5 Lousy Sales Management Tactics (and What to Do Instead)

Over the past decade, I’ve listened to dozens of salespeople complain about their sales managers, many of whom apparently believe that sales success comes from manipulating rather than coaching. Here are the six most commonly-mentioned sales manager tactics, and why they always backfire:

1. The Bully Pulpit

The sales manager publicly or privately demeans the salesperson as a professional and as a contributor when he or she doesn’t perform at the level the manager wants. The manager does this believing it will motivate the person to work harder, simply to avoid another unpleasant critique.

Unfortunately, this tactic strips away the salesperson’s self-respect, making it increasingly difficult for that him or her to sell. The “coffee is for closers” speech in the film Glengarry Glen Ross notwithstanding, fear is a lousy motivator.

What to do instead: Praise in public but provide constructive criticism and coaching in private. Constructive criticism and coaching involves asking questions such as, “What could you have done better?” and role modeling with statements like, “Here’s how I might have handled that same situation.”

2. Bait and Switch

The sales manager changes the compensation plan to drastically or retroactively reduce the compensation, either while the sale is in progress or even after it’s taken place. The motivation for doing this is simple greed combined with a fundamental lack of respect for salespeople.

This tactic is abysmally stupid because it guarantees that anybody with real sales talent will leave the team. Over time, the bait and switch tactic generates a reputation for the company so that the only people who’ll work there are the barrel scrapings.

What to do instead: Have an easy-to-understand compensation plan that drives the sales behaviors aligned with your corporate strategy. Only change the compensation plan when that strategy changes (which shouldn’t be very often) and always with plenty of warning. Rachel Gregg wrote a post about how to draft your sales compensation plan.

3. The Horizon Shoot

The sales manager sets ambitious targets, even though the sales manager knows that the sales team cannot possibly achieve those numbers. This happens when managers are more concerned with what top management wants than with what’s actually likely to happen.

Rather than doing his or her job and pointing out that top management is not grounded in reality, the sales manager decides to play along, hoping for an end-of-quarter miracle. When that doesn’t happen, both the sales manager and the team suffer.

What to do instead: Base your forecast on the past performance of your team rather than on their hopes and fears. Be honest with top management about what’s realistic, but take action—more coaching and better leads, for instance—to improve the numbers. Check out 5 Essential Sales Forecasting Techniques for tips for accurate sales forecasting.

4. Teacher’s Pet

The sales manager saves all the best leads for his or her top rep and sends the questionable and weak leads to the other reps…just in case they get lucky. The reasoning is obvious: the manager figures that the top rep is more likely to close business.

This tactic eventually backfires because when the top rep leaves for greener pastures, the sales figures plummet, as the mid-range talent has long since quit in disgust, leaving only hapless non-performers.

What to do instead: Distribute leads so that everyone gets a fair shot. Focus on turning your average salespeople into better-than-average salespeople by investing in training while updating and improving your sales technology.

5. The Horserace

The sales manager hires more sales reps for a region than the revenue from that region can support and then lets the reps compete for the same business. The sales manager figures that if there are enough horses in the race, one of them will win.

What usually happens in this case is that sales reps collide with each other by calling on the same people and presenting different solutions. As a result, your company ends up looking confused and disjointed, which drives business to your competitors.

What to do instead: Have a lead salesperson assigned to each major account and make that person responsible for coordinating the team of people who end up working with that customer.

What do you think? What lousy sales management tactics have you seen? Share in the comments below.

Next Step: Check out 3 Questions About Performance Every Sales Executive Can Answer With Base.

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