A great sales manager can light new fires under the worst procrastinator and turn almost anyone into a top producer.

ABC Co. was a growing company. The regional distributorship had seven sales reps, each with his own duties, responsibilities and direction. Management realized it needed to control the sales function to grow responsibly. Sales management became the key. Fortunately, in Joe Williams, company treasurer and sales rep, ABC had the person it needed. Williams admits he was sometimes in the dark about what a sales manager should do, but he is learning. He has found that without a sales manager, salespeople are easily neglected. “I do know you must teach them how to sell their products and services, for example, and make them feel a part of that effort and not left out,” he says. Williams, who has been with ABC for 12 years and stepped into the sales manager position recently, says an important part of his job is to coordinate sales efforts and tie the sales reps’ activities to company goals. He must work with the marketing manager and help implement company policies. Following up on the sales leads he provides the reps is important.

“You shouldn’t say, here is the product, now just go out and sell it, with no follow-up,” he says. A sales manager should help motivate and get the salespeople excited. It is a full-time job.” It may be difficult, says Williams, to be a sales rep and a sales manager and do both jobs well. Both are fulltime responsibilities. As a sales rep, he says, that function often takes over, and he often spends most of the time taking care of customers and neglecting sales management duties.

A sales manager should help motivate and get the salespeople excited.

The decision to hire a sales manager depends on how much control the company wants to keep, If it wants more control, the company first must consider its compensation system. If sales reps are paid commission only, it’s hard to tell them what to do. They are independent contractors, and they have control. They call on whom they want, where they want. Management once thought that by paying commissions, sales reps would beat their brains out working nine days a week, but sales reps do not necessarily work as hard as they might, and managers realized they should provide some motivation and selling guidelines. So they began paying salaries to gain more control. Today many sales reps receive 50-60 percent of their total compensation as salary and the rest as commission. If you want to control the business, you must manage the sales function and work with the sales reps. That’s where sales managers can help. They can do market research and keep an eye on the competition. Things sales reps don’t have time to do. Sales managers may also help reps call on key accounts. Joint sales calls can be tricky if the sales manager and salesperson are not on the same page regarding the sales call.

How big should you be? One owner I know promoted his sales rep to manager when he hired a second rep. “I wanted a sales manager to have responsibility for training the new person, and I wanted the new person to go to him-not to me-for help” said the owner. The promotion also elevated that person’s position in the firm, giving him a feeling of accomplishment and status, said the owner who believes sales managers should come from within the firm. A qualified person should have three years’ experience and a proven track record with the company, he says. He went through a period when it brought in sales managers from outside the company. “That system failed miserably,” says the owner, who believes sales managers should come from within the firm.

Asking the Right Questions When interviewing sales reps for the position of sales manager, ask:

  • What changes, if any, would you recommend if you were a sales manager? Someone who really wants the job should be watching it closely enough to have identified some things he or she would want to change. .
  • Which do you feel is most important to the success of a sales rep: Lots of sales calls, a good presentation, enthusiasm, technical competence, good records, having a “good” sales territory or hard work? Applicants need not share your philosophy, but they should have a good reason why they think as they do. .
  • What is the most important thing our salespeople do? This tells you which direction this person will lead the sales staff. .
  • Are we too “easy”? If so, how would you toughen us up? This tells you what type of supervisor this person will make. Watch out for people who would toughen up your operation by taking drastic measures.
  • If I said I had a “bad” territory, what would you do? The real question here is how the manager would motivate.

John McMann had four full-time salespeople and several retail store employees selling his products part-time when his company, GHI, hired a sales manager. “Our volume got to a point where I needed a new sales rep,” McMann says, “and when he came on board, he needed some pushing.” McMann promoted another sales rep to sales manager. “Money is a great motivator, but sometimes position is too,” he says. GHI’s new sales manager had been with the company for five years. “He was young, very aggressive, and I was getting old,” he says. “He was committed. I knew he could handle the new products and the new salespeople. Now he is the first person at work in the morning and the last to leave at night.”

It is rare today that a company with 10 sales reps would not have a sales manager. However, a company with six sales reps may need one and a company with 12 may not, depending on how much autonomy sales reps are given. Or, as a business owner told me “You need a sales manager when you feel you can afford one and cannot afford not to have one.”

A sales manager should:

  • Be involved in marketing and help tie it to sales planning
  • Contribute to pricing decisions and be a link between the finance, marketing, sales and research areas of the company.
  • Create and evaluate sales programs, contribute to marketing and suggest ways to capitalize on opportunities.
  • Communicate sales policies, procedures, decisions and company goals to the sales force.

An important point to consider:

There is a big difference between what it takes to become a great salesperson and what it takes to become a great sales manager. Don’t assume that someone can transition from sales to sales management with proper management training and a willingness to succeed through the accomplishments of their team’s success. I’d be happy to discuss this with anyone considering change.