Why So Many Sales Managers are So Bad

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Mon, Jul 25, 2016 @ 06:07 AM


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I see bad ones everywhere I look. They are not usually bad people and they might not have been bad salespeople, but they are usually so ineffective in their role as sales managers.  We will discuss some of the reasons and share an example next!

One reason that sales managers are ineffective is that many of the articles, information and guidelines about sales management practices are so bad!  Why?  Because so many of the people who write the articles are not experts on sales management! For example, for a couple of months the folks over at Pipedrive.com have been asking me to link to their article on sales management.  They told me that I failed to include the definition of sales management in this article on hiring salespeople and that if I pointed to their article on sales management it would fill in the gap.  

If I were writing opinion pieces for a baseball audience (that would be so much fun for me!) I wouldn't have to define baseball and because I write opinion pieces for a sales leadership audience so it doesn't make sense for me to define sales management.

Anyway, I clicked the link they provided, read it and unfortunately much of what is in their article is either outdated or not part of the core role of a modern sales manager.  From the definition, where they failed to mention that 50% of a sales manager's role is coaching, to the compensation, where they were off by as much as 50%, it just didn't resonate.  Given what they sell, I understand their need to build it around pipeline, but still.  Is it any wonder that when information like this is distributed to potential sales managers, that (1) it could attract the wrong people to the role, and (2) they could begin with a false sense of understanding of the requirements of the role?

I've written about the sales management role a lot and while I can't point to each of the 500 or so articles from here, one article has the essence of what sales management is all about and it's one of my 10 most popular articles of all time - the top 10 sales management functions.  Earlier in this article I mentioned that coaching is now 50% of a sales manager's job.  This article discusses the percentage of sales managers who have the necessary coaching skills while this article talks about why coaching salespeople is so scary for sales managers.

Two more reasons for ineffective sales management:

  1. Sales management is a full-time job but many sales managers who continue to sell, make it a part-time job.  Whether the choice to sell is theirs or management's, it's a bad choice because their first priority will always be their customers, their sales and their commissions.  Coaching, for development and to impact revenue, will be an afterthought.
  2. Executive Leadership often fails to understand what sales managers should really be doing with their time. As a result, they allow the sales managers to define their role, often resulting in less than ideal choices.

A couple of important links:

Hubspot Sales VP, Pete Caputa, compiled a great list of the top 33 sites for free sales and sales training videos.  Thanks for including me Pete!

An online war of words between me, a tech buyer who wrote an outrageous comment to my article on why more salespeople suck, and my readers exploded last week.  After I wrote an article in response to his comment about why he doesn't need salespeople, he wrote some very aggressive responses to the reader comments and the article and things got very interesting from there!  You can check out that lively discussion right here and please add your own comment to the page.  You might hear back from Todd!

Topics: Dave Kurlan, HubSpot, Sales Coaching, sales management functions, pete caputa, pipedrive, sales management role

Sales Managers are Sometimes Like Cashiers

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Wed, Oct 01, 2014 @ 06:10 AM


At lunchtime one day, my curry-chicken salad tasted so bad that I returned it to the deli next door.  The owner asked what was wrong and when I told him, he tasted it, said it was fine, and get this - he returned the uneaten portion of my salad into the bowl in the display case.  Yuck!  And I never went back.  Until yesterday.  I was desperate and didn't have enough time to go anywhere else, but I knew enough to stay away from the specialty salads.

The crowds that used to line up were gone.  The staff was about half the size.  The menu, and specifically, the browning chicken salads in the display case were still there.  The owner was operating the cash register, calling names when their meals were ready, and taking their payments.  Instead of working on his business, fixing what was wrong, making much needed changes and urging customers back into his deli, he was handling the money - the one thing that any unskilled worker could do.

He reminded me of so many sales managers I have met during the past 30 years.

Instead of working on the sales force, working with their salespeople, developing their people, fixing what was wrong, guiding and directing, coaching and motivating, recruiting and holding salespeople accountable, they were spending their time doing busy work, running reports, sending emails, collecting call reports, creating quotes and proposals, approving pricing, approving incoming orders, watching the sales numbers, prodding their salespeople to close more deals, and doing simple administrative tasks that a sales assistant or coordinator could do.

Of course, the most important of these sales management functions is coaching.  Coaching salespeople should account for 50% of a sales manager's time.  Coaching salespeople has the greatest impact on development and revenue.  Yet only 15% of all sales managers spend even 25% of their time coaching.  Instead of focusing on what has the greatest impact on their business, sales managers are often like the deli owner - just standing at the register and taking the money.

Speaking of coaching, next Wednesday, I'll be leading a Top Sales Academy session on "How to Master the Art of Coaching Salespeople".  It's free to register and attend and it would be terrific to have you on the webinar!  Please use this link to register for the Noon ET session on October 8.

Speaking of recruiting, last week I led a webinar/tour of the "Magic Behind OMG's Sales Candidate Assessment".  If you weren't able to attend, you can see the slides here and watch the 20-minute presentation, recorded live, here.

As long as I'm sharing links, the latest issue of Top Sales Magazine is now available here.  This issue includes an article of mine that you'll want to read on Why Sales Leaders Continue to Hire the Wrong Salespeople.



Topics: Dave Kurlan, Sales Coaching, sales management functions, sales managers

Impact of Sales Process Versus Sales Coaching

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Tue, May 14, 2013 @ 13:05 PM

impactWe are in the middle of the first day of our 2-day Sales Leadership Intensive.  While most attendees admit that they must be more effective at coaching, many who said they have some kind of sales process in place didn't come to the same conclusion.  So, why is it so obvious to sales leaders that they need to improve their coaching, but so elusive that they need to improve their sales process?  

Change occurs in direct proportion to the availability of immediate feedback.  

You get instant feedback from coaching.  Your coaching either makes a profound difference - right here and now - and leads to an otherwise unobtainable sale; or it makes no difference, falls on deaf ears, gets an insincere thank you, and causes a salesperson to avoid future coaching.  

Of course, there is a gray area where coaching is sometimes or moderately effective, but even that provides some immediate feedback.  

With sales process, the feedback is either delayed - by months or years - or non-existent to the point where you can't determine whether your process had any impact on your success or failure.  Without feedback, you lose perspective on whether you have the right stages, steps, milestones, to-do's, or sequence. It might be even more important to get your sequence right than your steps and milestones.  

Here's the catch.  As crucial as it is to be more effective at coaching, coaching conducted outside of an effective sales process and without the context of a staged, optimized sales process may be far less effective than it should be.  [update - Frank just posted this related article]

So, how can you determine whether your existing process is any good?  There's an app for that.  Not really, but we do have a free tool that you can use to find out.  It will give you a score and that comes in the form of immediate feedback.

Topics: Dave Kurlan, sales process, Sales Coaching, sales management functions, sales qualification

Top 5 Reasons Why Salespeople Don't Qualify Effectively

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Wed, Apr 17, 2013 @ 12:04 PM

qualifiedLast week, I posted this article in reference to an Inc. Magazine article that was way off base about Consultative Selling.  It led to a significant number of comments with one of them being this question:

"Dave, in your opinion, with all the training that is available and has been delivered to sales people over the years, how come sales people still fail at executing an effective approach to qualifying a prospect. Forget what we want to call the approach. Just basic fundamentals like asking questions. This is known throughout the selling universe but sales people still suck at this. How come?"

