Sales Management is the Hardest Job in Sales. Period.
By Jeb Blount, Author of People Buy You
Ken’s Comment: This week’s blog is a guest blog: When I saw this article published I knew you would enjoy it. It hits the mark and reinforces what I have written in my latest books on Sales Management.
Why is Sales Management so hard? Sales Managers bear 100% of the responsibility for the performance of their sales team yet receive little glory for their efforts.
In many cases even the best sales managers earn less than their top salespeople. Yet, the best sales managers work longer hours, endure more stress, and have greater responsibility than the salespeople they manage.
Making things worse is the fact that salespeople are harder to lead and manage than any other employee. They are emotional and often irrational people who demand attention. Because salespeople are essentially in jobs where rejection is the norm, sales managers are often called upon to be coaches, mentors, mothers, fathers, and even amateur psychologists in order to keep their troops motivated, focused, and delivering on sales goals.
If this isn’t hard enough sales managers are often put in the position of shielding their salespeople from corporate policy wonks, accountants and operators who have absolutely no understanding of the psychology of salespeople.
It is a wonder why any sane human being would voluntarily choose to be a sales manager. Though each year thousands of sales professionals give up their sales roles and accept the promotion. They move into their new office and proudly stare at their newly printed business cards – with little understanding of what it takes to actually lead salespeople. Ill prepared to perform the job of sales manager a high percentage of these newly minted sales leaders are promptly demoted or fired. In many cases they have done so much damage to the sales team (and their own career) that it takes years to repair.
The sales profession is a grave yard littered with the corpses of failed sales managers.
Who is to blame?
Everyone! In a recent conversation with a Senior Vice President of Sales for one of the largest companies in the world he lamented that his single biggest worry was for his sales managers. He said matter-of-factly that his sales managers did not have the training to do the job. When I asked him about his training budget for sales management he told me that right now they were investing in training the salespeople. If you were to take a stroll around Corporate America you would discover similar issues most companies. The executives know that they need to provide training for their sales managers but the salespeople always seem to get the training budget. It is a vicious, ongoing cycle which leaves most sales managers in the position of learning on the job.
Blame also falls on salespeople who delude themselves into thinking that just because they are great salespeople they will be great sales leaders. Studies, including one by the journal of managerial psychology, have concluded that the best salespeople may not be the best sales managers. The actual evidence of this exists in every company that employs sales teams.
The sad story goes like this:
The top salesperson is looking for career advancement. She goes to the boss and demands a promotion. The boss, who doesn’t want to lose his rainmaker’s million dollar quota achievement, does his best to talk her out of it. The top sales rep threatens to quit. Concerned that he might lose her to a competitor the boss relents and gives the top sales rep the sales management position. The newly appointed sales manager takes an immediate and frustrating pay cut because she goes on salary. Because she has no clue how to lead people the other salespeople on the team at first stop selling and then either quit or are fired. The company loses those sales plus those of the formerly top sales rep. She now has to hire a new sales team, onboard and train them. She fails at this because she a) does not know how to interview and hire A-Players and b) because she does not know how to teach people how to sell. This creates more turnover. Finally, with sales at an all time low the boss has no choice except to fire his once top sales rep.
Yet faced with overwhelming evidence of the risk involved in promoting top salespeople to sales managers, salespeople and their companies continue to take the plunge. Today, tomorrow and always top salespeople will be promoted to sales management positions. Why? The answer is simple. Top salespeople have a proven track record – tangible evidence that they can perform. And, these high performers are naturally interested in new challenges and career advancement and demand it from their employers.
The good news is that some of these top salespeople will become superstar managers who build and lead high-performing sales team that deliver year in and year out.
Why do some top salespeople become top sales managers while others fail so miserably? Most top sales professionals who make the successful transition to sales management will have two things in common:
First they are coachable. They are willing to listen and learn and because of this the are able to find a hands-on mentor or coach willing to take the time to help them develop sales leaderships skills.
Second they don’t wait on their company for training that will likely never come or at best will be minimal. Instead they invest in their own success through reading, audio programs, and self-funded seminars.
Through coaching, practice, persistence and passion for leadership they eventually become sales managers who top salespeople want to work for and garner the respect and admiration of their people, peers and company.
Jeb Blount is a respected thought leader on sales and sales leadership, and a best-selling author of three books, People Buy You: The Real Secret to what Matters Most in Business, Sales Guy’s 7 Rules for Outselling the Recession, and Power Principles. He is the author of more than 100 articles on sales and sales leadership and the host of the top rated Sales Guy Podcast.
You can find Ken Thoreson’s books on Sales Management at: