The Secret Lives Of Sales Managers

No role carries with it more pressure to perform than that of the sales manager. That requires certain qualities in a manager, in particular a high level of confidence, drive and determination.

As the pack leader when it comes to selling, the sales manager must show that he, or she is in control.  Nothing less is expected of them.  Yet dig beneath the surface of the typical Alpha Male (or Alpha Female) sales manager and you will find that there are often unresolved issues bubbling away beneath that external veneer of control.

Few sales managers live in a perfect world, or work in a perfect company.  They have learned to live with the pressure of sales targets, increasingly demanding customers and more aggressive competitors.  There is little point complaining about these factors – they are simply part of the job description.

What Bugs Sales Managers?

So, what is it that bugs sales managers?  Well, when they take you into their confidence, many managers will reveal a range of bug-bears.  That is what they see as unnecessary yet often intractable obstacles to greater sales success. It is worth noting many of these are internal, rather than external in nature.

1. The struggle for recognition, appreciation, or power – many managers feel that although they are in the firing line when it comes to results, they don’t get the kudos, backing, or support that is needed.   This isn’t just an issue of politics and influence, because it tends to have a direct bearing on resource allocation to sales and sales support.  Underpinning this issue is the next factor.

2. Poor teamwork in support of sales, for example:

  • Support from the CEO – the relationship with the next level up is a major factor that determines the success and the satisfaction of the sales manager.
  • Support from Senior Management Colleagues – this is a key indicator of just how much sales is a part of the culture of an organisation.
  • Support from marketing – making sure that marketing is in direct support of the sales effort
  • Technical/service/delivery support to those selling – the level of support to sales during the sales cycle, as well as post sale are a key determinant of long-term sales success.  If the salesperson makes the promises then it is up to technical and delivery team to keep them.  This can be a source of frustration for the sales manager.

3. Strategic anxiety, for example where the sales manager is concerned about the growth direction of the business:

  • A concern about the direction the business is moving, such as the product roadmap, positioning strategy, operations, marketing and so on.
  • Un-addressed issues of focus in terms of what is being sold and who it is being sold to.  Although the product – market mix sounds removed from day to day selling, un-addressed issues in this area is the number one reason for poor pre-qualification for example.
  • Concerned about traction in respect of some important markets, or segments.  For example, the response of the company to specific market trends, or a change in the competitive environment.
  • The manager wants to push the business in a particular direction (often one that customers, or the market have suggested), but others don’t share the same vision, or at least urgency


4. People – Performance Issues

Almost every sales manager is concerned about the performance of at least one member of the sales team.  Often this performance issue is not new, it has been around for a long time but has often been creatively avoided.   Perhaps the manager lacks the authority, the determination, or even the courage to bring the issue to the fore and have it dealt with.  The situation may have festered for so long that both parties are now entrenched and a battle of wills in in play.

That is because there are often complications involved, the impact on the rest of the team, the legacy of the past, relationships with others in the organisation or perhaps a customer, or partner, dependence on the person for specific information, or perhaps even a legal issue.  The result is that the manager lives with a situation that isn’t just unsatisfactory, but can consumer lots of the managers time and energy.


Why do these issues frustrate managers and dog sales?  Well, while managers are busy managing their teams they often overlook the requirements of managing their wider organisational context.  It is not enough to coach the sales team, sales managers need to coach all those who have an impact on sales.  That includes the CEO and the COO!

Sales managers need to be more strategic, more political and more Machiavellian!  They must bring all those issues that have the potential to impact on sales performance into the open.  They must communicate and consult more widely with their management colleagues.  In short they must sell their sales agenda more effectively.


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