Sales Leadership

When I run sales training programs I ask the question “Give me a phrase that describes the best leader you ever worked for”.  The answers might suprise you.  RARELY do people use a phrase that describes a technical competency.  What you hear most often are phrases that describe leadership competencies/traits.  People get pretty emotional when they think of the best leader they ever worked for…because they remember what that person did for them.  They talk about high expectations coupled with a coach that helped them get there.  They speak about a sales leader that continuously communicated with them and also listened to their input.  They remember someone who did make goals clear but also took the time to talk through step by step tactical plans that would help them meet their goals.  In essence they felt more like a customer than a “direct report”. 

And I think that if you, as a field sales manager, think of each of your team members as customers of your leadership then you just might be the person they remember when they’re asked about the best leader they ever worked for. 

So what practices can you integrate into your daily routines that will build your credibility as a great leader?  The following activities will help.    You’ve got to fight off the natural inclination to be “the master closer” and spend all your time going on the toughest sales calls.  You must invest time in group & individual settings to ensure that these activities are a continuous practice.

  • Strategy Communication – It is your job to continuously inform your team of the key components of your companies strategy.  An effective way to deliver this information is to make Town Hall Meetings a part of your routine when you visit your various sales offices.  Start each of these meetings with a 10 to 15 minute overview of the company’s strategy.  This is not a session of accountability but of informing and ensuring understanding.
  • Tactical Plans Communication – Don’t leave it to everyone’s imagination how they can best support the company’s strategy in their daily efforts.  Tell them how they can do their job differently from the way they did it in the past.  Define explicitly how you would approach their job if you were in their territory.
  • When meeting with team members one on one recognize that you have a variety of leadership styles to choose from…think about it and use the style that best fits “your customer”.  You can choose a directing style specifically telling someone what to do, when to do it and how to follow up with you.  You could choose a guiding style that would have some directing but would blend in asking for input and coming to agreement on next steps.  You might decide that a supporting style is a better fit.  A supporting style is primarily asking the person how they plan on doing the task then supporting their plan (with some checking in on progress).  Your final option is that of delegating.  When you have a high skill, high will team member this is the leadership style they will appreciate.  For more information on leadership styles feel free to send me an email @
  • Development plans – EVERY member of your team deserves a development plan and the best development plans include a commitment from the team member and a commitment from you.  Just because a team member reliably meets all their goals does not mean they wouldn’t benefit from your help.  Also, development plans are not the paragraph that you include with annual performance appraisals.  If your team members are finding out about their inperfections once a year then you’re not doing your job.
  • Sales Participation Level – Avoid extremes.  I have seen managers who, once promoted, don’t see their job as making joint sales calls.  This is a great way to lose your leadership credibility.  The other extreme is spending all your time attending critically important closing calls.  You may indeed be the “master closer” and your sales people may love having you with them.  But your team members will not develop to their potential if you’re not investing time coaching.  Choose a sales participation level, say 30-40% of your time, then continually assess if that’s the right level for your team.
  • Coaching Level – Invest time with each team member.  The subjects you cover should include tactical planning, major prospect strategy, development planning.
  • Performance Management – Today, peformance management is not about reacting to annual or quarterly sales results.  You must look at sales results, sales pipeline data and think through each team members skill levels.  Every step of the sales cycle requires a different skill set.  Be proactive!  Be a coach!  If your boss tells you one of your team members is a problem then you lose, and that team member loses.
  • Recognition – This is a component of leadership that I have to continuously remind myself of because I personally did not need a lot of recognition.  The more goal oriented a person is the less they need continuous recognition.  However recognition serves two purposes.  Firstly it is very motivational whether the person needs it or not.  But just as importantly public recognition makes it clear to others what you appreciate.  If you don’t recognize anyone then it’s only fair that your team assumes you don’t appreciate anything.  Don’t overdo recognition but realize that this is an incredibly powerful tool.

As a field sales manager there are many issues that are outside of your control (budgets, incentive plan design, lead generation etc.).  You can provide upward feedback about those issues.  However, your team as customers of your leadership, depend upon you to become the best leader they ever worked for!


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