The 7 Deadly Sins of Sales Management

Originally published: 05.01.12 by John Treace


Managing people, a fair reward system, and stable processes will help to keep sales up, even in tough times.

I have been part of many business turnarounds in my career and have noted the errors consistently made by sales management, all of which negatively impact team morale and sales. Here are seven of the deadly sins of sales management.??

1. Poor people management: People are the most important ingredient in any organization. At the heart of high-performance organizations is management that obtains the willing cooperation of others to achieve its goals. For this to happen, employees must see that management genuinely cares about them, that they can trust management’s word, and that management focuses on distinction in all aspect of the business.

I once worked for a company whose upper management failed in all those respects. At this company, management continually changed policies, to the point that the sales team no longer trusted its leadership. Sales reps came late to meetings and were unprepared. In short, the message management sent to the sales force was that they didn’t care, were not to be trusted, and were not committed to building a powerful business. This company had a continual revolving door of salespeople, and it eventually failed.?

Another common mistake is not acting on low performance fast enough. In every failed business I have worked with, I have found a number of salespeople who should have been moved to another position. You do no favors by keeping a failing employee around, unless you are confident a correction can be made. One word of caution, though: Most failing businesses do not have metrics that effectively judge individual sales performance, so take care when identifying low and high performers.

Another error — the reverse of too few terminations — is aggressive termination. To avoid both extremes, remember that it isn’t who you fire that counts but who you hire. The proper hire will not need to be terminated. Always look for a track record of success in candidates. Hiring the proper people and creating a culture of mutual trust is a vital component of good people management.??

2. Not holding people accountable: Holding people accountable for their performance is a cornerstone of powerful organizations, but you would be surprised at the number of companies that don’t consistently do this. This is especially true during trying times, when management is inclined to lighten up on performance standards. During a downturn, it is better to reduce quota requirements than look the other way on non-performance.

But when we don’t consistently hold people accountable for their performance shortfalls, it sends a message that management is weak and not confident in the goals it sets. This will erode morale as well as confidence in management.??

3. Poor award programs: Award programs need to be seen as achievable and fair. Reps need to see that the playing field is level and that everyone has a shot at winning recognition. It is amazing how many companies have award programs that are slanted in favor of a few preferred individuals. This sends a morale-damaging message to all reps, including the favored ones: Some are valued over others.??

4. Changes to the sales process: ?The sales process includes all the steps and procedures a company puts in place on its way to having the product/service delivered and invoiced. When the sales process is changed or modified, expect the sales force to need time to adjust.

When the sales process is changed, all of management should expect sales as well as sales forecasting to be affected and in a direct proportion to the degree and type of change, at least for the short term.??

Additionally, sales reps generally dislike change. They don’t want to spend time learning a new process; they realize that learning the new system will detract from their current efforts. If they see the change as inhibiting their sales, this will impact morale — especially if the change is a non-sales requirement. 

If you are faced with needing to modify the sale process, quantify the amount of time the average rep will need to spend on the new non-sales activity, calibrate this lost selling time to lost sales, and advise others on the anticipated impact. All management needs to be aware that changing the sales process will affect sales.??

5. Poor metrics: ?Metrics are the numbers that tell us where we have been and where we are headed. They should act as the radar that lets us know well in advance of impending problems. A large number of sales management teams get into trouble due to ineffective metrics; or in extreme cases I’ve seen, no metrics at all.

Good metrics should allow sales management to confidently predict the quarter’s sales, identify high- and low-performing reps, and develop solutions to problems. In today’s high-velocity markets, it is imperative to have a solid dashboard of metrics to guide the sales ship and keep it out of trouble.??

6. Lack of deep understanding of the business: ?Failing to know the business at a deep level is one of the surest paths to failure. This has been a prime issue in every struggling business I have worked with.

Management that does not know the business at the customer, product, or service level well enough will have difficulty identifying solutions to problems and will lack confidence in the directions they take. At one company where I worked as a sales rep, our regional sales managers were unable to make any presentations to customers, and they didn’t bring any value to the sales process.

At another, they were able to present products to customers better than most of the reps. The company with management that had a better understanding of the customer and products was much more powerful. The sales force could not use excuses for poor sales, and conversely, management understood the valid problems the sales force faced and worked to correct them without blame. The sales force was confident with this management group, but not the other.

When sales are going well, the lack of deep business understanding usually does not appear as a problem, but when business is challenged by sagging sales, it is.

7. Conflicts with marketing: We have all heard of the traditional conflict between Sales and Marketing. The sales team says that the marketing programs are ineffective. Marketing may say the sales force is not well trained, too small, ineffective, or a myriad of other complaints.

Sometimes these are valid complaints, and good management will identify and address them. But if they aren’t valid, or if they are merely excuses for poor performance, it is imperative that management recognize this situation. There is nothing worse than having the sales and marketing departments at each other’s throats. This is a formula for business failure, and smart leaders will work to create collaboration and understanding between the two.

I was once employed to effect a business turnaround in an organization that had conflicted sales and marketing departments. Overall sales were lacking, and each group blamed the other for the failure. To overcome this situation, we conducted a two-day offsite meeting designed to bring the sales and marketing groups together and show them they must function as a team for success. As a result, the relationship evolved so that if marketing was late introducing a new campaign, sales management would pick up the slack with existing promotions. Conversely, if sales anticipated a tough quarter, marketing would work to release a new program ahead of schedule. Teamwork between sales and marketing isn’t a “sometimes” thing; it is critical to the success of a high-velocity organization.??

??Changes in the sales process, poor metrics and award programs, ineffective management, conflicts with marketing, and a lack of business understanding are all deadly to the performance of business. In today’s tough business climate, wise management will review these topics frequently to ensure excellence in their organizations.??


Articles by John Treace

The 7 Deadly Sins of Sales Management

I have been part of many business turnarounds in my career and have noted the errors consistently made by sales management, all of which negatively impact team morale and sales. Here are seven of the deadly sins of sales management.??
View article.