The Six Critical Flaws of Sales Management

By Selling Power Editors  •  February 2, 2010

Sales managers create a domino effect for their companies by the way they treat their sales force. If managers trust, respect and perceive their salespeople as valuable assets, a curious thing happens. Employees trust, respect and perceive customers as valuable assets to be cherished, nurtured and protected with service and concern. Conversely, if management creates an adversarial relationship with employees, it’s difficult, at best, for employees to get excited about dealing with customers.

I first noticed this fact in the companies whose salespeople spoke well of customers, respected them, and perceived their relationships with them as opportunities rather than aggravations. These salespeople had managers who treated them with respect. I knew these managers and witnessed first-hand their concern for their sales force.

On the other hand, I also spoke with a lot of salespeople who had not received good management. I asked this question of hundreds of salespeople from a variety of companies and industries: “Describe for me your worst manager and what made him so bad?” I found that the very things that alienated employees also alienated customers. As you review this list, see if you can identify anyone you know.

The undesirable characteristics fell into one of six categories:

First, “My worst sales manager was inconsistent.” He didn’t practice what he preached. He would say one thing and do another. He made promises that he didn’t keep. You could never rely on his word. It just didn’t mean anything. Follow up was nonexistent. He was everyone’s friend – in front of them. But behind their backs, he made fun of them.

Second, “My worst manager was unethical.” He not only did things that were morally questionable, he expected others to join him. He was so secretive that no one ever knew what was going on. He sneaked around to check up on everyone to make sure they did their jobs. People worked to avoid his wrath rather than to experience gain. Being unethical also meant immediately replacing existing staff with his cronies and “bowling buddies.” “We just couldn’t and didn’t trust him.”

Third, “My worst manager didn’t communicate.” In fact, this was the number one complaint among the majority of participating salespeople in the study. Specifically, they complained most frequently that their sales manager didn’t listen. He got out of touch with the daily operations of the company. Beyond that, he was evasive when asked questions and maintained poor eye contact which indicated a lack of sincerity and truth. In some cases, the “worst manager” never acknowledged anything in order to correct them on mistakes.

Fourth, “My worst manager used intimidation to motivate.” Specifically, this manager held “threat sessions” instead of sales meetings. Instead of using a positive perspective in telling employees why they needed to produce, he pointed out the negative consequences of nonperformance. After a while, one can imagine how demotivating these meetings must be. The purpose of a sales meeting is to inspire the group with enthusiasm, not create insecurity. Intimidation also meant criticizing in public and doing so with a large audience to witness the abuse. It’s called management by embarrassment.

Fifth, “My worst manager was selfish.” These managers neither shared responsibility nor the rewards. In one case, the selfishness was so bad that the employee opened a competing business and took a major portion of his previous employer’s customers. Being selfish included not sharing the credit when something worked well. It also meant not sharing vital information with the employees. In many cases, they worked without understanding how meaningful or how important their tasks were to the overall operation of their company.

Sixth, “My worst manager did not direct us. He believed in the sink or swim school of thought – the cream will rise to the top and discard the rest. We weren’t sure what was expected of us so how could we perform to the standards when they were unknown to us?” Nondirection is characterized by nontraining. If the manager feels that a salesperson should “get it” by some intuitive knowledge that he or she possesses, the salesperson is doomed to failure from the start. There’s little chance for success when no one has ever explained the game to you.

It doesn’t require a Ph.D. in psychology or a doctorate in business to understand that when you treat employees with respect they will, in turn, treat customers with respect. When employees work in a climate of intimidation and stress, they will treat customers less enthusiastically. Too many companies pay lip service to customer service. They beat their corporate chests about customer service concerns but fail to service their “internal customers,” the salespeople. Remember the Golden Rule of Sales Management: “Treat your sales force the way you would like them to treat your customers.” And then you’ll be selling and managing smart.