Sales management is quite possibly the most misunderstood role in business.
Sales managers play a unique role – they not only select, build, lead, coach, and manage front-line salespeople, but also act as a customer and business manager.
Since these responsibilities compete and pull sales managers in multiple directions, the activities that are most critical to properly fulfilling the role’s mandate can become clouded, leading to misconceptions and mistakes that undermine success and in many cases, job loss.
In this article we debunk 14 misconceptions we’ve heard about sales management and the role of a sales leader, and offer alternate perspectives to guide effective decision making.
Misconception 1: Managers should step out of the sales ring when they are promoted.
“The primary role of sales managers is to simply to be a people manager and support their team. They are supposed to stop closing deals and instead let their account executives execute the entire sales cycle.”
The first common misconception is that a sales manager climbs into an ivory tower and leads from afar. They are no longer responsible for being familiar with accounts reps are trying to penetrate, and distance themselves from the day-to-day activities on the sales floor.
In truth, effective sales managers get in the ring with their team when they can add value to the selling process. They may not manage customer relationships firsthand, but they are side-by-side with their reps, coaching them and facilitating problem-solving processes on a weekly or daily basis. They participate in phases of the sales cycle and in situations where the manager’s skills or involvement adds credibility, and ensure the sales strategy is being properly executed on the front-lines.
Misconception 2: Sales is the exclusive domain of the sales manager.
“The sales manger should be in the sales department. Why should they be spending time with our CPO and CFO.”
Yes, sales managers are responsible for the activities of their team and accountable for making the number. But sales management functions at the best companies don’t operate in a vacuum. Instead, the best sales managers help create and foster a pro-sales culture throughout the company.
A pro-sales culture manifests itself in many ways. For example, when the entire C-suite buys into the sales strategy and understands the critical role of the sales force in helping the company attain its financial goals, resources like tools, training budget, and headcount are readily provided. A CMO that is aligned with sales adjusts their team’s tactics to generate the right types of leads and prioritize the creation of content and marketing collateral that reps can leverage throughout the sales cycle.
Misconception 3: Managers can stop recruiting when they’ve filled all headcount needs.
“Why should our sales manager spend time recruiting when we’ve got enough feet-on-the-street.”
Hiring great salespeople is the most important responsibility that a sale leader owns. But if a sales manager only searches for candidates when a headcount openings occur, then stops recruiting activities when the positions are filled, they’re practicing reactive hiring.
Reactive hiring treats an open seat like a fire to be put out. Managers start feeling the heat as the costs of the empty seat quickly compounds, ultimately forcing managers to hire whoever’s actively searching for a job – ‘C’ and ‘B’ players.
Hiring proactively, however, means executing a consistent, year-round system that attracts and nurtures talent — even when there aren’t open seats. It allows managers to reach out to passive candidates and “play the long game” by building relationships and cultivating a virtual bench that can be drawn from. It’s no surprise that this method attracts the best talent.
Misconception 4: Top performing teams don’t need sales training.
“I’ve got a competent team – they’re effective sellers. Why should I invest in training and development?”
Sales leaders often make the mistake of investing too little in sales training, or spending too much training time focused on product knowledge rather than sales techniques. Over half of companies surveyed by McKinsey rely exclusively or extensively on ‘on-the-job training’ compared to structured programs that build organizational capabilities. Leaders at these companies tend to under-invest in ‘front-line training’ as well: at companies where training is reported to be least effective, executives are more likely to spend on training for the leadership and least likely to spend on the front line. Meanwhile, the companies that report that trainings have measurable business impact are most likely to invest in the front-line training.
The success of athletes and performers hinges on the quantity and quality of their practice, as well as their long-term, consistent commitment to it. And if an elite swimmer wins an Olympic gold medal, they return to the pool for more training instead of “coasting” on past victories.
Sales professionals are no different: all levels of the sales force benefits from training. Moreover, a high-quality training program sends a clear message that the company is committed to investing in an employee’s success and professional development. In fact, according to Profit at the Bottom of the Ladder: Creating Value by Investing in Your Workforce, “offering training and career tracks to line workers led to lower turnover and easier recruitment, and served to make employees more efficient while they were with the company”.
Misconception 5: Resumes are the best way for a sales manager to screen job candidates.
“Great salespeople should have a stellar resume – it’s the best way to know if they’re going to be a fit on our team.”
An effective sales manager maintains a consistent search for qualified candidates to fill their hiring pipeline. But rather than only relying on resumes to screen-out candidates, the best sales managers understand two things: first, they know that top-performers are always actively and gainfully employed, and too focused on exceeding target than to be consistently updating their resume. Second, they know that resumes don’t show a candidate’s Sales DNA – the core characteristics that make a person uniquely suited to be a consistent top performer.
While resumes certainly have the capacity to show a candidate’s track record of results, they aren’t comprehensive and do a poor job of revealing Sales DNA, which can only be extracted through psychometric testing and behavioral interviewing techniques.
Misconception 6: All responsibilities on a sales manager’s to-do list are equal.
“I get 200+ emails a day, have 3-4 meetings, 15 calls, and a training session I have to lead. They’re all critical and need to be done today.”
The manager’s to-do list can stretch to what feels like hundreds of responsibilities. New sales managers often feel like they are only doing their job well if they deliver on all tasks – responding to all emails immediately, spending time on CRM reports, and attending all cross-functional meetings.
But sales managers ultimately have one responsibility: to build a high performance sales team that achieves the sales and profit objectives stated in the corporate and sales strategy. To-do list tasks that don’t directly contribute to this outcome need to be either automated, delegated, or eliminated.
Misconception 7: Sales managers must keep closing deals themselves.
