While there aren’t many—if any—sales managers who would intentionally undermine, sabotage or harm the effectiveness of their teams, we’ve all probably worked for and seen sales leaders who routinely do this. Sometimes they are victims of the same behaviors that are being passed down to them by other leaders. Most managers who do this simply have a blind spot that’s beyond their awareness.
In my experience, there are three common missteps sales managers often take that undermine their team’s ability to progress:
1. Acting as the deal doer
These sales managers believe they are “helping” their team by telling them how to close deals or directing them on the next step to take in the sales cycle. As a result, one of two things happens: Either a dependency is created, where the salesperson won’t act without being told what to do by their sales manager, or the salesperson is doing things that they don’t believe they should be.
Surprisingly, this isn’t reserved for junior salespeople or inexperienced sales teams. I once ran into a very senior sales executive with more than two decades of experience, who was selling a multimillion-dollar business deal for a major corporation. It was astonishing to hear that his boss had sent him to where his client was and told him not to leave until the deal was closed. This is despite the fact that he told his boss that the client was in no way, shape or form ready to close. On top of that, his boss was on his way to join him at the client! The sales executive knew this added pressure would only create ill will with the customer—but his boss disregarded this concern given unrelenting pressure he was receiving from above.
We see this happen all the time. And we see that sales leaders who are successful are those who clear the way for their people. They don’t just tell them what to do. Instead, they take the time to listen, help them come up with a plan, and give them the resources they need to get the deal done.
2. Adopting a near-exclusive focus on the short term
There is a massively pervasive mindset among many sales leaders who are focused on what we call “Quadrant I”—believing that everything is urgent and important. (Read more about Dr. Stephen R. Covey’s four quadrants here.) These managers are relentless in prodding their teams to make the quarter or whichever immediate target is at hand. While they might make the quarter, they do so at the expense of making their plan three years from now. Or at the expense of giving up half of their profit because they discounted the deal to make it happen. They might grow 5 percent, but at the expense of growing 20 percent three years from now.
These sales leaders only focus on the next 90 days—and they don’t start thinking about the next 90-day period until it’s just a day or two around the corner. Then the whole cycle starts over again. This is where private companies have a leg up on public corporations—there isn’t a need to create that undertow as public companies often do.
Successful sales leaders realize that there is a balance between making your number today and making your number more easily and bigger in the future. So rather than adopting 10 measures of execution and no measures of planning, it can make a significant difference if you can get to 8-9 measures of execution (Quadrant I) and 1-2 measures of planning (Quadrant II). It’s as simple as taking one day a month to work on planning—setting that aside as a priority and ensuring you spend time planning with each person on your team.
3. Constantly shifting priorities
In many companies, sales leaders often change priorities from one account or product to another, or from selling total contract value to selling in-year revenue deals—and they do this multiple times within one quarter. When this happens, it’s tremendously disruptive to your salesforce. They can’t get into a pattern or rhythm, where the flywheel is spinning and it’s creating a lot of energy (i.e., sales)—instead of these fits and starts.
There’s nothing wrong with changing direction, as long as there’s something that is consistent. Successful sales leaders choose a good direction at the beginning of the fiscal year. They stick with it and see it through. I’ve heard the same story from many salespeople about how “just when it’s about to take off, we give up on the plan and change directions.” We pull the plant out of the ground to see how the roots are growing, which of course kills it.
Again, these three examples are rarely done on purpose—but are ones that we frequently continue to see among sales managers. What has your experience been? What stories have you seen or heard when sales leaders inadvertently sabotage their teams? And what should sales leaders be doing instead?
About the Author
Randy Illig is the Global Practice Leader of FranklinCovey’s Sales Performance Practice and the co-author of Let’s Get Real Or Let’s Not Play. With more than 25 years of experience ranging from direct sales and general manager to successful entrepreneur, CEO and board member, Randy leads the global sales performance practice team as we help our clients build high performance sales and sales leadership teams. Randy is a former recipient of the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year award, the Ernst & Young “CEO Under 40” award, and the Arthur Andersen Strategic Leadership Award.More Content by Randy Illig