Management or Leadership? What's the difference?

This is my view of this issue. I have believed for decades that in our business there is far too much "management" and far too little true leadership. What's the difference? People follow leaders and they obey managers - most times. In the military, true leaders are in the field, on the line with the troops. They go in to battle along with the troops. Managers are somewhere else (in their offices) doing planning, recon - important things that guide the people out front - "in the trenches" as we used to say. 

My thinking regarding planning and strategy development requires a lot of "management" work and front line sales managers (leaders) as well as executives need to be involved in the process - the people need and deserve a plan for success that is based on what your customers need and want, and someone has to see to it that this strategy is actually implemented by salespeople. Plus, no strategy is perfect from day one, so front line managers (leaders) must be able to suggest changes to the overall strategy based on the realities on the floor. Unless you think this way, your business can become unresponsive to changes in your environment which are caused by external issues - like the general economy, political upheaval, economic issues (like the bankruptcy recently of one of the top-ten ocean shippers of furniture products) that affect both your business and how people think about major purchases like furniture.

Of course your selling strategy has to be melded with all of your other strategic initiatives in merchandising, purchasing, pricing, marketing, service and delivery, but too many retailers haven't learned the "holistic" nature of it all. The point is that leaders take the things that managers give them, develop training for how to incorporate these things into the work of salespeople at the point of contact, and implement them on the floor when the defined opportunity presents itself. Your customer engagement strategy, when implemented, will tell you when that is.

Leadership in our kinds of selling requires a lot of planning, development of approaches and specific ways to present products and to understand the real issues your customers are dealing with. In other words, training - which includes both specific dialog you develop with the input of your team members, suppliers, top performers, and competitors. Remember this: If you want something to be said in a specific way, write it down. Ensure that everyone "gets" it - then be a true coach and watch the game being played. Think about this: When you watch a ball game on TV, are the coaches in their offices doing administrative things? NO! They watch every player on every play and make adjustments accordingly.

My goal has always been to have the highest paid sales people in town. They have to earn it, of course, but everything you do as a sales force leader is to make this happen. Follow the metrics, because they tell you everything if you analyze them correctly. You have TWO key metrics to be concerned about: Close Ratio (first), and Average Sale. For starters that's all you should be concerned about. But, the next one is product category sales by salesperson over time. You will have differences in Average Sale for example. I've seen this difference from my top performer in this metric, to my lowest to be as high as 40%. And, the most common cause? Bedroom sales!

For most full line furniture stores bedrooms are the highest overall ticket items in the lineup. I know you're getting this, so I won't belabor the point, but leaders as coaches and trainers can fix these kinds of things through training, observation, feedback and follow up.

More on true coaching next time.