The 5 Ways Sales Managers Shoot Themselves in the Foot

Many sales managers have absolutely no idea how to be sales managers.

This isn’t entirely their fault. Many sales managers are emulating the exact same behaviors that their (bad) sales managers showed them. Many sales managers are sales reps who just got promoted out of their field of expertise entirely.

But of course the success of your company depends on your sales team. It’s important for all sales managers to stop shooting themselves in the foot-and even a clueless sales manager can improve. Here are six ways that sales managers shoot themselves in the foot, and what you can do about it.

#1. They Adopt a “Sink or Swim” Mentality

You could hire the 10 best sales reps in the nation, but if you adopt a “sink or swim” mentality most of them are going to fail.

Success in one company does not necessarily predict success in another. Every company is different. Every product is different. Every process is different.

Yet far too many sales managers simply fling their presentation book and territory maps at new hires and say, “Go get ‘em, Tiger!”

Instead, you should take the time to figure out your sales process, from prospecting clear up until the customer installs or receives the product. Dig in to find best practices. Train them on a specific presentation. Give each sales rep a proven road map that can lead them to success over and over again-even if that rep was Mr. Sales Superstar in some other division or company.

And yes, if no such process currently exists then it will be up to you to create one.

#2. They Give Useless Advice

“Mr. Sales Manager, I want to hit quota but I don’t know how.”

“Just make more calls.”

Right now that conversation is being repeated over and over again across America. And it’s leaving a trail of frustrated sales reps and frustrated sales managers in its wake.

Assume your representatives want to succeed, and then figure out what’s standing in their way. Are they calling the right people? Is there something going on with their delivery when they call? The “numbers game” is a good starting point for sales success, but it’s not the end all, be-all. Stop assuming the problem is laziness or some other personal failing on the part of your reps and start positioning yourself as a coach and mentor.

#3. They Mistake “Rah-Rah” Huddles for Motivation

Having a positive attitude is certainly important. But cheering huddles, sales contests, and motivational posters are all surface solutions that don’t get to the heart of what it takes to create and maintain a positive attitude.

In reality, having a positive attitude comes from:

Knowing where you’re going.
Knowing why you’re going there.
Knowing you know how to get there.

Helping sales reps see where they are going is more than setting quotas. It’s also a matter of setting clear expectations for conveying the company brand, for achieving the right level of customer service, and for achieving certain success tasks such as setting appointments.

The “why” is about helping the representatives see the personal benefits of meeting those targets-helping them truly see what that level of income means to them and helping them place themselves inside of that picture. However, most employees want meaning, too, so why also comes from the company’s mission-what it’s trying to achieve and why the rep’s work matters.

But the third ingredient is the most important-how. There is nothing motivational about, “You can do it!” There is an incredible amount of motivation in “You can do it, and here’s how!” Give people action steps. Cheer for their actual successes, instead of slapping on a “we’re great” Band-Aid first thing in the morning. The Band-Aid solution is a hollow solution, and everyone knows it.

#4. They Develop an Antagonistic Relationship with the Marketing Department

Marketing is not the problem. Marketing is not delivering crappy leads. Turning the marketing department into a scapegoat doesn’t achieve anything except the breakdown of communications. The relationship should be symbiotic-they create leads, and you turn them into money.

Instead, see if you can work with marketing to determine the best, most profitable leads. Dig into the data with them. Find out what they’re doing so that you can incorporate their messaging into your sales presentations, allowing you both to present a consistent brand. Help them out by communicating the pain points, questions, and objections that your team encounters in the field-this is information that will help them create better marketing materials.

#5. They Spend All Their Time Putting Out Fires

Of course it’s important to be there for your team and to give them the tools they need to succeed. But resist the urge to solve every problem for your reps.

A recent post in “Top Line Leadership” put it pretty succinctly.

A sales manager who is reactive is one who is constantly fighting fires. And these “fires” are likely the same problems they were struggling with last month, too. The core problem that many sales managers have is the flawed mindset that, “I am 100% responsible for solving all team problems.”

So, salespeople hand-off their problems to their manager. Problems in customer service, order entry, you name it. They all get dumped in the sales manager’s lap. In extreme cases, a sales manager can take on the role of an administrative assistant to the team. I ask sales managers: “Do you ever wonder what your salespeople are doing after they give you their problems?” Here’s a hint: they’re likely not making more sales calls!

Adopt a different approach instead of taking every single problem into your own two hands. Give your reps some guidance on how they might solve the problem. Empower them to seek solutions. Let them know you’re always available for guidance-which takes a few minutes-but you’re not always available to spend 2 hours on the phone with another department sorting out the delivery snarl. That’s their job. Your job is to be the coach-to teach sales representatives how to succeed.

A close relative of this phenomenon is the sales manager who is spending all of his time going out on calls with representatives. That might be appropriate when the representative is very new, or when the rep is struggling and you’re attempting to pinpoint the problem, but it’s probably not the best use of your time otherwise. You certainly shouldn’t be taking over sales calls-that’s demotivating in the extreme, and it prevents you from working effectively.

Of course, all of this can be boiled down to a single problem, really-each of these failures is a result of a sales manager’s misunderstanding of his or her job. You’re not there to do the rep’s job for them. You’re not there to write reports and projections-they are part of the job, but they are not the job.

You’re the teacher, the coach, the leader. You’re there to inspire and to help change and correct the representative’s course when he starts to waver. You’re there to show your team the way so that they can be successful.