Effective sales management can be the difference between a sales organization that thrives and a mediocre one that barely stays afloat. Yet, many of the best sales managers still mistake the description in their job title for something that is even more crucial to sales success - leadership.

Leadership may seem like a simple concept, but it perplexes many of us. After all, leadership is so much more than just unbridled charisma, rah-rah speeches and a charming demeanor, just as sales management is more than simply assigning quotas and reviewing performance reports.

Definitions of Sales Leadership

One of the best definitions of leadership, as applied to sales, comes from former president Dwight D. Eisenhower. Eisenhower described leadership as “the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because HE wants to do it.” Another great definition comes from Peter Drucker, the dean of modern management. Drucker was quoted saying that “Effective leadership is not about making speeches or being liked; leadership is defined by results, not attributes.”

Let’s tackle the first definition. Any sales manager worth his or her salt can simply use their authority to get their reps and underlings to perform their required tasks. However, this creates a sense of obligation, rather than ambition. Constantly asking reps to do things can create a culture of resentment. Additionally, it is unlikely that tasks performed begrudgingly will be executed at a maximum level of quality. Therefore, effective leadership must entail getting your followers to buy-in and fully commit.

1. Leaders Rely on Data-Driven Decisions

On the second point, sales success is largely a function of results - how much did you book? Was it more than last quarter? Are our company and its revenue growing? All your sales leadership efforts will be for naught if the results aren’t there. That’s why the best sales managers AND sales leaders are also numbers-driven, relying on the data as evidence of their effectiveness. Running their organizations analytically and by the numbers allows them to make stronger decisions based on real data, not gut instinct.

2. Sales Leadership Requires Vision

While sales management largely occurs at the tactical, down-in-the-trenches level, sales leadership is more about setting a higher-level, big-picture vision and direction. Sales leadership is strategic and comes about as a result of the sales leader setting this vision while defining the culture of the sales organization. They author sales plans, define and communicate sales processes and sales effectiveness drivers, and author the sales playbook that communicates vision, strategy, processes and tactics.

3. Sales Leaders Empower

Finally, sales leaders must empower their sales managers and sales reps to succeed. Many Sales VPs - considered the upper tier of sales leadership in many organizations - too often step on the toes of their sales managers, preventing them from properly executing tactics. Sales management is much more about day-to-day execution and coaching teams to sell more effectively. Sales leadership extracts full buy-in and commitment from all members of the sales team below him or her, to the point where everyone WANTS to follow this leader and have the utmost faith in his or her vision and strategic direction.

Perhaps there is no quote that best sums up the difference between management and leadership - and the critical importance of strong sales leadership - than this from Lao Tzu:

A leader is best when people barely know he exists - when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say; we did it ourselves.”

Zorian Rotenberg is a recognized authority on metrics-driven sales and marketing management. He is a VP at InsightSquared and was on management teams of several successful software companies each of which he grew by over 100% in sales every year, going from $8mm to $100mm in a span of a few years.  He was also CEO at StarWind Software. Zorian has a degree in Finance with minors in Applied Mathematics and in Computer Science from Lehigh University, and earned his MBA from Harvard Business School.