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Sales Managers; Who Needs Them?

In my experience, the role of Sales Manager is the least well supported of all functions. And, it starts with the title. It should be Sales Leader. People are lead, processes are managed. How many people like to be “managed”? Do you look forward to being “managed”? However, very much as in the vehicle world we have been accustomed to use the words “shock absorber” for “spring damper” (dampers do not absorb shock) so we have the legacy of dealing with the term “manager” in place of “leader”.

This being said, what is their purpose? Who, indeed, needs them? Here are three stories to illustrate this discussion.

A sales director for a major wholesaler of items supplied on a catalogue basis to large accounts was new in post and was undertaking a familiarization exercise spending time with each of her sales people meeting customers. On one occasion, at the preparation for the day, the salesperson asked the sales director why she had come; was it, he asked, because she intended to sack him? Taken aback, she asked why the question; he replied that he had never been out with his sales director and could only assume that the reason for the visit was, indeed, to terminate his employment. She put him at his ease and they had a fruitful day out.

A sales manager (their title, not their role) for a software company insisted on accompanying his sales person on a key meeting with a prospect. They planned for the meeting and agreed their roles. The salesperson would orchestrate the meeting. The manager would speak to the strategic direction of the company whilst the salesperson would deal with all opportunity-specific aspects. In the meeting, the manager did not stick to the pre-arranged plan, took over control with the inevitable consequence that the salesperson was completely disempowered. The prospect would only from then on speak to the manager and the salesperson was reduced to “bag-carrier”. The salesperson found another job and left shortly afterwards. (According to most surveys, the number one reason people stay or leave is the quality of their relationship with the person to whom they directly report).

A managing director of a computer hardware company called for an immediate pipeline and forecast report from a sales manager (their title, not their role) because forecast sales were not closing as and when predicted. The sales manager was dealing with a disciplinary matter with one of his salespeople and had a full schedule of internal and external customer meetings planned for the next three days. He had to re-arrange his schedule and that of his salesperson and prospective customer to spend time on producing the report. He then had to spend un-scheduled time to repair the damage to both the customer and salesperson experience.

Each of these stories is drawn from reality in a simplified version of the actuality to make the points. In the first story, the salesperson did not understand the purpose of the sales director. In the second, the sales manager did not know what role to undertake. In the third, the managing director did not appreciate the role of the sales manager. In each case there were unintended negative consequences arising from a lack to clarity and understanding of what exactly is the purpose of a sales manager.

The sales manager role can be viewed as comprising two diametrically opposed capabilities: as a sales leader interacting with salespeople and customers externally and as a process manager interacting with other functions and reporting internally.

Most sales managers (leaders) accede to that role, not because they are great with spreadsheets and internal reporting but because they have been consistently high achieving sales people. It is seen as a career progression, a way of rewarding success. And yet, the very capabilities that have taken them to this role are the very ones that are least likely to serve them well in that role.

What if there was a way for the role of the sales manager to be fully understood and agreed by all?

How would it be if the prime competence of the sales manager be coaching? If we look to sport for analogies; the best football managers are not necessarily the best players, the best motor racing drivers are not usually the best team managers and the best cricket batsmen are frequently not the best captains.

At the top I said that in my experience, the role of Sales Manager is the least well supported of all functions.

How would it be, then, if, when recruiting sales managers, top of the criteria list would be either their proven or potential capability for coaching?

And how would it also be if the support that was given to them was development of their coaching competencies?

Sales manager as coach? How empowering would that be?

How much more likely is it that salespeople would welcome having, rather than their sales "manager", their sales "leader", their sales "coach" along with them?


If you are curious about this, register your interest by contacting me, John Busby, to discuss at:; + 44 7968 066 165

Copyright© 2016 John Busby

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