Leading Salespeople – Is it Different?

How different can it really be to lead salespeople?  Surly if one possesses leadership qualities, she can transfer these to any discipline.  Does the sales leader need have a passion for leading a sales organization, and not just a passion for leadership itself?

I had the privilege of working with a service & supply company in the oil and gas industry, who went through tremendous change over several years, to establish what I believe is truly a “sales organization”.  It began with a vision from someone in middle management, who knew there would be no quick fix.  In fact he suggested it may take several years, although some quick wins would be evident.  The effort would have to include managers in the field who typically wear several hats (operations, administration, and sales).  In a fast paced environment, sales often takes the back burner, as operational problems come fast and furious on a daily basis.  Then there was the field staff, and head office staff.

It was incredible to witness the perseverance of this individual in the face of much adversity.  He started with strategic planning and setting the vision.  Then there was extensive training, role modeling the desired behaviors and reinforcing those who were trying.  Recruiting and hiring became more focused, and in some cases, people had to leave, if they did not demonstrate a willingness to at least try.

The effort began in 2008 and the company has experienced tremendous growth ever since, in terms of people, revenue and profits.  And the mindset is there – you can tell by the way people respond at all levels and in all disciplines.

So how do you lead an organization to embrace a “sales mindset?”  Here’s what I learned from this company, as well as mentoring from Jeffrey Gitomer (author of the best selling book “The Sales Bible”)*:

What sets the leader of a “sales organization” apart is the execution. Remember, small steps lead to BIG success!  Here are a few of the elements that must be applied:

  • Hire smart people.  It’s easier to train a smart person than someone who doesn’t care.
  • Hire happy people – you can’t teach “happy.”
  • Make tough sales in front of your people.  How good you are at sales determines how willing they are to learn from you.
  • Role-play realistically every week.  If you think this is hokey, you will fail at being a great sales leader.
  • Teach how to help and give value.  Don’t just teach selling skills, teach buying motives.
  • Benchmark real answers to common issues your people face (like objections).
  • Support the sales effort with appropriate tools.
  • Teach your people to network outside the normal sales barriers.
  • Teach people the science of asking questions.  Develop a tool kit of “power questions.”
  • Teach your people and yourself to be creative.  This is how you differentiate – and it’s not just for sales people.  Empower people to create ideas and answers to problems and issues of clients and co-workers.
  • Pay for more outside training.  Salespeople are looking for training.
  • Teach an equal amount of sales skills, presentation skills, and personal development skills – like attitude, goals, listening, and communicating.
  • Harness the power of encouragement.

People have been successful in the past, leading a company or department which is outside their own training or technical discipline.  This is not likely to work in sales.  If a leader does not understand the world of sales himself, there is no hope of leading, motivating, coaching, teaching or recruiting a competent sales staff.

Leading salespeople – it is different.


Murray Janewski | ACT One International Corporation
c. 403-542-7056murrayj@aoic.ca | www.aoic.ca 


*Notes: Gitomer, Jeffrey. 2003. The Sales Bible: The Ultimate Sales Resource. Revised Edition. John Wiley & Sons Canada, Ltd.

Murray R. Janewski, BComm, MBA, is President of ACT One International Corporation, which is the only company in Canada licensed to deliver Jeffrey Gitomer’s sales and leadership training.