February 23, 2011

Beware of the Fox in the Hen House

In almost every company I consult to, I see that the sales manager has a personal target to meet over and above that of her team. This means that she has to personally go out and sell the companies goods and services.

I believe that this weak strategy is the Achilles’s heel that can incapacitate and destroy a sales team.

It leaves the rest of the sales team with the impression that they’re not getting a fair shake.

Here’s how it looks:

  • The sales manager is competing against the sales team. She has to walk her talk and be the top fox and therefore will viciously compete against the chickens in her team, breaking them in the process.
  • The sales manager gets the best leads and doles out the anorexic ones; if at all.
  • The sales manager is more worried about looking good to her directors and feathering her nest than motivating the sales team to perform.

In my opinion, a sales manager should not get commissions on sales that she brings in. She should be getting incentives as a result of the team selling. This means that she’ll pass on the best leads to the ‘closers’. Her only job is to serve the sales team, to make sure that it has the best training, the best resources, the best marketing and the best opportunities to sell. Her mission is to create the kind of environment that motivates and inspires the sales team to do great things.

Why does the company expect the sales manager to sell as well?

Typically, a sales manager is ‘promoted’ from the ranks. In other words, she’s a sales person herself, normally the best sales person in the team. She obviously doesn’t want to lose her clients and the resultant commission. So the company agrees that she can keep her clients to keep her sweet.

Clearly this is a flawed strategy on two fronts.

First, the sales manager becomes a competitor and not a collaborator in the team.

Second, the sales manager’s DNA is not mapped out to be a team player (the best sales people aren’t team players, they’re egocentric hunters that look out for # 1). Therefore, she’ll revert to type and default to looking out for # 1. Also, she’s probably not extremely systems driven or detail focused and finds it hard to adapt to this constrictive environment. She’ll try and avoid this python around her neck and go out and sell, rather than commit to the role of a leader and manager. Where you put your focus is where you’ll get the results.

I suppose a sales manager that is snatched from the pool of sales people ends up like an eel trying to herd other eels (for those of you that do manage sales teams, you’ll know what I’m talking about, trying to keep a sales team on the same page is sometimes like trying to keep track of an attention deficit disordered eel).

I’ve no easy answer as to how to find sales managers that are team players and that know how to lead, motivate and inspire and that put the team first before ego.

First, nobody I know woke up in high school and said, ‘I want to be a sales manager.’ (If they did, I say think again. Being a sales manager is one of the most stressful jobs around. You’re the ham between the sandwich, you have 80% of the sales team that just wants to have fun and sees you as a killjoy and you have a board or managing director looking over your shoulder shouting, “Where are the sales, where are the sales?” And, like a coach of a sports team, if your team doesn’t perform, you’re the first one bulleted, aren’t you?) Bit of a mugs game, I’d say 😉

Second, nobody is going to hire a sales manager that hasn’t blooded herself with a sale. So, a sales manager typically comes from the sales trenches. This leads to the old adage of ‘familiarity breeds contempt’. First the sales manager is one of the sales team ‘a mate’ and then suddenly she’s a sales manager giving orders. It is difficult for her to get her new subordinates on point so that they’ll support her. She’s waging a battle on many fronts.

What’s the answer? I’d put sales managers on serious leadership training, human relations training and ‘thick skin (resilience)’ training and trust that an artist will emerge that can take the team forward. A sort of train em and hope for the best approach – not a satisfying answer. That’s because great sales managers are artists and seem to have the gift. They don’t know how to articulate that gift and certainly don’t seem to have a blueprint for success. Or do they? If you’re a sales manager, you’re welcome to comment (click on comment) on how you achieve success with your team. Here’s a guideline … if 80% of your sales team is not reaching its target, then it is not a successful team.

So, no, I don’t have the easy answer. But I do know this, if you make your sales manager a competitor, your team is heading for disaster.

2 Comments on “Beware of the Fox in the Hen House

Graham Nicholls
May 28, 2015 at 7:19 am

I cannot agree more. Jacque’s thesis is that a sales manager is there to plan, organise, lead and control the team. To achieve objectives through the team. An argument I have shouted for years but seen little change.

Jacques de Villiers
June 3, 2015 at 9:26 am

Hi Graham,

I’m doing some work with Etsko Schuitema. If you want to change your view on what real leadership is can be, check out this video. Why Self Interest Is Not In Your Interest


Leave a Reply to Jacques de Villiers Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *