If you are a sales manager, you probably received some solid training, read lots of books,and learned from experts in the field through seminars, webinars and blog posts.And all along the way, you learned that your primary job as a sales manager is to develop and coach your team. But then management tells you that you also need to be a sales leader. What’s the difference? Can one person do it all? Is it right for every sales manager? All good questions. Let’s examine each role and how the answers can mean your success or failure.

The Sales Manager

Sometimes a sales organization just needs a sales manager. Other times it needs a leader and sometimes, both. From my experience, a good sales manager hires well, nurtures the skills needed for successful team selling, and recognizes and removes obstacles to make it easier for sales reps to sell and buyers to buy. They eliminate disruptions by spending their time creating effective processes and systems, and channeling resources that enable their people to do their jobs and flourish.

The Change Agent

A good sales manager also has to be a change agent. This means making the hard decisions and communicating their rationale clearly to everyone impacted. They remove ambiguity and create stability, transparency and accountability.

The Manager vs. The Leader

You may have heard this before: Managers both tell and sell, whereas leaders ask and listen, then ask some more. But is this true? A good sales manager does many of the same things that a leader does. They both encourage people, inspire trust and promote new ideas.
But if all the ideas are only coming from the “leaders” and not from the doers, your company will have issues.

Doing It All

For me, the distinction isn’t so much between a sales manager versus a sales leader; it’s about how you walk the tightrope to do both as well as coach. Are you managing and measuring value? Or are you a leader and creating it? Are you leading people or just managing their work?

As a sales manager, you manage situations and coach people. You can’t coach a process, but you can coach someone through a process. For a sales rep, there is a big difference between following someone’s lead and obeying their instruction. A leader has people willing to not only obey, but to follow as well.

To be a good manager and leader, I believe you have to do it all: Manage, lead and coach to bring out the best in all. As a sales manager, are you doing it all?


Janice Mars, Principal and Founder of SalesLatitude, is a sales performance improvement consultant and change agent focused on growing top performers to impact bottom line growth. With more than 30 years of experience as a senior business and sales executive, she helps companies build successful sales teams by maximizing their time and resources, selling from the buyer’s point of view, and strengthening the effectiveness of leadership. View my LinkedIn profile | Twitter