When distinguishing sales leaders from sales managers, titles do not tell the whole story. It is possible that a person with a sales leadership title, like Vice President of Sales, is not a sales leader. A person with the title of Sales Manager may be a sales leader, but this is not always the case. Sometimes a sales manager is nothing more than a sales manager. The difference between a sales leader and a sales manager is how they engage with their teams.
Sales Leader versus Sales Manager: Vision
A sales leader has a vision of the future they are pursuing and they share it with their team. They also have a vision for who their team will become. The vision of the future is about winning the right clients, generating new revenue, and reaching sales goals. Sales leaders are also focused on the actions and behaviors the sales team needs to demonstrate to accomplish this. A sales leader will spend time enabling their vision, treating it like the cornerstone that holds everything together.
The sales manager pursues their goals without a vision of how to hit their targets. To make matters worse, the sales manager lacks a vision for their team, something that disqualifies them from being a leader. The manager is likely to believe that their sales force is capable of reaching their goals without being charged to become something more than they are now.
Sales Leader versus Sales Manager: Communication
The sales leader relentlessly communicates with their team because they recognize that communication enables leadership. Sales leaders continually communicate their vision, their priorities, and what must be done to produce the results the team needs achieve. One sign of a great sales leader is that everyone on their team can recite their priorities. Even though it need not be said, the leader continues to remind their team about their priorities, relentlessly communicating what’s important.
A sales manager communicates with their team by sharing messages from the executives upstairs. Lacking a vision and their own priorities, they undershoot the mark for communicating with their team. When the sales manager communicates, it’s often a transactional communication, one that carries little information of priorities. Because the sales manager’s communication has no soul, neither does their team.
Sales Leader versus Sales Manager: Decision-Making
A sales leader recognizes what needs to change to bring their vision to life. They do not allow small problems to turn into much larger problems that prevent them from reaching their goals. When there is a large problem, the sales leader does not allow it to continue. They have no fear of addressing someone else's sacred cow. A sales leader also makes the decisions and the changes that will lead to their desired outcome.
The sales manager isn't willing to dispatch small problems before they become larger problems. Instead, they ignore most problems altogether, especially if it means difficult conversations with a member or members of their team. When problems go unaddressed, they not only grow larger, but may also spread to the rest of their team. Whether it’s due to a lack of ability or willingness, they fail to make critical decisions that would improve their results, which makes success close to impossible.
Sales Leader versus Sales Manager: Standards
You can expect high standards from a leader. The best leaders are aware that each person on their team has a well of untapped potential and that, if properly coached, can grow and improve. They also believe that how you do one thing is how you do everything. The leader knows that the higher their standards, the better their results. The leader with high standards helps everyone grow while in their charge.
Instead of setting high standards, the sales manager accepts the standards set by each person on their team, regardless of a person’s potential. These managers don't recognize they are failing the salespeople, their families, their clients, and their company. All stakeholders, from the salespeople to the prospective clients who need help, all go without the results they need. No one remembers the person that neglected them and allowed them to be less than what they could be.
Sales Leader versus Sales Manager: Accountability
A sales leader isn't likely to have a prospecting problem because they hold their teams accountable for creating new opportunities and creating a positive culture of accountability. Every person on their team understands what is expected of them. They also enjoy their leader’s support and guidance when they need help in some area. This culture is non-punitive, making it a safe place to grow and improve. The sales leader is engaged with their team and holds themselves accountable for building the culture that makes wider accountability possible.
The sales manager is unhappy that their team doesn't do enough prospecting, but they do nothing more than complain about it. The culture they create lacks accountability, which allows their team to avoid doing the right work at the right time in the right way. As a result, the sales manager—and likely most of their team—fails to reach their goals. The only way the sales manager can improve these poor results is by holding themselves accountable for making the changes that result in a positive, non-punitive culture of accountability.
Sales Leadership Wins
The leader will always produce better than the manager. Leadership is the difference. Titles mean little for results. What seems to matter is caring and deep engagement with the individuals that make up the sales team. To move from a sales manager to a sales leader, you must address the things that prevent you and your team from making the changes you both need to take to improve, grow, and develop. For your team to transform, you must go first and show them the way.