6 Reasons Why Sales Managers Should Not Sell

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Should your sales manager be selling?

Short answer: no.

At the heart of every sales team is a sales manager. When the role is done well, a sales manager is the glue that holds everyone together – the motivator, the coach, and the strategist.

The sales manager role is about optimizing performance, aligning the team to a common goal, assigning responsibilities, and delegating work in a way that leverages everyone’s talents.

In some organizations, managers also have a sales quota. And this situation is not ideal. In fact, organizations that distract their management with individual sales goals may think they’re getting the most of their managers, but they’re likely just randomizing, distracting and creating chaos. It’s rarely a good move.

In this blog, we’ll discuss 6 reasons why sales managers should not be selling. We’ll look at how this role structure hurts overall team performance and close by outlining where sales managers should be allocating time to drive sales productivity and success.

6 Reasons Why Sales Managers Should NOT Be Selling:

1. Conflict of interest

A manager who sells is competition to the very sales reps he or she is meant to be managing, coaching, and growing. Even if it’s not the case, when a manager is also selling, the sales team will always be suspicious the manager is keeping the best clients and leads for his or herself. Even worse, an underperforming sales rep may view the manager’s selling role as the reason he or she is not able to succeed.  

A manager who sells is forced to split focus between the customer, and his or her individual sales goals. This leaves little time to focus on the things sales managers should be focused on – developing a team, coaching, and multiplying their impact through others.

Sales reps are best poised to succeed with a manager they trust. When a manager is viewed as competition, the entire team dynamic is off balance from the start.

2. Player or Coach?

Lack of role clarity kills sales team productivity.

When managers act as coach and player, the dual role causes role ambiguity, tension, and internal drama. Besides leading to tension, a person who is unclear on his or her purpose becomes the jack of all trades, and master of none.

A sales manager with a dual role in selling and managing also challenges the hierarchy, sending a mixed message to sales reps. Is my manager a player/peer or is he the coach/manager? The unclear expectation can lead to a misaligned relationship.

Sales managers should not be prospecting and managing important sales accounts. They should only be accountable for revenue generated by the entire sales team.

Another way to look at it:

A sales manager should not be asking themselves: “Since I am the most experienced sales rep, shouldn’t I be managing the most important accounts?”

Instead, sales managers should be asking “how much support and training does the rest of the team need to improve skills, build experience and consistently hit their monthly sales quota? “Do we have the systems and processes in place to build a scalable sales strategy?

3. Assume Control

When the pressure is on and someone brings a question to the table, it’s enticing to tell the person what to do, and give them the answer. Or worse, assume control over the situation and do it for them.

This easy way out saves time, solves the immediate issue, and often makes sense in a world where there’s no clear role differentiation between the sales manager and sales rep.

The problem with these situations is you hand over the fish and bury the fishing pole. Next time a similar issue arises, the sales rep will be stuck in the same dilemma. Over time this will have a negative effect on morale because team members recognize every time they go to a manager for help, the manager takes over.

By drawing a clear line between sales reps and management, you make it clear the manager’s role is to develop and grow the sales team, not take over the problem or job at hand.

4. Damage Culture

Healthy competition is a good thing. But when that competition is between you and a boss, the fun goes away, and it drags sales reps into a battle they have no interest in winning.

When you give a manager an individual sales quota, you consequently create an environment that causes the leader to compete with his or her own team. This creates a toxic relationship from the start fueled by distrust. To ensure managers excel in their role to develop, coach, grow and manage, it’s important to not have a conflicting goal.

5. Split Focus

Managing and selling requires the use of two very different skill sets. By requiring sales managers to split focus between individual sales goals and overseeing the productivity of the team, you force them to do both with half attention.

A good sales manager spreads the value of his or her expertise across the team through managing and coaching, which means their sales skills get to scale. When a good sales manager can focus on the team, including supporting each team member by joining sales calls and helping them navigate challenging situations, they add so much more value to the organization.  

6. Sell ≠ Manage

Two-time NFL defensive player of the year, Mike Singletary, is known for his work on the field. As a star player on the Chicago Bears 1985 lineup, he famously broke up a pass that would have been a touchdown for the opponent, ultimately leading to a Superbowl victory. He was a star player.

Years later, Singletary went on to coach. While he experienced a mix of successes and failures, he was ultimately fired as head coach for the San Francisco 49ers. As explained on NFL.com, Singletary failed to plan and strategize and didn’t commit the right energy to motivating the team. The main takeaway: the things that made him a great player actually made him a bad coach.

To be a great manager, you must be focused on leading and planning for the success of the entire team, building trust and rapport, and creating an environment of collaboration and support. This is nearly impossible to do while worrying about a sales quota. Selling and managing require different types of focus which do not always work together.

The (Actual) Role of the Sales Manager

To ensure the best outcome for the organization, sales managers should be focused on these four things.

  1. Sales rep targets and accountability. The best way to guarantee success it to clearly outline goals, targets, action plans, and check progress often. Sales managers play an important role in holding salespeople accountable to the plan and performance. 
  2. Implementing training opportunities. Strong sales managers know their team, including the strengths and development areas for each team member. They use this knowledge to implement effective training and development opportunities. 
  3. Motivating sales staff. Good sales managers understand what motivates each member of the team and taps into that knowledge to drive toward more success. 
  4. Recruiting. New team members don’t appear on their own. Great sales managers can look across their team and understand what skills, backgrounds and personality traits will complement the team and take it to a new level. They use this knowledge to recruit and nurture new talent.

Ready. Set. Manage.

At the end of the day, the sales manager’s role is extremely important to the organization. If you’re not ready to dedicate a resource to sales management, it’s better to allocate a senior leader to the role than to blur the line between sales and management.


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