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Sales Managers Are Killing The Sales Organization!

by David Brock on March 7th, 2016

It may be that time of year. or maybe I’m just more aware of it, but it seems that too many sales managers are focused on killing the sales organization.

Researchers constantly remind us that buying is changing, that buyers prefer to minimize contact with sales, reducing it to the last 20-43% of their buying process.  They give us feedback from customers:  “They don’t understand my problem, they talk about their products, they don’t care about what we are trying to do….”  The lists go on.

The inevitable conclusion of these reports is that buying is changing, customers have better and more alternatives to learn about our products, and the need for sales people is declining.  All the research points to the need for a more customer, consultative, problem solving approach to selling.  Many reports talk about the death of selling.

Of course, the need for a more customer focused, consultative approach to selling is not new.  We first learned about this in the 50’s/60’s/70’s with Drucker, Rackham, Hanan, Miller/Heiman and others, constantly reinforced by others since then.

But, it turns out, it’s not the changes in how customers buy that are killing the need for sales people, it’s poor sales management that is killing the need for sales people.

OK, OK, before all of you get up in arms, declaring me a traitor to my profession, it’s not all sales managers.  Some are inspired, some get it, they are amazing.  Some leaders are developing organizations that do amazing things in engaging customers.  There are great stories and great success we read about.  Probably most of the readers of this post fall into this category.

Unfortunately there are too few good sales leaders.

Despite reading every day about how customers buy, how they want to be engaged, and how sales people can and need to create value for the customer; sales managers seem to be pushing in exactly the opposite direction.  Despite knowing, for decades, we need to create more value, be more business focused, be more customer focused, be more consultative, we’ve made little progress.

James Muir cites a conversation with a sales manager, “I recently had a conversation with a manager that wanted to shrink wrap every part of the BDR role so he could hire any body off the street to fill the role. He didn’t want them to need to think.”

Tibor Shanto and Hank Barnes discuss a situation where Tibor was trying to advise a sales manager about a well executed but inappropriately scripted call.  The manager couldn’t appreciate the input their process was off, but just sought to beat up the sales person for poor execution of call scripts.

I could come up with dozens of examples—all from the past week.

We complain about bad, clueless sales people.  But are they really at fault?  Could so many be failing so consistently because of their own ineptness?  After all, they are doing exactly what they have been told to do.  They’ve been trained, scripted, measured on selling poorly by their management.

Rather than respond to the changes in customer buying, too many sales managers seem to be in a race for dumbing down the sales person.  Sales automation vendors, recognizing an opportunity are jumping on the bandwagon, providing tools that enable sales managers to “shrink wrap,” formularize, and templatize the approach to selling.  Managers try to script every bit of the conversation even though that conversation is irrelevant to the customer.  Managers manage by the numbers, increasing volume in an attempt to make the numbers rather than increasing quality and engagement.  More and more I hear the term “coin operated,” referring to the drive sales management has to standardize every word, action, minute spent by sales people.

Managers sit behind desks, analyzing reports (thanks vendors), taking actions based on the numbers, but without understanding the context.  They don’t go on calls, they don’t see how the scripts are not working, they just double down on being completely prescriptive.  And if that doesn’t work, they fire people, bringing in fresh fodder to throw at the challenge of making the numbers.

The ultimate impact of this dumbing down of the sales force is that we don’t need sales people.  Sales becomes web fulfilled transactions, and the predictions of the death of sales seem predestined.  Now the logical extension becomes, We don’t need sales managers!  Wake up sales managers, on current course and speed, you will be unemployed, and your actions are making that sooner, not later!

Our customers are crying for help.  They are telling us explicitly what they need.   All we need to be successful is to give them what they want!

They want sales people who understand their businesses, understand what they are trying to achieve, can provide insight into solving their problems.  They want sales people who can help them, not just push products.  They want ideas, they want insight, they want help in managing change.  They need help in learning how to buy and in the buying process itself.  They need help in understanding our solutions–not just from the web, but specifically how it will impact them.  They need help in understanding the challenges and risks in implementing solutions, so they can avoid them.  They need help in building business justified proposals and selling those to their management.

What if we give them what they want?

Rather than dumbing down and mechanizing the sales force, why don’t we focus on hiring the right people, developing the right skills, coaching them in improving their effectiveness and impact.  We would be working on how do develop business and financial acumen.  We’d help them with critical thinking and problem solving skills–so they can both help the customer figure things out, but they can figure things out for themselves.  We’d be developing project and change management skills, helping move customers through their problem solving process so that they can buy, rather than abandoning the project in No Decision Made.