Great question.  Here are my top 6 reasons why:

1. Hidden weaknesses get in the way. The top 7 that impact qualifying are:

  • Need for Approval (making friends is more important than closing business), 
  • Too Trusting (they believe the stalls and put-offs), 
  • Rejection (they won't ask questions that could cause a prospect to reject them), 
  • Discomfort Talking Money (they won't have the financial conversation that goes along with thorough qualifying), 
  • Lack of Commitment (they won't do what it takes, including asking questions that make them uncomfortable) 
  • Non-Supportive Buy Cycle (the way that salespeople buy things doesn't support ideal sales outcomes)
  • Tendency to Get Emotional (I was so excited to close the business so I got right to the point)  

2. Their sales managers are not holding them accountable for qualifying. There isn't much of a reason for them to do anything when nobody is encouraging and/or forcing them do.  
3. Their lack of adherance to a formal, structured, sales process allows them to sell by the seat of their pants, and skip directly to a presentation, demo, proposal or quote. That makes qualification an afterthought.  
4. If they attempt to qualify, they might learn that the opportunity is not qualified. Oh no - they'll have to find another opportunity to work on!  
5. They don't have to qualify because they already know, by reputation, without having to ask, that the opportunity is perfect. Yeah, right.

6. They aren't selling consultatively and as a result, aren't uncovering the compelling reasons for a prospect to spend money.  That creates the urgency for a prospect to take action at which point they'll almost self-qualify.  If they are selling transactionally, prospects typically won't cooperate at the qualification stage because, well, why should they?

Of course there are more, like:

  • Ignorance - Qualify?  What's that?
  • Skills and Tactics - How am I supposed to know how their decision-making process will work?
  • Stupidity - Why do I need to speak with the decision-maker?
  • Naïveté - The buyer told me that I'll be getting the business!
Lack of qualification is viral and chronic and the only way to stop it is to do the following:
  • Evaluate the Sales Force - You must know which weaknesses are at the heart of it and you must be able to identify the skill gaps.  This is not a DIY project!
  • Have a customized, formal, structured sales process developed.
  • Train the sales managers to coach the appropriate way.
  • Provide sales training to overcome weaknesses and solve the skill gap.
  • Make sure the sales training is truly Consultative Selling - no short cuts.
You can begin the challenge of helping your salespeople overcome this problem at our May Sales Leadership Intensive.
dka sales leadership event button



Topics: Dave Kurlan, sales process, Sales Coaching, sales management functions, sales qualification

Harvard Business Review Blog Off Target on Sales Greatness

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Mon, Mar 04, 2013 @ 23:03 PM

This recent article in the Harvard Business Review Blog was as far off target as any I have ever debunked.  Steve Martin lists 7 characteristics that he says differentiate great sales forces from good ones.  His seven are:

  1. Strong Centralized Command and Control with Local Authority, 
  2. Darwinian Sales Culture, 
  3. United Against a Common Enemy, 
  4. Competitive but Cohesive Team, 
  5. DIY Attitude, 
  6. They Suspend Negative Belief Systems, and 
  7. There is Energy and Esprit de Corps!

Compare that with the six I wrote about in this article:

  1. Effective Sales Selection for Appropriate Sales DNA,
  2. Effective Sales Coaching,
  3. Effective Sales Accountability,
  4. Formal, Structured Consultative Sales Process,
  5. Sales and Sales Leadership Training, and
  6. Coaching and Development and Hunting for New Business.
By the way, I'll be leading our top-rated Sales Leadership Intensive in Boston, May 14-15, 2013, and we'll be doing justice to all six of my competencies.
Steve's seven characteristics may be common among the 200 companies he worked with, but common is not the same as cause.  Whether these seven characteristics are adopted or not is dependent on personnel.  As noted on my list, if the #1 priority of a sales organization is the selection of top talent, most of Steve's seven characteristics are unnecessary.  If the #1 priority of a sales organization is to protect the status quo, and/or retain underperforming veteran salespeople, Steve's seven characteristics may be more necessary.  Objective Management Group (OMG) has studied salespeople and 100,000 sales managers from around 10,000 companies and if we looked only at common findings, we would be completely misled about the top sales management core competencies.
Whether you call them competencies or characteristics, which ones will actually cause a sales force to perform to their greatest potential?  

Topics: Dave Kurlan, sales management, sales management functions, harvard business review, sales enablement, sales management competencies

Are Salespeople Born or Made? The Real Story

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Tue, Oct 11, 2011 @ 10:10 AM

Several readers sent me the link to this article that discusses whether salespeople are born or made.  Prior to that article, many others have attempted to answer the same question in the past few years.  The common theme to each attempt is reliance on personality traits and, in Martin's case, Language Specialization, Modeling of Experiences, Political Accumen and Greed. Good grief Charlie Brown!

Before we look at the science - not surveys and personalities - let me explain - me.  I was both born and made to sell.

As someone who has studied the concept of life purpose, it is quite clear to me, and probably those who know me well, that I was born to do what I do.  Yet, I am certain that anyone who knew me as a child or young man would be astonished to learn that:

  • I am able to talk with people at all, never mind speak to audiences and consistently be rated as #1.  As a kid, I wasn't even able to give a book report in front of the class.
  • I have relationships with so many people.  As a kid, I never had more than 2 or 3 acquaintances.
  • I am a salesperson.  How can you sell if you don't talk with anyone?
  • I am a trusted advisor to so many companies.  Who would have known that the kid who didn't speak could get others to listen?
  • I have so much self-confidence.  I was afraid of my own shadow and any kid bigger than me. Since I was always the smallest in my class, that didn't exclude anyone!
  • That I ask such good questions.  I used to simply accept what was being said.  Now my questions are my trademark.
So while I may have been born or destined to do what I do, nothing came naturally. I had to learn everything about people, human behavior and sales in order to be successful at selling, and I practiced more than you could ever imagine.  When I finally became successful (in my mind that was around 1990 - 4 years AFTER I entered what was then the sales training space), it was only then that the never-ending stream of fresh, new, innovative concepts began to come so naturally.  I must have been born to do this!
Now let's look at the science.  The reality is that science can't tell us who was born to sell and who was made to sell!  
The data can tell us whether they chose to sell or whether sales was their only option.  The key word is option.  There were always options other than selling - it's just that ditch-digging, making burgers, or sweating in a manufacturing plant were options they didn't choose.  So in a way, whether they are aware of it or not, everyone in sales chose to be in sales.
The science does tell us whether or not they should be in sales. After salespeople have been assessed, we know whether they have the will and the DNA to sell.  Any gap in skills can always be taught as long as the will is there and the DNA supports selling.  Sometimes, the DNA isn't there but the will is so strong and the salesperson is so motivated to overcome the limits of their DNA.  Clearly, these individuals are made but since they also chose sales, were they also born or destined for it?  When the skills are there too that just makes the "making" part a bit easier!
The mistake that most observers make occurs when someone has an outgoing personality and they can speak intelligently about their product.  "Experts" conclude that the individual was born to sell.  For an indivdual so gifted, my conclusion is only that they were born with the gift of gab - not a trait of top performers - and that they can explain things well - not a trait limited to top performers.  Therein lies the problem with personality traits.  They are traits possessed by top performers but not limited to top performers.
So are salespeople born or made?  Yes.  If I can develop your salespeople and they become really good, they were made.  But if they were already in sales - had already chosen sales and had the will and the DNA for sales - then they were also born for it.

Topics: Dave Kurlan, sales management functions, sales assessments, personality traits of successful salespeople

How Many Salespeople Should Report to a Sales Manager?

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Mon, Sep 12, 2011 @ 06:09 AM

Objective Management Group has evaluated nearly 10,000 sales forces.  Each time, we must ignore titles and focus on roles of each individual in the evaluation.  After all, a sales manager without salespeople reporting to him is really a salesperson.  A VP without sales managers reporting to her is really a sales manager.

It begs the question, how many salespeople should report to a sales manager?

Sales team size is variable but a front line sales manager should not have more than 10 people reporting and the optimal size is 6-8.

A Regional Sales Manager should not have more than 10 sales managers reporting up and the optimal size is 6-8.

A VP should not have more than 10 Regionals reporting and again, the optimal size is 6-8.

