Linking Leadership to Selling

Sept. 19, 2016
Leadership is an outcome. It's not something you do as much as it is what is actually happening. Leadership is occurring when people are following.

If salespeople are managers, and good managers are good leaders, then it follows that good salespeople are also good leaders. What the very best salespeople are doing is, in fact, leading others toward decisions.

The more time I have spent teaching and thinking about selling, the more I have come to see the linkage between selling and leadership. A few years ago, my business associate, John Sedgwick, shared with me a model for analyzing management and leadership that he had developed during his career as a marketing director for a large company. In that position, John was responsible for managing and developing other folks who were themselves managers, so he developed the model to help him do that more effectively. He has kindly shared that model with my company. It is the TRUST Management and Leadership Model, and Selling with TRUST is a registered name for my approach to selling.

Since salespeople are, in fact, managers, when we use the term "management model," we want it to be clear that this is also a "sales model" and you should read it that way. Also, managers and salespeople are not just managers, but leaders. The best salespeople "lead" customers to actions and conclusions.

The model is going to support the conclusion that leadership is an outcome of specific traits, skills and abilities, and developing these traits, skills and abilities can develop leadership ability.

The Model
The purpose of any model is to help us analyze a complex behavior – like management – by breaking it down into the components that make up the overall behavior. If someone told you to "improve your management skills," you wouldn't have any idea what action to take; the guidance is too general. You would need something much more specific. Actually, to change your results significantly, you'd ultimately need to identify an individual skill or behavior that you could consciously practice. We change large behaviors by identifying and practicing the individual component behaviors that together make up a large behavior. As each individual skill improves, the overall performance improves.

An awareness of your personal traits and your personal style, which is a result of your traits, can help anyone who must interact with others. In our seminars for salespeople, we use a personal styles evaluation tool to help each salesperson identify his or her own style, and to understand how our style affects our relationships with others. Are there necessary traits to become an effective business-to-business salesperson? The answer is "Yes," and in my experience, there are four: honesty or integrity, drive, empathy and determination.

Knowledge, Skills
Knowledge and skills specific to your job as a business-to-business sales-person include all the things that people in your industry either know, or can do.

The most fundamental selling skills are actually communications skills:

  • Asking questions (and listening to answers), so we understand the customer's needs
  • Converting information about products into benefits that are important to customers
  • Reacting to and responding to a customer's concerns or objections
  • Moving a selling conversation to a close

When we say communications, we don't just mean the ability to write and speak clearly. We are using communications to encompass all the elements of interpersonal behavior. This includes writing, speaking, questioning, listening, explaining, etc. It also includes skills such as non-verbal communications, personal image creation and projection, negotiation, message formulation and delivery. When we speak, we are communicating. When we are not speaking, we are still communicating. In fact, it's just as possible to deliver a powerful message by refusing to speak as it is by choosing to deliver a long speech.

Management Skills
The third box in this row of the model, labeled management skills, contains the traditional skills we associate with managing, including managing a sales territory. The model further separates these into three areas: administrative, managerial, and visionary skills and abilities.

  • Administration would include things such as budgeting, record keeping, reporting, organizing, etc.
  • Managerial would include the basic management skills of strategic planning, operational planning, problem solving and decision-making.
  • Visionary refers to the ability of a manager to create a vision for his/her business that goes beyond goal setting.

The model identifies two broad managerial skills – planning and problem solving/decision making.

Planning includes the salesperson's ability to set goals and objectives, to identify and select optimal strategies to attain those goals, to develop and implement specific plans, to evaluate progress toward goals, and to use that information to realign strategies and plans as needed.

Problem solving/decision making includes the salesperson's ability to apply a logical problem-solving and decision-making process – as opposed to the most common method, which can be described as "seat of pants." These are important skills for business-to-business salespeople to have.


  • Knowledge Outcome = Mastery: Building up more and more business knowledge and skill can eventually lead to a level we could call mastery. You could certainly become a genuine expert in this field, mastering all the knowledge available and all the relevant skills of job design, equipment sizing, installation, pricing, etc.
  • Management Outcome = Efficiency: At the far right of the model, the outcome of strong managerial skills is efficiency and effectiveness. Good administrative, problem-solving and decision- making skills allow us to avoid errors and wasted time, solve problems effectively so that the same problem doesn't need to be resolved over again, and make correct decisions to save time and pursue highest return activities.
  • Communications Outcome = Leadership: Here's where the model might take a surprising turn. We started out by saying that salespeople are managers. So, a model to analyze management effectiveness is the same model to analyze selling effectiveness.

Great managers are, in fact, great leaders. The thing that makes them great is that people follow them.

If salespeople are managers, and good managers are good leaders, then it follows that good salespeople are also good leaders. What the very best salespeople are doing is, in fact, leading others toward decisions. Effective salespeople lead the customer toward a solution that satisfies the customer's needs.

Salespeople are professional communicators. If they communicate effectively, they will cause customers to perceive that they can help them. If they communicate ineffectively, customers will base their buying decision on something other than their desire to work with and follow a particular salesperson.

The better communicator you are, the better leader you will be, and the better salesperson you will be.

Complete Model
Our traits as individuals, combined with our knowledge and our skills, allow us to achieve certain outcomes. As salespeople, the most critical of those outcomes is leadership – our ability to lead others to think and act in certain ways. That ability to lead is a direct outcome of our skills as communicators, in the broadest sense of the word.

To excel at business proposition selling, you need to have the view that you are the manager of your own business. You need to believe that you are knowledgeable enough about your business to bring value to your customers. And you need to be able to organize and present your capabilities in a way that will lead the customer to work with you. In other words, it requires that you work toward becoming a complete manager.

This article is an excerpt from the book, Proposition Selling: How to Create Extraordinary Success in Business-to- Business Sales, by Tom Piscitelli and John Sedgwick.

Tom Piscitelli is the founder and principal of T.R.U.S.T. Training and Coaching, For nearly 40 years, he has worked with contractors, distributors and manufacturers with a focus on increasing sales via effective customer relationships. Contact Tom at [email protected].