Smart Sales Managers Know How & When to Switch Hats


Barrett-RiddlebergerBy Barrett Riddleberger

Most sales managers are called just that: sales managers. However, anyone in a sales leadership role knows “manager” is only one of at least three hats they must wear. Wearing the wrong hat at the wrong time leads to unmet sales goals. Barrett Riddleberger, CEO of xPotential Selling Inc. (, shares with RBR+TVBR readers the 3 hats you should wear and why.

Most sales managers are called just that: sales managers. However, anyone in a sales leadership role knows “manager” is only one of at least three hats they must wear: sales leader, sales manager, and sales coach. Wearing the wrong hat — that is, applying the wrong strategy — for a given situation will generally lead to less than optimal performance from your team.

Knowing when to wear which hat, however, isn’t always as simple as it might seem. The responsibilities of the leader, manager, and coach are not always clearly divided. Here are the attributes for each role to help you decide what sort of direction to take with your sales team.

  • Sales Leader: The simplest definition of a leader is “someone who leads”. Use your leadership skills when you need to cast vision, motivate, or create conditions for sales reps to be engaged productively in their roles. One of my favorite definitions is, “the most effective measure of a leader is the performance of their team in their absence.” A sales leader knows what their teams are doing, because they have invested time in ensuring that each salesperson understands how their role adds value to the organization as a whole.
  • Sales Manager: Sales managers are the structural supervisors of your team. They direct everything having to do with the black and white: the rules, processes, metrics, policies, and so forth. Managers act as referees and police officers, communicating the rules and any changes as they happen, clarifying gray areas and answering questions, and holding accountable anyone who fails to perform at the level established by the structure and metrics.
  • Sales Coach: Sales coaches can sometimes have the most significant impact on individual performance, just as athletic coaches can drive players to new levels of ability through conditioning and practice. They do this through careful analysis of performance and then partnering with the sales rep in training and emulating best industry sales practices. By far the most personal of the three roles, the sales coach can sometimes help salespeople achieve results higher than they thought possible.

Usually, these three roles are combined in one person, although many sales manager positions emphasize one or two of these roles over the others. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, so long as managers remember that, no matter what their title, they always have three hats to choose from: sales leader, sales manager, and sales coach.

Barrett Riddleberger is the founder and CEO of xPotential Selling Inc., and the author of Blueprint of a Sales Champion: How to Recruit, Refine, and Retain Top Sales Performers. Reach him at: