Sales Manager Or Individual Contributor?


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In many organizations, sales managers also have a personal sales territory. The practice is not limited to small organizations, I’ve worked with a number of companies in th $500 M range who have some of their sales managers also carry a personal sales territory. In the smallest of organizations, it’s difficult to avoid, but in general, I think it’s a lose-lose practice.

The job of the sales manager is coaching and developing their people to achieve the highest levels of performance possible. In smaller organizations, it’s also driving the sales strategy, making sure the right tools, processes, and people are in place. It’s removing barriers to sales performance. Any way you look at it, it’s more than a full time job.

Imagine now, the sales manager has a personal territory, even one that’s a reduced size. The manager is now responsible for driving business in the territory. The manager has to invest time in prospecting, developing opportunities, managing relationships within the territory. In any scenario I’ve seen — even the so-called reduced sized territory, it can become all consuming. I’ve never seen a way to make it “part time.” When you are engaged in prospecting, you can’t turn it on or off, you have to be executing it fully. Likewise, in managing opportunities–it’s impossible to go to a customer and say, “I can only work with you so many hours a week, so you’ll have to be patient with my slower responses.” Sure I’m exaggerating a little, but selling under any condition is a full time job–at least if you want to do it well.

Now you ask the sales manager to do both. The premise, usually is an affordability issue. Smaller organizations can’t afford additional headcount, so they assign the sales manager a personal territory. There are very few cases where I believe this results in higher productivity and effectiveness. If affordability is the issue, then the company is aggressively looking to generate revenue. I see it with small companies all the time. They a full time sales manager, can’t afford it, so they drive revenue growth so they can afford to shift the manager into a full time role. Well, the behavior this inevitably drives is that the manager focuses on doing deals–after all, presumably she is a great sales person, so she spends time focusing on deals. They monitor the few other sales people, trying talking to them early in the morning, late in the evening, but never have the time to really work with them, coach and develop them. As a result, the other sales people are left more on their own than they should be, and are unlikely to be performing at the highest levels possible. One wonders, if the manager was working with the sales team full time, would their increase in productivity and effectiveness drive faster revenue growth then by just trying to squeeze them in?

Other organizations feel that managers need to “keep their hand in selling.” They need to understand what’s going on, so they can develop their people. They believe that having a small personal territory can help them understand the world of the sales person. I think this is just a bad rationale. If the sales manager can’t understand what their people face by talking with them, coaching them, working with them on a day to day basis, then he isn’t doing the right job as manager’s. A manager doesn’t need their own territory to understand the challenges of prospecting, of engaging the customer, of facilitating their buying process. Plus if the are seeing it through their own execution–what value does that provide–again, presumably they are good at doing this. The point is for them to see it through their people, to understand the challenges their people face, to help them grow and develop. Managing their own territory diverts the manager from doing this.

Professional selling is a tough job–regardless the size of your territory it demands complete focus. Likewise, sales management is a tough job–and it too, demands dedication. By asking the sales manager to do both, there are very few circumstances where I think it’s a win. We need to invest in selling, we need to invest in developing our people. Committing to full time sales management is a faster path to growth than giving them an impossible assignment.

What do you think?

Is there a case where it does work to have a sales manager also have a personal territory?

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Republished with author's permission from original post.

Dave Brock
Dave has spent his career developing high performance organizations. He worked in sales, marketing, and executive management capacities with IBM, Tektronix and Keithley Instruments. His consulting clients include companies in the semiconductor, aerospace, electronics, consumer products, computer, telecommunications, retailing, internet, software, professional and financial services industries.


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