The Challenges of 1st Line Sales Managers – And How to Overcome Them


Share on LinkedIn


Recently I sat down to talk with Ken Thoreson, president of Acumen Management. He just came out with a new book called, SLAMMED!!! For the First Time Sales Manager.  

I’ll never forget when I was first promoted into management. It was a real wake-up call – and very frustrating. I was working harder than ever, but barely seeing the results.

If you’ve recently moved into a sales management position, or are hoping it’ll be your next career move, read on. There’s some good advice ahead.

JILL: Interesting title, Ken. Tell me why you chose that description? And this topic?

KEN THORESON: At Acumen, we’ve worked with hundreds of clients in trouble because of a previous or existing one sales manager. In almost every case, the sales manager was new and hadn’t been trained on all aspects of sales leadership. New managers get SLAMMED! with many new challenges. And they have a tremendous need for quick creative ideas.  

JILL: You say that 1st line sales managers are the ‘weak link” in most organizations. How do companies with weak managers differ from those with stronger ones? 

KEN THORESON: It’s quite easy to spot weak sales management. Some key indicators are:  

  • Lame sales meetings with poor coaching
  • Limited sales training programs
  • Lack of discipline
  • Not making enough sales calls with team members
  • Inadequate metrics or pipeline insights
  • No sales formula
  • Lack of focus on fun and culture
  • Inconsistent recruiting

Obviously, stronger sales management programs resolve these issues, plus they; 1) set higher expectations, 2) don’t accept low levels performance, 3) have a personal philosophy and 4) a vision of the organization for the next 18-24 months.

JILL: I’ve heard that the average life span of a sales manager is just 18 months. Why’s that? 

KEN THORESON: A big reason is that most organizations promote a top performing salesperson. These individuals have a sales profile of a “driver.” They often lack the patience to coach individuals with less expertise or sales skills. Within a period of 8-12 months they become frustrated, stop enforcing sales management systems and revenues drop.

Second, when they hire or promote someone to become a sales manager they simply give them the “ropes” and assume they know the job! Management moves on and does not “inspect what they expect”.

JILL: When you work with first time sales managers, what do you see as their biggest challenge?

KEN THORESON: One of the reasons I named this book, SLAMMED!!! is the number one challenge is time management, and number two is the number of problems they face. First time sales managers quickly become overwhelmed.

Sales managers have to face multitudes of issues. That is why there are 57 chapters in this book – the need for solutions faced by the first time manager is amazing. 

JILL: I am sure you also work with experienced sales managers as well. Where do you feel they need to focus on to build their sales teams?

KEN THORESON: Existing sales managers can get great value from visiting other organizations, attending conferences and using LinkedIn to see what others are discussing. In other words, build a network and keep learning. My blog., and monthly newsletter are dedicated to providing insights on a variety of sales management topics.

JILL: You focus on personal leadership, vision and culture in this book. Tell me more about their importance in managing a sales team vs. the hard skills of measuring metrics, coaching salespeople, etc.?

KEN THORESON: One of the challenges missed by many first time sales manager is to build a culture of high performance. They are focused on fixing many of the problems they inherited. While this is important, a focus on the desired culture is critical to building long term success.

Personal leadership, vision and building trust are important. A sales manager can’t coach a salesperson who doesn’t trust him or her. The first time sales manager must fully understand the difference between being a leader and a manager and the various styles of leadership and management.

JILL: Thanks so much for your insights today, Ken. I truly appreciate them. 


KenThoresonKEN THORESON “operationalizes” sales management systems and processes that pull revenue out of the doldrums into the fresh zone. He provides keynotes, consulting services and solutions designed to improve business performance.

Ken’s 5th book:  SLAMMED!!!  For First Time Sales Managers is now available: Ken’s Blog:

Republished with author's permission from original post.


Please use comments to add value to the discussion. Maximum one link to an educational blog post or article. We will NOT PUBLISH brief comments like "good post," comments that mainly promote links, or comments with links to companies, products, or services.

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here