Then you have to consider quotas. Quotas are probably the most screwed up performance requirement I've ever seen.  As a rule of thumb, in order to optimize quotas, you must identify all of the variables like:

• Size of the territory
• Number of potential accounts/deals
• Average deal size
• Rep’s length of time in the business
• Competition and Resistance
• Length of the Sales Cycle

After the variables have been identified, consider the performance of only your A players, select only A players and set your quotas accordingly.  Lowering quotas to the level of your salespeople is like lowering the requirement to graduate high school based on how the graduating class applied themselves for the previous 12 years!

Topics: Dave Kurlan, sales management functions, sales force evaluations, quotas, sales assessments

Who Cares More - Sales or Marketing?

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Tue, Feb 08, 2011 @ 23:02 PM

It all depends on the parameters.  I'll list a dozen or so items that both sales and marketing should care about and provide my opinion about who cares more.  Then you can tell me how wrong I am.

Who cares more about:

  • Revenue - Sales is often compensated on revenue or at least gross profit so sales wins this one hands down.
  • Leads - This one could go either way...Marketing is supposed to generate leads and  companies that place an emphasis on lead gen and measure its effectiveness, care more.  In fact, in companies where there is that much emphasis on leads, salespeople depend on them and hate them, all at the same time.  So many of the leads in high volume lead gen initiatives are low quality leads.  Based on that, marketing cares more.  However, in companies that don't generate many leads and where they aren't expected to generate high volumes of leads, when sales does get the occasional lead they care very much!  Scenario two is more common so I'll give the nod to sales caring more about leads but only by a small margin.
  • Conversions -Marketing doesn't believe that conversions are high enough but which conversions are we talking about?  Lead to appointment?  Lead to Opportunity?  Lead to Qualified?  Lead to Closed?  Marketing cares about generating leads.  Sales cares about conversions.
  • Praise - Marketing cares more about how their work looks - they want praise for their designs.  Sales only gets praise for results - for revenue.  Marketing cares more about praise.
  • Income - Sales usually gets commissions and bonuses based on revenue - not marketing - so sales cares more about income.
  • Pressure - Sales is always under pressure while marketing - not so much.  Sales cares more about pressure.
  • Results - See Income.
  • Metrics - Assuming that companies have and use metrics, sales metrics are more likely to drive revenue while marketing metrics are more likely to identify effective ways to generate leads.  With the latest technology, Marketing is more nimble than ever before and can act on those metrics and make instant changes.  With sales, the metrics typically point to changes that salespeople must make to their behaviors - something that takes longer and sometimes doesn't happen at all.  Marketing cares more about metrics.
  • The Look - Marketing is responsible for the look but sales rely on the look as a crutch.  Marketing has pride of authorship so they care more.
  • The Brand - Marketing positions the brand and does the "branding". They are the only ones that care!
  • Reality - Sales lives in the reality of customer interaction, competition, and market challenges.  Marketing believes that every lead should be sold.  Sales cares more.
  • The Customer - Sales cares more about what the customers think and say because sales, not marketing, is hearing those opinions directly.  Sales cares more.
  • Activity - Sales cares more.

That's my opinion - choose one or two categories and tell me why I'm right or wrong...

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Topics: Dave Kurlan, sales management functions, lead conversion, lead generation

Salespeople Become More Effective Part 2

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Fri, Sep 10, 2010 @ 08:09 AM

baseline selling process Yesterday's article discussed the possibility for salespeople to develop weaknesses AFTER being assessed and during the period of comprehensive sales training, coaching and development.  Today, we'll discuss some of the areas where you should see fairly early improvement, as well as the areas where you need to see it but may not.

The first problem that you must take care of is the elimination of Excuse Making so we should see Excuse Making as one of the first weaknesses to become a strength.  That should be followed by issues like being Too Trusting of Prospects, Not Being Goal Oriented, Not Asking Enough Questions, Ineffective Listening, Assuming and Failure to Uncover Real Budgets.

Some of the issues that take longer to resolve are Consistently Following the Sales Process, overcoming Need for Approval and changing the way your salespeople buy things (Non Supportive Buy Cycle).  Unfortunately, these three issues are perhaps the most important of all.  So how do we handle the challenge of knowing that these three take longer, yet needing these three to resolve more quickly than normal?

The key is Sales Process.  You must talk about Sales Process and, assuming it's been formally developed, structured, optimized and introduced, include it in every daily coaching and development call so that the backdrop for your conversations is "Where in the process are you?"  In Baseline Selling, that would sound like "Which Base are you on?"

By making the Sales Process the backdrop for each conversation, it won't take as long to get your salespeople consistently following the process.  The next challenge is for them to effectively execute each of the steps in the process.  These conversations will expose the sales challenges that develop as a result of their Need for Approval and Non Supportive Buy Cycle.  The more chances you have to demonstrate how those weaknesses sabotage their efforts and lead to undesirable results, the more attention those weaknesses will get from your salespeople and awareness and attention leads to overcoming those weaknesses.

Topics: Dave Kurlan, Need for Approval, Sales Coaching, Sales Force, sales management functions, sales weaknesses, sales assessments, non supportive buy cycle

Salespeople Become More Effective But Can They Become Worse?

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Thu, Sep 09, 2010 @ 05:09 AM

progressObjective Management Group (OMG) provides Progress Evaluations to determine how much improvement has taken place during the period of time since an individual or a team was orginally assessed.  In most cases, especially when effective training and coaching has taken place, significant to dramatic improvement occurs.  Occassionally though, a salesperson will appear to be worse - weaker - than the first time.  How could this be?

I'll explain some of the scenarios where this should not be alarming, as well as some where it should.

Becoming Emotionally Involved - This weakness tends to show up when salespeople are going through comprehensive training and/or coaching and development.  It means that they are thinking too much - an unsurprising byproduct of the development work.  When a salesperson develops this weakness post evaluation it's really nothing more than a sign that they are in the mid-development phase but don't yet own their changes.

Inexperienced Salespeople - When fairly new salespeople appear weaker the second time around, it is usually an awareness problem.  The first time they were assessed, they were going on theory - how they imagined they would think, behave, act and/or perform in the various selling scenarios presented.  This is useful for identifying the weaknesses of someone who hasn't previously sold.  The second time around, they are answering these questions based on how they actually thought, behaved, acted and/or performed in various selling scenarios.  When reality differs - even slightly - from theory, the result of experiential awareness, it can result in a weakness that didn't appear the first time around.

Motivation - Motivating factors are moving targets.  The two biggies, Desire for Success in Sales, and Commitment to Do What it Takes to be Successful in Sales, can change depending on work/life needs, challenges, changes and results.  Think about a woman who, when assessed for the first time, had strong Desire.  Then she married a wealthy man, experienced a lifestyle change, became satisfied with her financial situation, and when assessed again, no longer had strong Desire or Money Motivation.  Think about a man who had strong Commitment the first time around.  Then the economy tanked.  Since he was in the building materials industry, he began to struggle - repeatedly.  Soon, he was questioning whether sales, especially that job in that industry, was for him.  When he was assessed a second time, his Commitment was weak.

On the other hand, if a salesperson's strengths become weaknesses in the areas of Comfort Talking About Money, Need for Approval, being Too Trusting, or Buy Cycle, then we have some issues that need to be explored.  If selling skills get worse, that would also be reason for concern.

Tomorrow, we'll explore some of the strengths/weaknesses and skills/challenges where you should see improvement.

Topics: Dave Kurlan, Sales Force, sales management functions, sales core competencies, sales assessments, progress assessments

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Best-Selling Author, Keynote Speaker and Sales Thought Leader,  Dave Kurlan's Understanding the Sales Force Blog earned awards for the Top Sales & Marketing Blog for eleven consecutive years and of the more than 2,000 articles Dave has published, many of the articles have also earned awards.

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