“My ability to close deals is what got me here – and it’s something I need to keep doing if I’m going to continue to climb the corporate ladder.”
While some sales managers mistakenly retreat into an ivory tower and place too much distance between themselves and sales activities, other sales managers stay too involved in customer relationships.
This is especially common for managers who were recently promoted from an individual contributor role and simply continue with the momentum of selling. But if managers insert themselves between their sales reps and prospects, taking the reins of every relationship, they erode their team’s confidence and damage morale.
Misconception 8: Managers should invest extra time in C players.
“Yeah my team routinely misses quota – but they are great to be around, they’re great people. So if I just invest more of my time and energy, I hope their performance will improve.”
All sales reps require one-on-one coaching, whether they are A, B, or C players. However, sales managers need to divide their time intelligently among the three groups. In Smart Sales Manager, Josiane Feigon suggests that managers should spend, at most, 20 percent of their coaching time on C players to assess whether they have potential to dramatically improve their performance.
If the answer is no, C players need to be immediately cut loose so they can pursue an alternative career.
Misconception 9: A manager needs to hire extroverted salespeople to close deals.
“The ability to develop rapport is critical to being successful in sales, so why wouldn’t I only hire outgoing people?”
It can be tempting to search for extroverts to fill open sales positions. After all, they’re confident in social situations, quick to pick up the phone, and enjoy the process of making new connections each day.
But those considered to be introverts often have the characteristics that allow them to build trust with prospects and cultivate the same long-term customer relationships possessed by those with more outgoing personalities. What’s more, a meta-analysis of 35 studies of nearly 4,000 salespeople found extroversion to barely correlate with sales performance.
Misconception 10: Top performers can manage themselves.
“Why would I spend time with the few top performers I have on my team – they routinely hit quota and don’t need me.”
Top performers are self-motivated and have a high level of independence, but they require management. And the better their management is, the better their business results will be.
Sales managers must provide clear guidance on goals, a structured work environment, regular account and pipeline reviews and communication, training and development, support, sales tools and infrastructure, and most importantly, accountability.
Misconception 11: The best AEs should be promoted to manager.
“Why wouldn’t I promote someone into a FLM if they’re crushing their quota every quarter?
It is important to continually advance the careers of top performing salespeople. But management isn’t necessarily the right next step because the competencies of managers differ from the competencies possessed by individual contributors. Too many companies make the mistake of cherry-picking their standout reps and promoting them, resulting in the loss of actual closed sales and the addition of a poor manager.
In fact, 96% of firms place internal candidates into sales management roles, but only about one-third of them report having defined processes or internal candidate assessment tools for these promotions, according the Hiring Top Sales Managers Research Report by the Sales Management Association. This suggests that 65% of sales managers who have been promoted from rep positions haven’t been fully vetted for the proper managerial skill-set.
Misconception 12: Trust your gut when hiring.
“The candidate lacks a few competencies I’m looking for, but I’ve got a feeling that they’re going to be a great fit.”
Using gut instincts alone to screen candidates is the best way to make poor and costly hiring decisions. Hiring on gut feel is usually not a deliberate first choice. More often, it’s a fallback that a sales manager or other interviewer lands on when they don’t have the tools to properly evaluate candidates or don’t feel confident in their company’s recruiting process.
The gut can “yell” loudly, but because it’s based on fluctuating mood cycles, it is unreliable and can tell an interviewer one thing on Monday and another on Tuesday. Ultimately, the gut isn’t usually screening for sales skill; it’s screening for how likeable, safe, and relaxed a person is. A strong positive instinct about someone is not the same as proof that a candidate has the skillset or experience to succeed in your unique selling environment.
Misconception 13: Managers can use financial incentives alone to motivate their reps.
“I broadcast a bonus on the team scoreboard – that should be enough to keep the team hungry for more.”
It’s true that financial incentives motivate sales professionals, but that’s not the whole story. Some managers might have the mindset that there is a linear relationship between money and sales, in which they expect to plug in monetary rewards and receive a proportional return from reps.
But human motivation is complex and not machine-like. Intrinsic motivation can be even more powerful than external rewards, and top performing teams have a healthy mix of purpose, autonomy, competition, shared values, team acceptance, and other factors.
Visit our comprehensive checklist of basic and advanced motivational techniques for a more robust approach to team motivation.
Misconception 14: Sales managers don’t need a structured hiring process.
“I’ve got an idea of who I need on my team to get the job done. Why would it matter whether or not we recruit the same way every time.”
We recruit thousands of candidates for our customers ever year and see a direct correlation between the intensity of structure in the hiring process and the number of teams who hit quota.
When hiring managers don’t follow a clear, consistent, and repeatable hiring process, the result is a diverse pool of candidates that don’t fit the corporate culture, don’t work well as a team, and generally don’t fulfill their sales goals.
In contrast, a structured process dramatically increases the probabilities of making a hire that hits and exceeds quota. It gives the hiring manager an objective, clear picture of the characteristics, skills, and experiences that a candidate needs to be successful. It also protects the company from subjective forces by standardizing, documenting, and regularly evaluating its screening and interviewing criteria. In addition, having a standard process reduces time-to-hire and saves time and headache for every interviewer and manager who is involved in sales hiring because they can follow proven steps that eliminate underperformers.
Learn more about structured hiring at Peak Sales Recruiting by downloading the free e-book Make the Right Sales Hire, Every Time.
Top performing sales teams don’t hire themselves, and sales reps can’t be their own managers. This is the domain of the sales manager, who plays a key role in employee recruitment, motivation, accountability, and focus. If they can detangle themselves from the misconceptions above, they will have a strong, positive, direct influence on the sales results of the company at large.
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