What does your sales manager do? What is he or she supposed to do?

If you are like many other CEOs and business owners, you have two different answers for those questions. My colleague, Karen Brown, recently blogged about the widespread misperceptions over sales managers’ value. We often witness a baseline misunderstanding about what role the sales manager should be playing in the organization.

Frequently, there is an expectation that the sales manager will sell and manage. And, in fact, the sales managers often have been promoted from the sales team after proving themselves as sales superstars, which may encourage ongoing dependence on their sales. But this leads to disappointment and under-performance from the sales team because the roles of salesperson and sales manager are so fundamentally different.

A whopping 82% of sales managers are not effective as sales coaches, which is the most important thing they should be doing with most of their time (Objective Management Group). Instead of spending the requisite 50% of their time coaching, we have found sales managers spending as little as 10%.


I’ve done informal polls before with groups of business owners, where the majority of the group (two-thirds to three-fourths) have indicated that their sales managers are spending the bulk of their time on crisis management. Ideally, only 5% of a sales manager’s time would be devoted to crisis management. But these business owners ranked it more demanding than things like coaching, motivating, recruiting, holding salespeople accountable (you know, the stuff managers are supposed to be doing!). Incredibly, crisis management demands more attention even than managing compensation plans, strategy, and direct selling. Just imagine how much more your sales team would be selling if they were getting the attention they needed from their sales manager.

I once heard a sales consultant make this point:

“A sales manager’s job is not to grow sales. A sales manager’s job is to grow salespeople in quantity and quality.”

Which is 100% true. But that’s not what many sales managers are doing.

Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that you have a sales manager who does possess the skills and abilities necessary to manage the sales team effectively. Great, you are already ahead of the game. But that’s not enough by itself. Instead of spending their time doing the activities they need to do to grow their team, they are often pulled in other directions.

The activities they are putting off require them to be fully present and engaged with their salespeople. You can’t mindlessly coast through effective coaching, motivating and holding salespeople accountable. These are one-on-one activities that require a manager to be on point, tuned in to the individual salesperson’s goals and motivations, individual strengths and weaknesses to help them bring their “A game.” If the sales manager is mired in crisis management, territory disputes, chasing their own sales quotas, or rescuing salespeople on doomed sales calls, they will be spread too thin to execute effectively in the role of manager.

Why are sales managers focused on the wrong activities?

Typically, it’s one or more of these reasons:

  • Necessity (either its required of them or is due to lack of adequate resources, including training and size of sales team).
  • Choice (they may want to put off the tough 1-on-1 work, which may be a training issue —lack of knowledge, practice or confidence— or it may be more of a skills mismatch issue).
  • They are mimicking what they’ve seen other managers do, even though it’s wrong (training issue).

What should your sales manager be doing, ideally?

  • Spending a full 75% of their time engaging and interacting with the sales team (coaching, motivating, holding individuals accountable)
  • A full 50% of their time should be devoted to coaching their salespeople
  • 10% of their time should be spent motivating salespeople
  • 15% of their time should be spent measuring performance and holding salespeople accountable
  • 5% of their time should be spent engaging in recruiting activities
  • 5% of their time should be spent on crisis management
  • 5% of their time should be spent on internal company issues
  • 5% of their time should be spent on direct selling
  • 3% of their time should be spent on business and product strategy
  • 1% of their time should be spent on organization / reorganization issues
  • 1% of their time should be spent on compensation planning and management

Source: Objective Management Group’s Sales Manager Evaluations

Why should you care?

You’re busy; we get it. If you care about ongoing revenue generation and improving your company’s bottom line on an ongoing basis, it’s in your interest to ensure your sales team’s performance is optimized.

Your sales manager is responsible for developing the sales team, and through that, growing your sales. Having an effective sales manager in place is critical for your sales team’s success. Just as the sales manager keeps your sales team accountable to maintain their performance, so too do they need to be held accountable to someone to maintain their performance. And that falls to you.

What can you do to support better sales management as the CEO?

  1. If you have not already done a skills assessment for your sales manager, get one (download a sample here). If they are wildly mismatched for the role, better to realize that now than later.
  2. Sit down with your sales manager and find out how their time is being spent. If they are not spending about 75% of their time interacting with their sales team actively coaching, motivating and holding salespeople accountable, find out why. Let them know that that you want them to focus 75% of their time on those activities.
  3. Have your sales manager track how their time is being spent (such as by color coding their calendar, based on the activity groups outlined below).
  4. Don’t forget to circle back and inspect the calendar periodically and keep your sales manager accountable to doing the activities that will actually improve your sales performance.

Have your sales manager breakdown their activities into groups:

Activity Description Color (for example)
Coaching / Motivating Pre-briefing and debriefing calls, helping inspire better performance from salespeople based on individual motivators and goals Green
Accountability Inspecting sales team’s individual activity levels, movement in their pipeline, and their actual behaviors Blue
Recruiting Networking, etc. Purple
Mentoring Developing people on your team beyond just their sales skills Grey
Strategy Work related to attacking the market Orange
Marketing Should the sales manager even be responsible for this? Yellow
Crisis Management / Internal Issues You know what this is . . . Red
Compensation Planning & Management Self-explanatory Tan
Miscellaneous Anything else that sucks time away from the actual beneficial activities of coaching motivating and holding salespeople accountable; parse this out into additional categories if it makes sense for your situation. White

That’s just a start. There may be deeper issues impacting the performance of your sales manager and sales team, including (to name a few):

  • Lack of a formalized, repeatable selling system
  • Lack of fully integrated, functional CRM system
  • Lack of supporting sales and marketing content (website, case studies, white papers, etc.)
  • Lack of a strategic hiring and onboarding program
  • Lack of necessary training (for the manager, and maybe for the whole sales team)

Take the first step towards getting what you need from your sales manager:


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Read more about how your sales managers should spend their time: