Where Have All The Sales Leaders Gone?

By | January 18, 2007

Many sales teams aren’t led but managed. Sales Directors, National Sales Managers & Field Sales Managers all need to occupy the leadership space, but many don’t, preferring to stand only on management ground. Below we explore the some of the reasons why sales leadership (and leaders) are not the visible force they should be:

  1. Management status is valued above leadership. The badges of office (job title, car, expense account, for some even an actual office) are all about position not action. They say what somebody is, not what they do.
  2. Management is about outputs (usually the measurement of things, the analysing of data), very tangible things. Sales leadership is about inputs (motivating people to achieve things, giving people the confidence to try things, coaching people to perform better, and setting behavioural standards), much more intangible things. So organisations that value outputs over inputs will always create a managerial approach towards people.
  3. Successful selling is all about how people feel about themselves and the situation. Most selling goes on in clients premises, away from management’s eyes, and frequently done ‘solo’. This is compounded by the fact that selling, like golf, is mostly about moving to the next opportunity, thinking about what has just happened and what is about to happen and for a short concentrated moment doing the thing the game (job) is all about. Consequently feelings, esteem levels, mood, confidence and self-awareness are all critical success factors in making the most of the opportunity. It’s these things sales leaders focus on. They create and stimulate the mental platform for people to build success upon.
  4. You can’t lead any team (especially a sales team) without credibility. The problem is many sales mangers generate their credibility in the wrong way. They do it by being the best salesperson, indeed this might be the way they got promoted in the first place. This cul-de-sac is a place where many managers are seduced into going down, because it looks superficially attractive, being the hero of the hour, but it means to remain credible they have to remain the best in the team, preventing the recruitment/development of more capable people. In building a high performance team this is an unsustainable position. The sales leader obtains their credibility from the way they create the environment to perform (see previous point), develop people beyond their own expectations, and deliver futures that seemed unlikely, perhaps seemed even impossible a year or two previously. Having people working for you who are better technically than you is a sign of self-confidence, something all sales leaders have.


If you focus on addressing these four areas and not falling into the trap of ‘just managing’ you can start to build a reputation as a sales leader.

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