Sales Management vs Sales Leadership – a question of focus

  • RK 
Reading Time: 4 minutes

What is the difference between Sales Management and Sales Leadership? The topic of ‘manager vs leader’ is frequently discussed in business; how is the distinction made in a Sales context? And is it an important distinction?

The commonly accepted difference between leaders and managers is that leaders have people follow them, while managers are interested in the result of a person’s work.

A leader is primarily focused on input; a manager is interested in output

A Sales Leader is primarily focused on input; a Sales Manager is interested output. And in the case of Sales – it must be INPUT that leads to OUTPUT that is MEASURABLE.

Adopting a Sales Leadership approach means influencing and driving a better revenue result, by focusing on the right kinds of inputs. And here lies a key, powerful differentiation – Sales leadership is the side of the coin that can turn around an underperforming floor into an industry-leading salesforce.

Although Sales Management is still important, it must not be confused with the Sales Leader role. Only Sales Leadership can turn the futures of a business around through a top-line result.

‘Sales Leader’: It is not a job title, either. Sales Leadership is a role: a role that Sales Managers, business owners, CEOs, and even individual salespeople can, and should take.

Sales Leadership is (in my experience) a rare and incredibly valuable form of leadership.

Possibly the most important Sales management duty is forecasting pipeline, and reporting on pipe to their upper management. In line with this is the responsibility of ensuring top-of-funnel is always filled with net new opportunities, and that opportunities are well qualified and progressed.

A Sales Manager will look at budgets, numbers, and targets. A Sales Manager will do a good job of knowing and reporting on pipeline and opportunities, and ensuring measures and goals are well communicated with the team.

What will a good Sales Leader also do in the same context?

Sales Leaders will firstly make sure their team are enabled and equipped to hunt for leads and kickstart top of funnel activity. They will ensure each salesperson is motivated to find net new opportunities, and that every team member has the skills needed to create pipe. A successful salesfloor is always proactively pursuing people to do business with; a successful Sales leader is obsessed with top of funnel activity.

I have personally encountered B2B salesfloors where their business development managers have been given instructions to avoid loud phone calls, to avoid disturbing their Marketing team! The lifeblood of a B2B, sales-driven organisation is the phone; loud calls are like a strong pulse. A noisy salesfloor means one thing: they are focused on the funnel! Nothing makes me happier as a Sales leader than a loud room full of Sales professionals making cold calls.

So, what are some inputs in Sales that lead to measurable outputs?

There are three key areas of input that reliably lead to measurable output, in B2B Sales:

  • Prospecting, to fill Top of Funnel;
  • Building a Deep Understanding of the customer through meetings and conversations, and
  • Creating Value as defined by the customer, through collaborative solution-building.

Prospecting is the simplest yet hardest of the three. Filling top of funnel requires energy, focus, and resilience to bounce back after rejection. Few salespeople (that I encounter) find prospecting a ‘fun’ activity. It can be rather monotonous and time-consuming. For most B2B industries, prospecting does not lead to immediate, gratifying results in the way of an instant sale. It is hard work, sowing of seeds to be reaped later down the line. It is both the most mundane and the most necessary Sales activity a Sales Leader must drive.

Deep understanding of a customer is the one activity I mention here which many Sales Leaders gloss over. Especially when a customer is ready and eager to place an order, the salesperson is not under instructions to develop a deep understanding. However, failing to properly understand their customer and their needs can lead to under-selling or over-selling and to dissatisfaction later down the line. Worse still, it can lead to bringing on an unprofitable customer which becomes a recurring nightmare. Sales leaders must stress the need to build and record a mutually agreed, written understanding of the customer – in writing – prior to taking on complex pieces of work.

Last but not least, good salespeople put time into building solutions that create customer value. ‘Customer Value’ rarely means what we think it does. For example, our product or people could be industry leading, and have unique and innovative capability. We can make the (bad) assumption that these features of ours constitute customer value, when in reality the buyer is simply satisfied that we constitute the lowest risk purchase for them due to the trust we have built. For every customer engagement and every individual transaction, a sales leader must be sure that customer value has been considered carefully. Salespeople who build collaborative solutions and demonstrate value well, create raving fans, and are the bedrock of a strong sales team.

Sales Leaders drive input that reliably leads to measurable output. They do not confuse their management role (of people management and revenue reporting) with their true responsibility of created uplifted results through smart, measured inputs. And most of all they realise Sales Leadership is not a lone wolf activity. A good Sales leader values what every person in the company brings to the equation, from Sales, to Operations and Delivery, and even down to the most mundane administrative position. A Sales leader leverages all the internal capability available to them to build value and deliver it to the right customers, month-in and month-out without fail.

Sales Leaders are the architects on which B2B businesses are built.

Does your business have the Sales Leadership it deserves?