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April 8, 2018

A Great Sales Leader Wears Four Hats

What makes a sales manager a great leader? Is he or she a “numbers person” or a savvy pipeline manager, a skilled trainer or a Yoda-like mentor?

In my experience, the best leaders wear four hats – supervisor, trainer, mentor and sales coach. They recognize that while some of the roles are more valuable to sellers than others, they can’t afford to fall down on any of the jobs.

Formal and Informal Roles

Managers sometimes find it tricky to master these responsibilities because in some organizations, the supervisory function may be the only formal role. It’s also easier to measure a manager’s performance when it comes to running meetings, recruiting new reps, generating forecasts, etc..

But a lot of the time it’s the more informal, more people-oriented roles that produce the strongest sales teams in the long run.


This role is largely about onboarding. It includes teaching people how to present the offering, and helping them acquire the necessary product knowledge and sales skills. Managers either hold live training sessions live or do them remotely using a sales learning and coaching solution.  


In pop culture, the line between mentor and trainer often blurs just like in real life. However, a mentor’s main job is less about teaching young Jedis how to “use the Force” than it is about helping them adapt to the culture. This acculturation might involve taking them out for lunch, inviting them to brainstorm, or just remaining available to field questions and concerns. All managers should play this role to some extent, primarily with their non-direct reports.

Sales Coaching

This fourth role is the most critical to selling. To be a coach, you have to listen, and earn the trust of your team. Great sales coaches don’t bark orders or simply tell people what to do. Instead, the coach says, “Well, based on what you’re telling me I see a few different paths. Maybe this way is best, or maybe that way. What do you think we should do?”  Great sales coaches roll up their sleeves and strategize with reps on how to push deals over the line.

Sales Coaching Builds Awareness

The mission of sales coaching is to build awareness and decision-making skills. The idea is to teach people how to find their own answers – much like law students are taught how to find the information they need instead of trying to memorize every legal statute on the books.

Again, a sales coach should never direct employees what to do, but should help them learn what to do on their own. A sales rep whose manager coached them to think on their feet contributes far more value than one who simply responds to orders and directives.

As a sales coach, you should also focus beyond just whether reps are making their numbers and closing deals.  Great sales coaches help reps thrive in the organization.

How is the rep’s attitude? Are they comfortable in the work environment? Are they feeling fulfilled? Are they satisfied? Are they challenged?

Do they have personal and professional goals, and are they achieving them? Do their day-to-day behaviors align with their goals?

Asking these questions and figuring out how to steer reps onto the right path separates the wheat from the chaff among sales coaches.

A Natural Fit

Juggling these four roles can be challenging.  For that reason, it’s tempting for managers to default to the formal supervisory role of “check ‘em in, check ‘em out.”

However, because many sales managers get promoted to the position on account of the consultative skills they honed throughout their tenure as a sales rep, you might find excelling in all of these roles actually comes quite naturally – as long as you recognize your responsibilities and make a real effort.


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