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Why Do Sales Managers Exist?

by David Brock on August 24th, 2011

I know, I know, this title will create a deluge of comments from sales people and others suggesting sales managers shouldn’t exist.  We’ll probably get variations of the 200 lawyers at the bottom of the ocean joke.   But I think many managers’ don’t really know what their job is–or may lose their way in the crush of every day crises.

Likewise, many sales people may not understand or leverage their managers appropriately

To my mind, the sole reason sales managers exist is to manage performance.  It’s to assure each person on their team is achieving the highest levels of performance and reaching their full potential.  It’s to assure their people can achieve their goals and objectives.   There is simply no other reason to have managers in place.

Often, though, it seems managers do very little of this.  Sometimes, they feel they need to be the “super sales person,” swooping in and closing deals.  Too many seem to get caught behind their desks, doing reports, spending endless hours managing the bureaucracy, or in internal meetings.  In fairness, they may be doing things they think are important, or things they think they need to do to survive, but lose sight of where they have their greatest impact.

The only way managers can get things done is through their people.  Managing performance, making sure their people are performing at the highest levels, removing obstacles to performance, providing tools to facilitate performance, correcting performance problems; represent the core responsibilities of managers.

The highest leverage use of management time is coaching their people.   Coaching isn’t a meeting we schedule once a week, month or quarter.  Coaching can’t be confused with the performance review.  Coaching is something we must do every day, with each person.  When we are going on a sales call, we use the opportunity before the call to coach and plan high impact calls.  We use the opportunity after the call to debrief and explore what went well, what could be improved.  When we are doing a pipeline review, we don’t only want to assure they have enough opportunities to make their number, but we want to coach–how can they improve win rates, how can they reduce cycle time, how can they increase transaction value, is there good balance–can it be improved, is there good flow, are things getting stuck.  Likewise with opportunities, how do we help them better understand and leverage the sales process, how do we help thm execute the process more sharply?

In addition to coaching, great managers do things to facilitate improve performance.  They make sure there is a strong sales process is in place, that their sales people understand how the sales process helps them improve their presonal performance, and they are executing the process as well as possible.  Managers also make sure their people have the skills, tools and resources to execute at the highest levels possible.

Managers remove the barriers to their sales people’s performance–some of those barriers are thing sales people inflict on themselves–coaching focuses on removing those barriers.  Some of the barriers are things the organization does–consciously or unconsciously.  Great managers fight for their people and remove those barriers–making it easier for their people to perform.

Making sure we have the right strategies in place, that our people understand and have internalized them is critical to performance.  Manager’s spend a lot of time developing these strategies, communicating, evangelizing, and coaching the people in the execution of these strategies.

Having the right people to achieve the goals, having people motivated to perform and grow is critical.  Managers must make sure they are hiring the right people, on-boarding them properly, enabling them to maximize their contributions is critical.

Performance management can’t be reduced to a formulaic approach.  Priorities are always shifting, where sales leaders invest their time must change, based on the need and the impact at the point in time.  If we start choosing to ignore part of the job, we’ll fail to maximize performance.  I think sometimes, inertia causes us to fall into bad habits, we focus on a couple of things, ignoring others.  It’s human nature, but it’s something we have to constantly guard against.  The balance is constantly shifting, we have to be alert to changes and focus where we can have the greatest impact.

The role of the sales manager is focused on performance management.  Everything else is a distraction.

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  1. I’ve been in engineering/technology most of my career and a common problem is that engineering managers are usually engineers that performed well overtime and got promoted to managers. The challenge is that the skills that make you a good engineer are often not the same that make you a good manager.

    Because of that, the idea of bringing people from other fields to manage engineering teams is attractive, but I also have not seen good results. Those outside managers have problems establishing their leadership for lack of the technical component.

    I believe in sales the challenge is similar and, as in my experience with engineering, the great sales managers will be the ones who are also great sales people but were able to bridge the distinct sets of skills.

  2. Sometimes, they do need to be the “super sales person,” swooping in and closing deals. Their job, as part of managing performance, is to understand each sales person’s strengths and weaknesses. And sometimes if there is a big deal and their talent is the close, then so be it.

    • Sometimes the manager has to swoop in, but that must be the exception. If it isn’t, then they aren’t doing their jobs in developing the capabitlities of their people.

      • Brian MacIver permalink

        David, that’s just true!
        When the Sales Manager ‘transforms’ into a “Super” Salesperson we have TWO problems in the team.

        ONE a Salesperson who is NOT Selling, and
        TWO a Sales Manager who is NOT Managing.

        Don’t use Whatsapp when you are driving!
        Don’t Sell when you are managing!

  3. Not only to drive performance, but do it by making sure the marketing methods are sound and keep on re-evaluating them when they stop performing.

    • Thanks for the comment Patricia. It’s an interesting view, to be honest I’m torn. It’s not clear to me that sales managers should be evaluating the marketing methods–I’m not sure they have the tools, experience, or knowledge to do this. I would tend to think it’s more appropriate for marketing to do this.

      Having said this, as marketing and sales becomes more integrated, both sales and marketgin need to step up to bigger roles in assessing the strategies and programs, making sure overall performance is improving. Thanks for joining the discussion.

  4. Great article, thanks David. I’m of the opinion that it has become more and more critical for Sales Managers to become more involved with marketing and their functions as it has a direct impact on their pipeline growth (through their lead generation and lead nurturing activities). Having said that, just how much time must a Sales Manager allow for this ‘collaboration’ with marketing? And, especially (as you mentioned) as they do not necessarily have the tools, knowledge or experience.

    • Paulo: You raise an interesting point, as marketing and sales functions become increasingly intertwined, it becomes more critical that not only sales managers, but also sales professionals better understand the role of marketing and their role in collaborating with marketing.

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