There are Too Many Bad Sales Managers [Yeah, and Sales Leaders Too]


I’m here to drop another dark cloud observation on this community. It’s a follow up to my post which, in a nutshell, I said sales people suck. Not very surprising, it got a lot of attention. I expected most people to jump down my throat calling me a sellout (which I expect to get from this one too). It didn’t happen, well not entirely. I did get this email from Greg Keleman from Keleman & Company. He only partially agreed with me and I think he’s right!


“I agree sales people’s performance is not what it should be. I’m a big fan of training, it’s true that most sales people wing it; they need structure and discipline in how to go about organizing their work. A company may get lucky and hire someone who naturally does this, or got the training in another job, but it’s a management responsibility to create the structure and discipline in the sales process. If management can’t be bothered to get their act together, can we really fault sales people/team?

Sales structure, systems and discipline can help. It’s a sad fact that individual sales people or team often gets the blame when in reality the business model is no longer working, or never really did. You can always find salespeople to sell more of what you make. Hiring choices, business strategy, products, distribution and supply chain all figure into how a sales rep “performs.” 

Blaming sales when your business model no longer fits the market is neither constructive nor productive.

What if what your product no longer appeals to customers? Is that poor salesmanship? That’s a poor business strategy, leadership and management failing aren’t paying attention to how the market is changing, what customers value. Look at Blackberry. Would better sales people have helped them? I don’t think so.

People made the same complaints about sales people when I started my career in the 1980. The marketplace has changed a lot since then. The biggest change is that no company’s business model is safe anymore. In spite of a lot of evidence that companies don’t have the right products, the right suppliers, the right business model, the right strategy and the right distribution, people still run their business as if they do.

Customer value changes every day: today they like corporate email and cell phone, tomorrow its a smartphone with dozens of apps.

The best sales people don’t actually sell anything, they “hire Customers”. The best companies make products that fit what customers need to make “selling” almost unnecessary.”


Boom! That’s some mad wisdom being dropped.

Greg’s right. In spite of the fact there are too many bad sales people. There are too many bad sales managers too. Management is as responsible for fucking up sales as much as sales people are.

Management, like parents to children, wield’s tremendous influence on sales people and the sales organization. When they are failing, so too are the sales people.

So what gives with management? Why are there so many bad sales managers/leaders.

They’re clueless – I know, harsh right. But, I gotta call it like I see it.  Far too often organizations promote people into sales management and leadership positions not because of their ability to do the new job, but because of their success in the old job — the one they are leaving. When this happens, new managers are clueless and have no idea what it takes to be successful in the new role. They execute poorly, they lack the ability to formulate a solid strategy. They flounder about, rudderless, reacting to every crisis, and challenge in front of them. They offer little in the way of direction, strategy or leadership. They rely heavily on compliance and hoping things turn out OK. There are too many managers who were good at what they did, but not at what they are doing. They don’t understand the market, they don’t embrace industry trends like social selling or even have the business acumen and the leadership skills to be leading sales teams.

Politics – Politics is a scourge in corporate America. It hijacks even the most committed and passionate folks, steering them away from the end goal. Company politics masks organizational realities, diverting initiatives and efforts away from innovation, creativity and truly game changing strategies, toward the status-quo, the safe, the compliant. Mangers are sucked into political battlers over turf, titles and money that divert them from doing what they should be doing and that’s winning in business.

All talk no listen –  It amazes me how little management truly listens to sales people. Here’s my proof. I want you to think of a time a sales person(s) said quota was too high due to market and product conditions and NOT because of an inability to sell, where management in turn said; “You are right, a quota adjustment makes sense. Things have changed”

I know right, that’s a pipe dream. What they do is label the sales person a whiner, making excuses about why they are unable to make quota. Management is notorious for not embracing any recommendations or insight from sales people if it even slightly hints at the suggestion quota maybe too high, the business model is wrong or god forbid, the product may not have the value it once had. Too often sales people are viewed by management through the old-school lens that they should be seen but not heard; whiners who are complaining are whining because they are incapable of making quota.

Hubris – Man do I see this a lot.  It’s amazing to me how many sales managers/leaders think they do everything right. They think their team, their processes, strategy, etc. is humming a long and needs no outside support, critique or evaluation. They believe they’ve seen it all and know it all, rarely embracing a TRUE commitment to continually learning and personal growth. Sales leadership and management needs to more open and more humble. They operate like the old-time scouts in MoneyBall, resistant to change due to a false sense of self and their skills. They just don’t believe they need help or there is anything they don’t already know. The hubris has to go!

Lack Leadership – Most sales managers and sales leadership lacks the guts, the round, spherical objects it takes to be a leader today. Today’s selling environment takes audacity. It requires a fearlessness that rarely exists in today’s managerial ranks. Management today is too focused on managing the status-quo. They are good foot-soldiers marching to the beat of the street, the CEO, the CSO, the EVP of Sales, the VP of Sales etc. Everyone is playing not to lose. Few are playing to win. Their is little bold direction. As Greg points out, few challenge when the product, the business model, or the strategic direction are less than impressive. Critical business issues are rarely called into question. The number of inspired sales teams are dwindling at the expense of data, over zealous sales operations teams, prescriptive selling methodologies and most absurdly fear; fear of failure, fear of the unknown, fear of losing, fear of the competition, fear, fear, fear, fear.

There are too many bad sales people out there, that’s been pretty much established, but there are also too many bad sales managers and sales leaders.  Blaming sales people for the revenue ills of the company is an old school cop out.  Can it be their fault, yup, but rarely is it JUST their fault. When an entire company’s revenues are down, blaming the sales people is silly. When revenue is down across the entire sales organization, it’s time to look at sales AND product, AND the market AND the go-to-market strategy AND industry trends and all of that is management’s job.

I like Greg’s take on my post. He hit the nail on the head. We have to stop blaming sales people for management fuck ups. Management is as responsible for the success of sales people as sales people are for the success of themselves. We can do a better job in this arena.  There are too many bad sales managers and sales leaders and that’s a problem. But, as with sales people, it’s not too late.