Sales and Sales Management Blog

March 26, 2012

Four Common Destructive Sales Management Styles


I’ve had the privilege of working with many new managers whose company hired me to help them transition from seller to manager or to work with existing managers to become more effective.  One of the recurring issues I’ve discovered is a misunderstanding of what a sales manager is.

Whether I’m working with a newly promoted seller into a frontline sales management position or an established sales leader, I often find someone with a warped and destructive idea of what a sales manager’s work is. 

Generally I find these misguided managers have adopted one of these four destructive management styles :

The Clone Coach:  A common tendency of great salespeople when promoted to manager is to believe that if they could just train all of their salespeople to be mini-me’s of themselves then everything will be great—the salespeople will be happy, they’ll make their numbers, management will be thrilled, customers will be loyal forever, and the new manager will be promoted again in no time.  Thus, the new manager sets out to coach every seller on his or her team to do exactly what they did to be successful without regard to the individual salesperson’s experience level, knowledge, personality, or skills. 

Typically the harder the manager tries to “coach” each of their salespeople to mimic the way they sold, the more frustrated each seller becomes and the more resistant to being “coached.”

Although the manager may succeed in creating one or two clones, they will alienate the majority of their team and eventually there will be a breakdown of trust and cooperation.

The Super Seller:  The Super Seller is the star salesperson who when promoted to manager tells his or her salespeople to forget about selling, “you get the prospects, I’ll sell ‘em” is the crux of their management style.  They haven’t the slightest interest in seeing their salespeople grow as sellers; their only interest is making THEIR numbers because it’s all about them.

Salespeople languish and eventually wither and die under a Super Seller for they not only have no chance to grow, if they do decide to exercise selling skills they are typically scolded for the perceived sin of costing the manager potential scalps on his or her lodge pole.

Although the manager may appear successful to upper management if judged only by the numbers, she is judged a complete failure and is resented by her team which typically suffers large turnover and discontent.

The Disciplinarian:  Less prevalent that the two previous management styles but equally dangerous is the manager who comes in with the attitude of “I’m going to whip these lazy good for nothings into shape if it kills me.”  Most typically it does kill—both the team members and the manager.

The Disciplinarian usually has a chip on their shoulder and disrespect for those they “manage.”  This manager views himself as being not only a superior seller to his team members but also more dedicated to the company and his job than they are. 

Sales teams under the thumb of the Disciplinarian suffer from morale issues that eventually result in high turnover and often outright rebellion. 

The Pal:  The Pal manager has most often been promoted from within the team and is friends with the majority of team members.  The Pal’s transition from peer to manager changes virtually nothing in the team’s relationships as the salespeople have a difficult time making the transition to viewing their old friend as their manager and the new manager has a difficult time now having to hold her former team peers accountable for their actions.

Instead of making the transition from peer to manager, the new manager makes a transition from peer to Super Friend, becoming the advocate extraordinaire for her team mates, protecting them and covering for them no matter what.  The Pal is committed to her friends and is most concerned about how they feel about her rather than managing them. 

Unfortunately for most managers who take on the role of The Pal, the lack of discipline and accountability results in the team members taking gross advantage of them—to the point that often their tenure as manager is very short lived.  . 

The common denominator that binds all four of these management styles together is a focus by the manager on themselves and their wants and needs.

Certainly managing entails coaching, and disciplining when necessary, as well as helping close a sale here and there; and needless to say making the numbers is important.  But managing involves far more than these few traits and it becomes destructive when the manager becomes completely focused on their own needs and their perceived success rather than their team’s growth and performance.

One of the keys to being a successful sales manager is having a solid understanding of human nature and in particular understanding what makes each team member tick.  More than anything else, sales management is about leadership, not about control or being the big shot or even just making the numbers.

Manager, if you see yourself locked into any of these management styles, by all means seek out a quality coach or find a quality management training company and start the process of becoming a strong manager.

Seller, if you find that you are working for one of the above managers, consider your situation carefully and make a conscious decision as to whether you want to continue in such a situation where your growth as a salesperson may be stymied and you may live in a constant state of frustration.

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7 Comments »

  1. I worked as a sales manager and saw all of these personalities. Each of these management types fails to see the qualities in each individual team member. Clones are especially dangerous as there are all types of clients and different personalities and approaches are essential to build a business. Helping teach team member create their own unique presentation is the key to success – any other approach paves the road to failure.

    Comment by Tammy — March 26, 2012 @ 9:30 pm | Reply

  2. Excellent article Paul. I find that unfortunately, people who are good at selling often don’t make good sales managers, but nevertheless they are frequently promoted to the role on the basis that if they are good at sales, by definition the sales team can only benefit. A good sales manager, as the title implies, is first and foremost an effective people person, who works hard at getting to know their staff well, what motivates them and how they think. They have to be good people managers, not just good sales people. They also have to know how to build a successful and motivated sales team, instead of just trying to make themselves the ‘star. They recognise that the only way they will succeed is if their team does, so they work hard on building the team. They coach each member of their team tirelessly to make each of them the ‘stars’. Such people are hard to find.

    Comment by George Bernath — March 28, 2012 @ 6:42 am | Reply

    • DEAR GEORGE
      I FULLY AGREE WITH YOUR COMMENT .SUCH IDEALISTIC SALES MANAGERS ARE NOT FOUND.ACTUALLY IS THERE AN AGREED UPON JOB DESCRIPTION FOR A SALESMAN ? NEEDLESS TO SAY A JOB DESCRIPTION FOR HIS MANAGER ?
      HADI AYTOUR

      Comment by HADI AYTOUR — March 29, 2012 @ 5:46 am | Reply

  3. […] Four Common Destructive Sales Management Styles (salesandmanagementblog.com) […]

    Pingback by Management style stories: Bad day in “Heaven” or the usual Hell? « The Puchi Herald — April 4, 2012 @ 8:52 am | Reply

  4. People that are good in other things could be not good in another thing as we have different skills. Sometimes performance of a sales person depends on how his manager does as it is their guide and inspiration to do a good job.

    Candice Anderson
    PPC SEO

    Comment by Candice Anderson — May 4, 2012 @ 7:09 pm | Reply

  5. Great article. I recently was promoted from sales to sales manager 6 months ago. I would say the closest method I use would be the clone coach but I only teach by example from my experiences of what I have seen out in the field, I feel like I learn different styles from each rep that I take with me and appy it to everyone. I have been successful creating a competitive environment by recognizing and giving praise to top sellers each day and avoiding any conflict or negative talk to any of the underperforming reps; (kind of a black sheep method) However, the environment has almost become to competitive where the reps are not wanting to help their fellow sales co-workers. My positive management style has brought sales up 30%. However, I do not want this spinning out of control. There has also been some smack talk which I have accepted, but I feel certian people are taking it personaly but it is working as natural fuel and are actually trying harder to get ahead just so they can say something back when the get ahead. Would you consider this dangerous? Is there a such thing as a team that is to competitive?

    Comment by Derek Kerr — July 1, 2012 @ 11:45 pm | Reply

  6. I think it is vital for a great manager to manage individuals. Often you have a team that ranges from beginners to thoroughbred. Also you will have the bell curve from low performance to over performance AND you have to stay within legal and HR boundaries of correct and legal management. This is why a great manager, managing a great team is a rarity….

    Comment by Andrea — August 17, 2012 @ 4:58 pm | Reply


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