Is Sales Management Getting in the Way of Sales Success?



Recently, I made the point that the role of sales management – dare I say “sales leadership” – is now pivotal in the success of every organization and yet it is becoming clear that around 80% of managers are unqualified to fulfil the role that is being asked of them.

What does that mean?

As I have said often enough here on this Blog, and also in recent live discussions, the single most common mistake that organizations make is promoting their number one salesperson into the role of sales manager, thereby depriving themselves in a single stroke of their best producer and hamstringing their sales force with an ineffective manager.

The skills required for managing, mentoring and developing a sales team are totally different from those required for selling – sounds obvious, but it is a point which must be re-iterated. As a result, it’s not uncommon to find newly promoted sales managers who regret having taken a management position and may even leave to get back into sales.

When a salesperson gains promotion to management the first thing they have to do is to quickly acquaint themselves with a new set of working relationships – and a new set of rules.

The salesperson’s primary working relationships are with customers. However the sales manager’s is with the sales force i.e. his subordinates.

Let’s look at that a little more closely:

Essential Attributes – Successful Salesperson:

• Personal drive (ego)
• Needs to win battles (Individual sales)
• Able to work alone
• Persuades customers to see his/her point
• Needs selling skills, personal skills and knowledge
• Able to work away from the office
• Works well with people and numbers
• Good at implementing sales tactics

Essential Attributes – Successful Sales Manager:

• Submission of personal needs to the goals of the Company (Corporate drive)
• Needs to win the war (Meet corporate goals)
• Able to work with others
• Persuades the sales team to see the Company’s point
• Needs management skills and marketing knowledge
• Needs to work at the office
• Works well with people, numbers, paperwork and the corporate hierarchy
• Good at developing sales and marketing strategies

Completely different set of skills!

The most common danger in having sales managers who are basically super salespeople is that “relations with subordinates” including the critical tasks of development and supervision may deteriorate.

Even when they do recognize the importance of developing their salespeople, many sales managers find that they lack the skills and resources to do it effectively. It then becomes easier not to bother.

The majority of sales managers – new and experienced alike – say they do not have sufficient time to train and develop their sales teams. They are so focused on sales results – and so accustomed to achieving success through their personal pursuit of those results – that they overlook their greatest potential source of power, the power to increase sales performance by developing their people.

To make things worse, most sales teams consist of a number of individuals with differing levels of experience and ability, so the whole issue of team development becomes too daunting for the overwhelmed manager to contemplate.

Sadly, this is a common scenario, and goes some way to explaining why levels of sales achievement are declining so alarmingly.

At least 80% of sales managers fail within eighteen months of being promoted (Source: Chally).

I spend quite a lot of my time questioning the motives of would-be sales managers: is it the kudos that is attractive? The lure of a new car? The power that comes with authority? increased responsibility?

The reality is that it can be one of the loneliest and most stressful jobs in the world. Being suddenly propelled from a situation where you are, by and large, totally responsible for your own achievement, into another where you are totally dependent on your team for your success. Is it any wonder that so many managers fail so early, in what could have been such a promising career?

Sales achievement levels have never been so far off target and the quality of selling skills are  spiraling downwards at an alarming rate of acceleration – whose fault is it?

I think it is about time our sales managers stood up and accepted responsibility.

Whatever happens on the sales floor is down to the sales leader – leaders always have to accept full accountability.


News: Excellent new interview with the ebullient Colleen Francis is released today over at Top Sales World, which I think you will enjoy. Colleen and I discuss the need to gain commitment at every stage of the buying cycle. In effect we are insisting that every phone call/email/meeting must be moving the sale forward.

Lots of compliments about this month’s Top Sales magazine 

And lots of excitement surrounding the announcement of this year’s Top 50 Sales & Marketing Influencers


  1. says

    Jonathan – I agree with you that there is a mistaken assumption that a superstar sales person automatically translates into a superstar sales manager. And it is not uncommon for the new manager to be given no training whatsoever in developing the new skills needed. That was certainly the case for me back in my corporate selling days. Though the majority of sales people don’t transition into management well, some of us do!

    In addition to your great list of what sales managers need to be able to do, they also need to:

    -Hire great people
    -Motivate, mentor and work through team members to achieve sales goals
    -Be able to help team members set and achieve goals, which should include professional development goals
    -Clear organizational roadblocks that hinder sales success
    -Be a cheerleader for team members and give them visibility with upper management
    -Be ready for the potential pain of now managing the people who were once your peers

    While some sales folks move into management for the money or the title, I think it happens largely because that’s usually the only next logical move up in the organization. I’ve often wondered why more companies don’t create positions that don’t require sales stars to manage others but do give them the opportunity to earn more and perhaps give them the opportunity to more broadly influence decisions as part of special teams.

    Bottom line, it is not an easy or automatic transition for anyone. The person has to have the right skills, the desire and the training and support to help them succeed. Otherwise, more of the same will continue. And that’s a serious problem!

  2. says

    Hey Jonathan. Some correlations on some comments made in a blog yesterday (FastCompany) related to Gallup and their new report. The post tied employee engagement together with managers ability to develop and put subordinates success out in front. It is hard to deny that engagement is tied to productivity and results. It also makes me consider the importance of emotional intelligence in new leaders. I like to request an EQi self-assessment with new leadership coaching clients. It helps to see the balance between emotional competencies with self and others. Sales leadership is an area that I have worked in for many years…a rare find who can balance between the drive for results and the commitment to develop people.

  3. says

    I agree with this. Sales management is important in any kind of business as it will help the company itself to drive more sales. Thus, poor sales management will lead to nowhere.

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