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Sales Management Mistakes That Lead to Underperforming Sales Teams

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Written by Bob Croston
Vice President, RAIN Group

Do your sales managers know how to coach and motivate your sales people?

Your sales staff is underperforming, but you can't figure out why. You're pretty sure that you've hired the best possible talent, but some days it seems like your sales staff is the gang that can’t shoot straight. Where did you go wrong?

Inconsistency and poor sales performance can be the result of a number of factors:

 - Lack of necessary skills and knowledge

 - Inefficient pipeline and process design

 - Poor use of CRM and other tools

 - Inadequate compensation and incentives

And the list goes on…

These causes might seem unrelated. However, they do have one thing in common: it takes strong sales management to properly deal with each. The success of any sales organization is incumbent upon someone driving and managing the process. Without direction and guidance, achieving your revenue goals will be difficult at best, regardless of the talent level of your salespeople.

So what can you do to ensure that you have strong sales management in place? You can start by avoiding these three all too common mistakes:

Sales Management Mistake #1: Promoting Top Performers to Sales Managers

Top-Performing salespeople are not necessarily top managers. Leaders often fail to evaluate their best sales professionals for their ability and aptitude to manage before placing them in a leadership position. It seems like an easy decision to promote the best, but in reality you might be taking one of your most potent weapons out of the game and placing them in a position that is not well-suited for them. As a result, the company as a whole loses – the individual is unhappy, the salespeople he's managing are underperforming, and the company is missing out on potential sales.

Solution: There are many assessment tools that can accurately predict management aptitude – use them. I find it baffling when so many firms roll the dice on salespeople and sales managers when there are quantitative, validated, and reliable evaluations available that are accurate predictors of success. Don’t assume that because an individual is a top performer in sales that they’ll be able to manage sales people. It just doesn’t work like that. And when you do find a good manager, make sure they have the right sales management training for the greatest success in their role. 

Sales Management Mistake #2: Expecting Sales Managers to Sell

A true sales manager should never sell. This is a potentially fatal mistake that can utterly demoralize your sales team. Having your boss compete for leads creates a less than desirable sales culture and raises questions of objectivity. On top of that, sales managers are often too busy working their own leads to bother coaching and mentoring the salespeople working under them.

Great managers know that their primary responsibility is to place those they manage in the best possible position to succeed. Selling against the team destroys any respect the staff has for the manager and creates a toxic, underperforming sales environment.

Solution: If you need your sales manager selling, it’s possible that you are not ready to have a dedicated sales manager. In this case, the CEO, Vice President, or General Manager should take on the sales management role (if this is the case, be sure to read the next mistake).

The responsibility of a sales manager is to attend to these five things and these five things only:

  1. Holding sales people accountable
  2. Developing the team with training opportunities
  3. Coaching sales professionals
  4. Motivating sales staff
  5. Recruiting new talent

Regardless of what you call him or her, someone needs to take responsibility for these things, and it should not be someone who is also responsible for selling.

Sales Management Mistake #3: Hope as a Sales Management Strategy

There are two common scenarios I see where the sales management strategy is to “hope for the best”:

  • Small firms: These companies usually have no more than a handful of sales professionals with a General Manager, Vice President, or CEO typically overseeing them. These management types have a number of responsibilities and often don’t have sales backgrounds. Because of this, they struggle to provide the necessary direction and often fail to help their sales professionals realize their full potential.
  • Fragmented regional offices: Often, regional firms feature a couple of salespeople in branch offices scattered around a particular geographic region. These regional offices often function like the small firms mentioned above with sales professionals left to their own devices, with no direct management. If they report to anyone, they report to the branch’s General Manager, who often has no clue what to do with them.

Solution: Even the smallest sales force needs some form of sales management. In firms with fewer sales resources, there is an increased need for consistent improvement and refinement to make your approach as efficient as possible. The CEO, GM, or whoever, must set aside the necessary time to go over pipelines, assess actions, advise on next steps, and ensure that salespeople have what they need to be successful. The suitability of a CEO or GM for sales management may be lacking if they don’t have a sales background, but an organization that does not directly manage sales at some level is an organization that will not move forward.

If you’re in a situation where you have fragmented, regional offices, hire a company-wide sales manager. It’s that simple. This adds overhead, but the increased sales productivity and efficiencies will make it well worth the expense. Just keep travel under control with technology and make sure all sales-related positions report to the Sales Manager and not the branch leadership.

While the underlying cause behind an underperforming sales team could be many things, be sure to develop a solid foundation by avoiding these typical sales management mistakes. If this happens, you’ll be well on your way to preventing many of the causes of poor sales performance from the very beginning, and you’ll have managers in place to deal with the issues that do arise.

Download: The Top-Performing Sales Manager Benchmark Report
Last Updated June 3, 2022

Topics: Sales Management