Yes, we’ll use more tools, but we will leverage those tools in different ways.  We won’t try to dumb down the sales people, but we will implement them in a manner that enables the sales person to engage in meaningful ways, to have conversation in terms that are relevant to the customers, that focus on them and what they want to achieve.

We’d recognize sales people as assets, invest in them, coach them, develop them, support them, retain them.

What’s killing sales is not the changing buyer.  What’s killing sales is inept and inattentive sales management.

The greatest outcome that could be created from this post is sales managers getting pissed off enough to want to prove me wrong.  In proving me wrong, they will be forced to focus on building the capability and capacity of the organization, they will discover the things they should be doing (Perhaps some of the things I suggest), and will change their organizations and the way they lead.

Of course, some will try to prove me wrong by doubling down on what they are doing–but we already know that doesn’t work, so don’t waste your time.

Please, be pissed off enough to prove me wrong!


  1. I recently sat in a meeting listening to leadership repeat over and over how they had to “get their script right.” This is the same argument as the 30 second elevator pitch.

    They are both flawed. Selling is not about scripts or pitches, it’s about taking the time to develop relationships, learning what the customer needs and instilling trust. Sometimes that can’t be delegated.

    • Thanks Barbara. The problem with too many scripts is people don’t know what to do next. Consider if the script works, can the sales person continue to conduct the conversation, can the person engage, start to build trust, start to understand and probe? Too often, everything stops with the script.

  2. Excellent post David. Non-adaptive sales managers are not effective. Instead of applying principles of sales learned years/decades ago, it is far better to figure out how buyers wish to purchase and help them do just this. This is where marketing and sales can team for best results. And as Barbara stated, sales reps will be valued based on their ability to build relationships, create trust and thoroughly understanding their clients’ wants and needs.

    • Thanks for joining the discussion Christopher! It seems too many forcing factors are going against what we know is right, going to the simplistic. It’s amazing, we know they don’t work, but managers persist.

  3. Great post David! I have proudly been in sales and sales management for over 25 years and have always believed you get and keep clients through networking and building great relationships. You listen to your clients and sometimes you get the deal and sometimes you use the “Miracle on 34th street” approach and get the client to the right provider, when it’s not you! Guess what, more times than not, they come back. But, after reading Challenger Customer, your post is rock solid. The sales person and the sales manager need to realize we not only have to teach, tailor and take control of our champion, but we must do that with the organization’s stakeholders in a consultative manner that provides insight and value to them. It is a whole new world and the way to survive is realize that we sell to people trying to solve problems.

    • Thanks for the great comment Patrick, we lose so much opportunity because we can’t engage our customers the way the want to and need to be engaged. Selling and making the numbers would be much simpler if we made that shift. It’s incumbent on sales managers to provide the leadership, tools processes, training, and coaching to enable sales people to execute.

    • Patrick: Thanks for the outstanding ideas! Your very last phrase is simply brilliant, “We sell to people trying to solve problems.” Recognizing this and engaging people in solving problems is the secret to success. Thanks for contributing to the discussion!

  4. Scott Woodhouse permalink

    Good stuff Dave. Remember the old book, Don’t Fite Them, Fire Them Up!
    When you script reps, it makes it easier for your competition to derail you, they know what you will say every time so they will always stay ahead. And how is this developing future talent?

  5. Dave, you nailed another one.

    As sales leaders and managers, we jam on the mantra:

    1. understand your prospect
    2. call high
    3. build more pipeline
    4. close more business

    Too often, we don’t equip our people for #1, which is the only path to #2 and reduce our admonishments to #3 and #4.

    We train the heck out of our folks on our products, tell them how important #1 is but expect them to figure that understanding out on their own.

    I’m guilty as charged.

    And we wonder why our prospects and customers are frustrated with us, engage with us on a tactical basis, don’t buy from us in the volumes and at the speeds we want, etc.

    We are smarter and better than that. It all starts with understanding your prospect/customer, and the value you can deliver.

    Thanks for pointing out how important the manager/leader role is in all of this.


    • Scott Woodhouse permalink


      You wrote something that caught my attention. “Call High”. I am very interested in that. Would you mind expanding?


    • Well stated Jim. I couldn’t add anything more

  6. This was a Franchise-Info’s reader’s choice for the 10th week of 2016. Congratulations.

    • Wow Michael! I’m flattered, thank you for letting me know. Please pass my appreciation to your readers! You’ve made my weekend.

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