You can’t improve salespeople without improving sales management first

A good sales person will not necessarily make a good sales manager — in fact, you can bank on it.

I am constantly appalled at the lack of effective sales management in companies these days. Not a week goes by in which I don’t see a company make the mistake of focusing exclusively on salespeople in trying to improve sales performance.

Experience has shown that sales managers are even more critical than sales people for creating durable performance change. Really proficient sales supervision can do wonders to improve the skills, strategies and competencies of average salespeople.

Myth: The best sales person makes the best sales manager.

Fact: Selling and managing are two very different positions with different demands and expectations.

Most exceptional sales people do not make great sales managers. On the contrary, they usually make the worst. Too many organisations promote people to sales management from within, and usually the best sales performer.

They assume that successful selling automatically translates into successful sales management, and there is usually no training to go along with that promotion. If there is training it is usually in-house with no links to current or best practice.

In my experience this is a big mistake.

Businesses will never be any stronger than the sales people they select and train to be a part of it. Sales people need to be trained or educated about those demands and expectations along with exactly how to fulfil them.

In appointing a sales manager there are a few things you need to keep in mind. I find that the best sales managers are leaders and coaches rather than administrators and organisers. They cannot lead from behind a desk.

Good sales management consists of the following:

  • Planning: Developing and owning the sales operating plan for the business unit in concert with marketing, service, and all other parts of the business.
  • People development: Establishing the people resources needed to successfully execute the operating plan by hiring, coaching, developing, measuring and leading the “right” people.
  • Proactive review: Managing revenue and profit by monitoring, controlling and reviewing sales, business, customer and competitor activity. Proactively reviewing the sales plan and consolidating this plan into the business forecast for the organisation.

Sadly, this is not how most sales managers are spending their time. A survey of European field managers by Siebel MultiChannel Services in 1999 found most sales managers do understand their roles very well.

But most were prevented from performing their optimal role. The study found that only 37% of the sales manager’s day is spent in planning, people development and proactive review. The rest of their time was spent with administration, reporting, reacting and handling customer issues.

What is your sales manager spending their time on? If it’s not the important stuff, maybe you need to work out a way to make that change.


Sue Barrett, the founder and managing director of the sales consultancy firm Barrett Consulting Group, is not trying to start a gender war but she insists there is a body of overseas research showing that women often outperform men in acheiving sustainable sales results.

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