This post is an adaptation of a chapter of Leading Growth: The Proven Formula for Consistently Increasing Revenue.
Sales managers and sales leader needs to occupy seven different styles. Despite this, many have a tendency to use only one style, which poses a challenge for creating net new revenue. Different outcomes may require different styles. More important, everyone on your team likely needs something different from you to reach their potential.
The list that follows includes seven styles that, when used effectively, will improve your results. Some of these styles have titles that are not flattering. They are here because they are sometimes necessary—and effective.
The Democratic Style
A sales manager using the democratic style often does well. It encourages their sales team to contribute while also creating a high level of engagement. A democratic leader includes their team in conversations and allows them a great deal of autonomy. The style helps win hearts and minds. It also helps create a positive culture.
This style and approach are excellent for territory and account plans or for building a prospecting sequence. It's also helpful when solving sales problems. However, it may not be quite so useful when it comes to the actual work of prospecting, which brings us to our next sales management style.
The Autocratic Style
If you have a picture of Vladimir Putin on your desk, you are not likely to win any hearts or minds. The autocrat is the worst possible style a manager can deploy. Using force or coercion isn't a good approach to leadership. Most sales managers who are predominantly autocratic believe their team needs to increase their activity. This is often a sign that a manager’s leadership skills are limited. However, some things are non-negotiable. Without becoming a monster, it can be helpful to occupy this style when something must get done. Let's call these outcomes non-negotiables. You can have three non-negotiables.
For example, this style may be required when your members of your team are not prospecting and are starving your pipeline of opportunities. Even with the autocratic style, you never have to use force or coercion, but you must have high standards for prospecting, scheduling meetings, and creating new opportunities.
Laissez-faire means hands off. At one time, I believed this was the best style. You hire good people with experience, pay them well, and let them figure out how to succeed. I love this quote from Steve Jobs: "We don't hire smart people and tell them what to do. We hire smart people so they can tell us what to do." As it turns out, Jobs was much more of an autocratic leader and was known for having the highest of standards.
Even though you might prefer to let people have their autonomy, if you rely too heavily on the laissez-faire style, you will fail most of your team. There are mature, successful salespeople who need little help. Others need more help, guidance, and leadership. This is my dominant style, but I have had to learn to occupy other styles to best lead my team. My recommendation is that you lead your whole team, ensuring everyone gets the support they need.
The Strategic Style
Most sales managers and sales leaders would like to be strategic leaders. The strategic leader can identify new opportunities, and their focus is on the line between execution and the new strategies that allow their teams to produce better results. This style is important for solving the challenges of growth. The downside of this style is that, as the leader is ready for change, it can be hard for the sales force or the sales organization to keep up.
Even if this is not your style, as a leader, you should look toward the future to solve the problems and challenges that prevent you from reaching your goals. Whenever there is a real challenge, your team will look to you for guidance, and strategic thinking will help you understand what to do.
The Bureaucratic Style
I am highly allergic to administrative tasks. Looking at a form can cause me to pass out. I carry an EpiPen with me when I open my mail. This is the least inspiring of these seven sales management styles. There are scenarios, however, where the bureaucratic style is necessary. This is especially important for highly regulated industries, like the financial sector and pharmaceuticals.
You may believe your team should document their opportunities in your CRM. If you refuse to discuss an opportunity until it has been properly documented, you are probably a bureaucrat. So be it. When something must be done, this style allows you to make certain your team is buttoned-up, preventing future problems.
The Transactional Style
This is a style you may need to use— sparingly. The sales management style of the transactional leader is to trade this for that. Transactional leaders believe everyone is motivated by money, so they promise money in exchange for accomplishing goals. Basically, transactional leaders are buying their salesforce. Most people are not entirely motivated by money, and it’s often the same people who win contests and collect the reward.
Sometimes, it may be necessary to use this approach to accomplish some goal, like launching a new product or trying to win a land-grab competition with your competitors. But use it sparingly!
The Transformational Style
Like the others, the transformational style presents benefits and challenges. When the sales force needs a reset, this style is perfect. Those using this style can lead change, one of the more difficult outcomes a leader may need to execute. Transformational leaders can see what comes next. They can also recognize the potential of the people on their teams.
The downside of this approach is that once the transformation is over, the transformational leader may not be well equipped to execute the changes that follow.
Use All Seven Sales Management Styles
You will need to use all of these styles at different times and with different people. Everyone on your team may need something different from you, and matching the right management style to each situation will strengthen your leadership capabilities. Your ability to occupy each style as the context or outcome requires will improve your results.
Pick up a copy of Leading Growth: The Proven Formula for Consistently Increasing Revenue for more strategies and tactics for reaching your sales targets.