Categories Articles, Sales and Marketing

Let’s talk about your sales team. More specifically, let’s talk about how you should be hiring your Sales Leaders and the differences that you need to know between that person and a Sales Manager.

Both of these roles are important in their own right, but the Sales Leader can be more difficult to find. Many of the skills and traits Sales Leaders exhibit are identical to those that Sales Managers have — but the ways in which those skills are used sets them apart.

We’ll identify those differences so that you’re better prepared to hire the right person for this very crucial job.

1. Your Sales Leader Is Your Chief Architect

The Sales Leader is the high-level planner for the sales team. They:

  • Understand long-term goals of the organization
  • Create action plans that position the sales team to help meet those goals
  • Build roadmaps for months or even years in advance
  • Plant signposts along their path to help guide the team forward

The leader’s position allows them to see trends, and adjust the plans accordingly. They’re concerned with keeping a close eye on things like how their Pipeline Inflow/Outflow is changing over time to make sure that the pipeline continues to grow and that reps have the pipeline they need to close deals. That said, they are less involved in the day-to-day operations of the sales team than a Sales Manager will be.

When looking at the planning of a Sales Manager, you’d be forgiven for confusing it with leadership. The important distinction to make is the time frame they’re looking at. While a Sales Leader is looking weeks or months in advance, a Sales Manager is often focused on the here and now, and rarely concerns themselves with plans outside of the current month.

Managers will be paying attention to Open Opportunities in the current month to see which deals are closing soon and make sure that reps are making progress on the deals that are most likely to be Closed-Won.

As you’re gathering candidates for your Sales Leader position, you want to find the ones who speak in terms of quarters and years, rather than days and months. Look for applicants who show an obsession with building and planning. As the chief architect, they’ll not only be developing the road map for the department; they’ll also be the one in charge of building the team to navigate it.

2. The Sales Leader is a Confident Communicator

Great leaders are masters of communication. That means they:

  • Understand that for communication to be effective, it needs to move both directions
  • Welcome incoming information from their team about what is working and what isn’t, and are quick to understand how to turn that information into action

During coaching and communication sessions with the Sales Manager, Sales Leaders will focus the time around looking together at progress, deal flow, conversion rates, and pipeline staging. In contrast, when meeting with the rest of the sales team, there will be a greater focus on processes and tools. The Sales Leader will provide the team with insights that they have gained from their data, breaking down complex sets of information into easily-digestible pieces that can be immediately turned into action items.

Managers tend more toward one-way direction versus two-way communication. Their focus is on the “here and now”. Expect the Sales Manager to dictate how goals can and should be met faster, rather than eliciting feedback. While this can seem like a breakdown in communication, it’s more common that this method is drawing from the experience of being in the salesperson’s shoes and having a prior understanding of their needs, rather than ignoring them.

When hiring a Sales Leader, look for someone who is as keen at listening as they are at speaking. Give them feedback during the interview process and see how they handle it. Is it just passing between their ears, or are their mental gears turning, deciding what action should be taken with the new information that they have?

3. Sales Leaders Know How to Filter Information

You can’t be good if you’re not effective, and you can’t be effective if you’re constantly overwhelmed. One of the keys to being an effective leader is being able to filter through what is emergent versus what is merely important. The best leaders have a keen eye for understanding what work can be delegated, versus what is important to handle on their own. They know how to rely on their Sales Manager to get them the data that they need, as well as how to coach them into leaving out the pieces that are not of pressing importance.

For example, a Sales Leader may not be immediately concerned about individual daily rep activities, but they would be highly interested in the Lost Factors for their trailing 12 months of deals to make sure they can avoid making mistakes that have cost them potential opportunities.

Conversely, Managers are the sponge. They’ll be curious to learn what’s happening on the front line with the sales team. They will gather and disseminate information to the Sales Leader, without overwhelming them. Most of their efforts will be focused on helping individuals on the sales team meet their goals. They will be the ones making sure that Activities Over Time are increasing and on track to fill the pipeline.

It can be a bit tricky to pull this information out of your candidates. One way to make it happen is to hand them a scenario with a wealth of information and see what they do with it. If they try to handle it all themselves, they’re likely more of a Manager than a Leader. The Leader will understand what’s important to them, what can get handed off, and what is just noise.

4. A Sales Leader is Always Growing

This time we’re not talking about company growth, but rather personal growth. The Sales Leader is someone who is always looking to push themselves. They are constantly reading, involved in webinars, and attending conferences. While that might also be true of Managers, the Leader is also looking for ways to help others around them grow. You will see them spending time with the newest sales person, as well as the most senior of managers.

Sales Leaders know how critical it is that there is constant growth by every member of their team, and they lead by example. By having a Daily View of their most important metrics, the Sales Leader not only keeps themselves on top of trends and changes, but they also set the example for their team to operate based on data.

Sales Managers see growth differently. They will hone their skills in motivating and enabling growth specifically within the team of salespeople. Their focus is on increasing sales KPIs, so expect their growth efforts to be centered around education related to the job the salesperson has today instead of the one they hope to have in five years. They will use tools like the Deals Landscape to help motivate their team for today’s actions.

To hire the Sales Leader, you should open up the floor to discussion during their interview. Ask them about their favorite professional books, or the employee whose growth gives them the greatest sense of accomplishment. If they have trouble answering these questions, you’re probably looking at a Sales Manager versus a Sales Leader.

5. The Sales Leader is Obsessed with Measurement

Leaders are always looking for more and better sources of data that they can then turn into useful information. The key to being a data-driven Sales Leader is in being able to decipher what’s been measured. Expect the Leader to run numerous concurrent tests, to work closely with the Marketing team, and to provide timely, usable information directly to their team. Tools like Revenue Forecasts and Demand Generation will help the Sales Leader to guide their team toward big-picture goals, while breaking down the suggested actions for the Sales Manager.

The Sales Manager will often be more task focused. They will use the measurement information that the Sales Leader gathers to help them make changes to execution rather than planning. They will be experts in motivation and constant improvement, rather than spending their time focusing on high-level planning.

To find the Sales Leader, look for someone who can readily tell you what their favorite measurement tests are, and the tools that they use to run them. They should have an excitement for interpreting data and be able to do so in a manner that makes for actionable results.

Hiring the Leader

Understanding the differences between a Sales Leader and a Sales Manager is crucial to the success of any sales-based organization. Now that you know the traits, you have to make certain that you’re offering a position in which the Sales Leader can thrive. Show them that you will give them autonomy. Encourage them to make data-driven plans. Let them build the team that can turn those plans into a reality.

Lisa Zheng
Lisa Zheng is a writer, coffee enthusiast and Yale grad. She spent college doing research in labs, and now enjoys doing research on writing, sales and marketing.
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