I’ve trained B2B sales forces for 30 years.  In that time, I’ve had ample opportunity to interact with literally thousands of sales managers.  The position is often the least well organized in the entire sales department.  Job descriptions are sketchy, if at all Expectations for the position range from non-existent to fuzzy and general (“make sales go up’.).  Very few have ever been trained in the best practices of their position.  They are, for the most part, left on their own to define the job as they see fit.

            This leads to a wide variety of practices. Without any education in the best practices of sales leadership, they naturally default to managing like they were managed.  Their models, unfortunately, are even more like to have never been educated in the best practices themselves.  

           So, they create an image of who they are in the job, and then live up to the expectation of those images.  They generally fall into one of these five styles that describe their view of themselves and the resulting approach to the job.  See if one of these describes you.

Super salesperson

           Since sales managers are often formerly good salespeople who have been promoted, they naturally approach theii new position with the same skill set that worked so well for them on the job.  Since their responsibilitees are broader, they see the job as a larger stage on which to work their magic.  So, they become the guy who is called into fix problem accounts, close big deals, and entertain the most influential customers. 

           All that is well and good, expect that it requires a hands-on approach, and the sales managers as super salesperson often find that they are doing the work that the salesperson should do.  Many salespeople are happy to shrug off the responsibility for a big or problem account, as long as they continue to receive credit for it. This absolves the salesperson of the responsibility to acquire the skills to close that big account themselves.

           So the short term benefit of getting that big deal pales in the face of the long-term detriment caused by the lack of development among the sales force.

Salesperson’s friend

           Having typically been a member of the salesforce, the new mangers are now put into a position of having their friends and colleagues report to them. Without clear direction from the executive level, they continue to operate with the salespersons’ mindset, and don’t make the shift to seeing the world through a different perspective.  So, they advocate for salesperson’s positions regardless of the impact on the larger company profits and operations.  For example, they are inclined to ignore paperwork that is late and directives that are ignored.  Excuses are accepted at face value and no real pressure is put on even the most marginal of salespeople.

           One of the mistakes B2B companies make is to give the salesforce such a wide degree of latitude that the salespeople make all the key decisions, and, in effect, run the sales side of the company. And, while there are a significant number of salespeople who will work with the employer’s best interest in mind, the majority will pursue their self interests regardless of the impact on the business.  The sales manager who sees himself/herself as the salesperson’s friend only adds fuel to that fire.  


           Speaking of fire, the next type is characterized by the fireman who chases one fire after another, spending all his time putting them out. This type sees himself/herself as that guy. Their time is dictated by reacting to whoever calls with a problem, and they bounce from one problem issue to another.  No problem is too small for the fireman sales manager.  From checking on backorders to fixing pricing issues to expediting orders, to filling in for vacation days, the fireman works feverishly every day.

           They are often exhausted at the end of the day but feel fulfilled because they have solved multitudes of problems. 

           The issue, of course, is that many of those problems weren’t worth solving – at least not by a sales manager. The sales force comes to rely on the manager to solve their problems, and this stunts their ability to solve those problems themselves. Forget any initiatives the company wants to pursue – the sales manager is too busy with endless stream of problems to solve. Nothing proactive gets accomplished, because the reactive crown everything else out.

           The sales manager as reactive problem solver is a natural default for a lot of managers.  Unfortunately it is one of the most expensive to the company as it loses the asset to trivial issues,  stunts their ability to proactive manage, and promotes the lack of development in the sales force.


           Upon stepping in the sales manager’s role, the new manage discovers a deluge of information. There are reports to review, financial statements to puruse, expense reports to approve, sales calls reports to inspect, special pricing requests to consider, proposals to approve, etc.  Without clear direction from above and often devoid of any experience with this much information, this type of manager defaults to spending days in the office just — administering.

           The net result is that the company acquires a high-priced administrator, who often spends time doing work that someone more gifted in that area – and far less expensive – should be doing.  The sales force actually losses a capable asset to the attraction of administration.


           A few sales managers manage to evolve to the level of sales leader.  They may have been fortunate enough to have worked under a model leader, or  they have gained the insights and practices in a formal training experience.  They understand that their job is to make everyone else successful, their measurement is sales, gross margin and customer acquisition and retention, and their fulfillment is derived from developing the sales people into capable, competent successful sales people.

           While these five types are easy to spot, the truth is that few managers are wholly described by only one of them. It’s not an either /or situation. Rather sales managers take on these styles by degree.  One can be 90% supersalesperson, for example, and 10% fireman.

           Clearly, the sales manager as leader is the wisest position for the manager, and the most profitable and strategically important for the company.  But, in a world where probably less than 5% of sales managers are ever educated in the best practices of their position, it is rare.


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