Are you a Sales Manager or a Sales Leader?

Are You a Sales Manager or a Sales Leader?

By Mark Hunter “The Sales Hunter”

Today, I have a guest blogger, Mark Hunter. His new book is on my recommended list for all of you., Ken Thoreson,

Take a moment and answer this question:

“If you are a sales manager – or when you think about the person who manages you – which description rings accurate: Sales Manager or Sales Leader?”

Far too many sales managers are doing just that – managing rather than leading.  If you’re wondering what the difference is, let me sum it up very simply.

  • Sales managers are concerned with the market they manage.
  • Sales leaders are concerned about the people they lead.

It’s easy for sales managers to say they’re a sales leader when things are going well. When things are not going well, though, it becomes blatantly apparent who really is a leader.

Managers are quick to jump in and save the sale or the customer. They’ll push anyone at headquarters to get what they need for their market or area.  Leaders, on the other hand, even in tough times choose to spend their time leading people and not trying to manage the market.

This does not mean they don’t get involved with customers. They do, but they do it in conjunction with the salesperson they’re leading.  And certainly when they get involved, they don’t at any time try to undermine the role of the salesperson.  It’s this single activity that separates managers from leaders. 

Early in my sales career, I had the experience of being supervised first by a person who was a sales leader and then, after a promotion I received to a new market, by a person who was an ultimate sales manager.  The difference came out quickly.

In both situations, the quarterly results in volume and sales were similar, but the long-term development of the salespeople in the two markets varied dramatically.

In the first market, I found myself learning everyday and being able to challenge my own development skills with my customers.   In the second market, sadly, I found myself defending my position with both my manager and others.  Rather than being able to challenge myself with my skills, I was instead being challenged daily by my manager – and not in a good way.

The reason I share this is simple.  Too many sales organizations over the last several years made severe cutbacks in the training and development at both the salesperson and sales manager level.  In other words, for salespeople to grow, development must now become part of the daily routine, spearheaded by the head of the sales department, instead of directed by a separate “training” department.

If the sales manager chooses to manage the market, personal development will always take a backseat.  If the team is being lead by a sales leader, though, then not only will we see sales results, but also consistent personal development. 

Mark Hunter, “The Sales Hunter,” is author of High-Profit Selling: Win the Sale Without Compromising on Price. He is a sales expert who speaks to thousands each year on how to increase their sales profitability.  To receive a free weekly sales tip and read his Sales Motivation Blog, visit You can also follow him on Twitter, on Facebook and on Linkedin


Reprinting of this article is welcomed as long as the following is included: 
Mark Hunter, “The Sales Hunter,”, © 2012

6 Replies to “Are you a Sales Manager or a Sales Leader?”

  1. Leadership and Management is sort of a specialist topic for me so I have seen lots of definitions of proposed distinctions, but yours is unique. You are saying, more or less “Managers are externally focused, Leaders are internally focused.” The external/internal dimension is a reasonable one on which to pivot. And it is certainly an area where one needs balance.

    I have heard people advocate 100% customer focus, but as you describe, if it comes at the expense of staff it can be self-defeating in the end. I have heard people advocate 100% staff focus. they argue that if you empower your staff, they will always determine what is right for the customer and everything will be fine. But I find that a bit idealistic and doesn’t match my experience. For starters, one of the thing a Leader/Manager does is set an example and no matter how much they talk about the importance of the customer, if they do not demonstrate it to some degree with action (because they are obsessively focused on the people on the team), then they are not role modelling effectively.

    Then your discussion goes into an even more bizarre distinction that you call ‘single activity that separates managers from leaders’ which is that Managers undermine their salespeople and Leaders don’t. I would argue that that is not a differentiation between Leaders and Managers, but rather a distinction between BAD Leaders/Managers and GOOD ones.

    I applaud LL’s quote which is the foundation to my own personal mantra…’do the right thing right.’ It is a bit vague, but benefits from being so, but it’s probably more poetic than pragmatic.

    I personally advocate a definition that centres more on approaches to risk taking (Leaders optimise upside, Manager minimise downside) which needs the two to be balanced properly to optimise outcomes.

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  4. Reminds of my favorite quote:

    Managers do things right.
    Leaders do right things.

    I’ve seen it attributed to several people, so I don’t know who said it first. Sadly, I’ve mostly worked for managers and not particularly good ones at that.

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