The seven deadly sins of sales management


In my last column I wrote about the importance of the sales manager's role in any organization and why it is so difficult to achieve success in this position.

In this column I want to identify what I consider to be the "seven deadly sins of sales management."

My way or the highway:
The autocratic managers of the past are few and far between today; however, they still exist.

I think it's especially prevalent with some of the dot-com boomers who achieved success simply because they happened to be in the right spot at the right time. Many of these people are in management positions today and only know and use the autocratic style of managing.

Today's good people won't work for you if they don't like you. They don't have to. They can go elsewhere. It's a little more difficult in a tough economy but believe me, they will go elsewhere. The old adage of "Don't do as I do, do as I say" just doesn't work. There is no greater style or leadership than leadership by example.

No sales procedure:
When selling becomes a procedure, it ceases to be a problem. If it's not a procedure, it will always be a problem. Most successful salespeople sell based on their personal style and personality. Therefore if the company does not have a sales process or procedure, then the manager ends up attempting to manage a number of different styles and personalities, which is an impossible task.

Can you imagine a professional football team bringing on a new star player and saying to him, "Since you are a star performer and have been playing in this league a number of years, you won't have to go through our basic training and learn our plays. Just go out there and do what you've always done"?

I would predict failure. And so it is with sales organizations that don't have a sales procedure.

Managing by results:
Today's sales are past history. I've seen managers swoon over a salesperson's success in winning a big deal, shower him with accolades, wine him and dine him and sing his praises loud and clear, not realizing the star is on his way to failure. The sale that was closed today is the result of the work that was done last week, last month and possibly last year or longer.

The manager needs to be managing activity and regardless of the length of the sales cycle, the sales manager should be able to determine within 30 days if the new salesperson will be successful. The activity will tell you what's going to happen next week, next month and next year. The sales manager needs to continually demonstrate the daily sales activity required for success. It is the sales activity that needs to be managed, not the results.

Salespeople don't want to be managed; salespeople want to be led:
Do you consider yourself to be a good leader? Your answer to this question will tell you if you are. Are your people working for you or are you working for your people?

For the successful sales manager, it's the latter. She leads by showing the way. Her people won't work any harder than she works, in fact, probably less.

The successful sales manager must walk the talk. That's why it's of such great importance for a company to have a sales procedure. The manager can not only tell the salesperson the activity that must be performed on a daily basis but demonstrate that activity in the field.

No personal coaching:
Research shows that one of the most important characteristics of successful sales managers is the desire and ability to get into the field and personally coach and work with their personnel.

A recent survey on the best jobs in America today published by, identified the best jobs based upon five vital criteria: stress, work environment, physical demands, income and outlook. Needless to say, selling did not rank in the top 10 or the top 90.

Because of this negative image of selling, I believe the sales manager needs to continually sell, on a daily basis.

Selling is a profession. To become a professional, one needs to have a commitment to the profession of selling and pursue the education and training necessary to become a true sales professional.

It is much easier to sit at your desk and send emails than it is to personally spend time in the field with your sales personnel. However this may be the real difference between a mediocre sales manager and a star sales manager.

Taking over the call:
There's no better way of coaching than joint sales calls in the field with your sales personnel. However, the big mistake many sales managers make on a joint call is that when the salesperson gets in trouble the manager takes over the call. This is the worst thing that can happen.

The salesperson learns nothing and many times resents the manager for interfering. In making field sales calls, take the time to properly plan the call. If it is to be a joint presentation with the manager and the salesperson, then plan out what parts of the sales procedure each will cover.

If the objective on the sales call is for the manager to observe the salesperson in a selling situation, then it should be clarified before the call.

The salesperson is to handle the call and accomplish the objective. What typically happens, however, is that the prospect or customer will direct her question to the manager instead of the salesperson. When that occurs, the manager should just look to the salesperson to answer the question. Otherwise the manager ends up taking over the call and therefore learns nothing about the salesperson's selling abilities.

Nonproductive meetings:
There should be only one objective for a sales meeting and that is to increase sales. If the meeting does not contribute to increased sales, then it shouldn't occur because it's a waste of time for all concerned.

A poorly planned sales meeting is worse than no sales meeting. I feel sales meetings should have two objectives: They should be instructional as well as motivational. Most sales meetings turn out to be product- or service-focused and have very little to do with sales.

The result of your sales meeting will be in direct proportion to the amount of time and effort put into planning the meeting. Involve your salespeople in your sales meetings. Have them play an active part in the planning and execution of the meeting. If you have a salesperson who is weak on prospecting, have him give a 15-minute segment of your sales meeting on that subject.

The failure of most companies to understand the significant contribution the effective sales manager can make doesn't make it any less valuable.

It only makes the company more vulnerable to delivering mediocre performance.



Roy Chitwood is an author, trainer and consultant in sales and sales management and is president of Max Sacks International, Seattle.