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Sales LeadershipThe debate rages on whether leading a sales team is an art or a science.

Many people think that certain people are born leaders. That somewhere deep in their DNA resides the “leadership” set of genes. Conversely, there are others who believe that leadership is simply a skill and process that, if applied, will get results. Who’s right? Based on research and my anecdotal experience, I’d say that great sales leaders are an envious blend of both.

I believe that following proven leadership processes and systems is a much greater factor in sales leadership success than what most think. We know that there are personality types better suited to leadership than others. People high in the “Dominant” trait have an advantage but this hardly guarantees sales leadership success.

Recent research by my friend Charles’ company, Material Minds, finds that the strongest leaders view management as a process.  If you do certain things in a certain way, you’ll get results. I absolutely agree. I’ve trained and coached many sales managers over the years and I have seen proof. The ones that follow the steps that I recommend end up growing their team and their sales. For example, implementing a goal setting and review process, having weekly one-on-one meetings with their reps and doing regular coaching calls are all foundational sales leadership functions.

“The ones that follow the steps end up growing their team.”

Yes, skill is required to do these properly but good training solves that challenge. If you take someone with the skills and they DO these things on a regular basis, they will get results.  They need to follow a process. Back in university when I was a student franchisee for College Pro Painters, we learned to follow “the system”.  The system included how to manage and lead your team. They knew what worked and didn’t so we didn’t have to learn on our own.

I recently met with a Vice President of Sales name Ali who manages a large, Toronto based, sales force spanning the country. During our meeting, Ali shared with me all the different things he’s doing to lead the team, all of which were very impressive. He approachs things in a very systematic manner yet has only been in the role for 2 years. I asked him what he did prior and was shocked when he told me he was an engineer and had never been a salesperson! To illustrate my point of leadership being more of a science than art, Ali has significantly grown the sales because he applied his engineering skills to the sales force.

Unfortunately, a classic mistake made by sales organizations is to promote their best salesperson to a sales leader position without the proper sales management training and development of the management systems. Inevitably, they fail.

If you are a sales manager, here are your actions for this week:

  1. Make a list of the key management activities that will grow your salespeople
  2. Note how often or how many of these should be done on a monthly basis per rep
  3. Note how many you are currently doing Figure out how you can get these numbers closer (the hard part!)

The bottom line is that as long as you are driven and willing to learn, you can become an exceptional sales leader like Ali!


Northbound can help grow your sales management effectiveness through our workshops, coaching and consulting. Click here to learn more.