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Two Types of Sales Leaders

In dealing with hundreds of sales managers, we at Pivotal have found that sales managers generally fall into two different categories when it comes to how they manage their sales teams.  Now we acknowledge that there could be some variations to this, but overall it is uncanny how you can almost drop a manager into one bucket or the other.   The first one we will call the Intuitive Manager.  Like all sales managers, these people are generally very aware of their numbers and driven by results.   That is a given.  But when it comes to managing their team, they tend to rely more on their gut feelings, observations and sales results to evaluate their team and coach them.  If one of their sales people is hitting their sales goals, they generally leave them alone and will only assist them when they want to or if they have a specific need.  For the underperformers on the team (based on results vs quota), the sales manager insert themselves more often to go on calls and determine why the sales person is underperforming.  They observe, make judgement, coach as applicable and sometimes terminate employees.  Most of their decision making is made on two factors – results and observations.  We find that the majority of sales leaders fall into this category.   Here is an example of what an Intuitive Manager’s scorecard might look like:

Sales PersonGoal/QuotaActual% of Goal
Johnny$75,000$56,00075%
Sally$75,000$60,00080%
Billy$75,000$75,000100%
Susan$75,000$80,000107%

This manager often times will “get out of Susan’s way and let her sell” because she is exceeding goals.  Johnny will probably receive a lot of scrutiny, while Sally and Billy will get attention only when they need it.  That is unless the sales manager sees or observes something that they feel needs their attention.

The second type of sales manager is the Data-Driven Manager.  Again, just like the Intuitive Manager, these people are driven by getting results and are highly aware of their sales numbers.  But here is the biggest difference.  They use numbers and more data to manage performance and to proactively spot coaching opportunities.  Rather than only looking at sales results, these managers also look at leading indicators such as new opportunities, discovery meetings, demos, site visits, proposals and additional measures such as close rate and deal size or account size.  This data provides additional insights to help them determine how to spend their time.   They want to see activity levels and close rates and even set expectations around those items.  Here is the scorecard of the Data-Driven Manager:

Sales PersonGoal/QuotaActual% of GoalNew OpptysProposalsDealsClose RateDeal Size
GOAL105330%$25,000
Johnny$75,000$56,00075%126433%$14,000
Sally$75,000$60,00080%155213%$30,000
Billy$75,000$75,000100%115327%$25,000
Susan$75,000$80,000107%53120%$80,000

The Data-Driven Manager will rely on this information, as well as observation, to determine how to help their team.  In this case, we can see that Johnny is working hard, finding lots of opportunities and even closing them, but his deals are small.  As a good manager, you would work with Johnny on who he targets, how he builds value, how he cross-sells other services, etc.  That is apparent from the data.  Sally has a different issue.  Her close rate is far below expectations.  A good leader might work with her on targeting the right decision makers, doing better qualification and discovery, gaining commitment, etc.   The interesting case is Susan.  She is hitting her numbers, but that all came from one big deal.  A good manager certainly would not leave her alone, because her pipeline is not healthy and she will be very challenged to hit her numbers in a quarter or two.  You would want to encourage her to up her activity.

A lot of these insights are not available to the Intuitive Manager who only focuses on results.  That is why we typically see the Data-Driven Sales Managers outperform the Intuitive Managers.

Obviously there are more critical pieces of being a good leader – coaching, strategy, planning, communication, etc.  All of these capabilities can vary by manager and can be present or absent in either type.  Intuitive managers can succeed if they are great coaches and the gut feeling works for them.  Data-Driven Managers can fail if they are poor coaches and can’t hold people accountable.  But we find that the best sales leaders are the ones that possess all of these skills and rely on data to manage performance.

So, what kind of sales manager does your business have?

About Gary Braun

Gary is a founder and co-owner of Pivotal Advisors. He has worked for 20+ years as a salesperson and sales leader. Gary has been a guest speaker for many groups such as Vistage, Allied Executives, CEO Roundtable, Sales Management Association, and more. If you want to find out more about Gary check out his profile here.
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