a sales manager in this Expert Series interview.  It’s worth noting that every sales manager has an opportunity to become a leader and will thus bring about a positive change to the organization and to themselves.

Here are some of my favorite leadership quotes to further clarify the meaning of leadership and hopefully inspire sales managers to strive to be leaders:

Leaders aren’t born, they are made. And they are made just like anything else, through hard work. And that’s the price we’ll have to pay to achieve that goal, or any goal. —Vince Lombardi

The most dangerous leadership myth is that leaders are born – that there is a genetic factor to leadership. That’s nonsense; in fact, the opposite is true. Leaders are made rather than born. —Warren Bennis

Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others. —Jack Welch

A leader is best when people barely know he exists – when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves. —Lao Tzu

The supreme quality of leadership is integrity. –Dwight Eisenhower

You don’t lead by hitting people over the head — that’s assault, not leadership. –Dwight Eisenhower

A leader is a dealer in hope. —Napoleon Bonaparte

My own definition of leadership is this: The capacity and the will to rally men and women to a common purpose and the character which inspires confidence. —General Montgomery

A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way. —John Maxwell

A good leader is a person who takes a little more than his share of the blame and a little less than his share of the credit. —John Maxwell

Leadership is lifting a person’s vision to high sights, the raising of a person’s performance to a higher standard, the building of a personality beyond its normal limitations. —Peter Drucker

You manage things; you lead people. —Rear Admiral Grace Murray Hopper

Effective leadership is putting first things first. Effective management is discipline, carrying it out. —Stephen Covey

Great leaders are almost always great simplifiers, who can cut through argument, debate, and doubt to offer a solution everybody can understand. —General Colin Powell