Why Most Sales Managers Fail: 6 Key Steps to Success

6 minute read


I have recently been working with a group of Sales Managers and witnessed what makes the job of a Front Line Sales Manager (FLSM) so difficult. They are trapped. Wedged in the middle between the Sales Leader and the Sales People who have very different demands.

The continual tug of war pulls the Sales Manager from one task to another, then another. Constantly buffeted by random demands the Sales Manager often gets blown off course. With the Sales manager under time pressure there is less time to think, review the detail, plan and make the best decision.

So the downward spiral begins.

Pressure increases, people want more data, more time and the Sales Manager starts to drown in a sea of ad hoc requests that he or she doesn’t have time to properly fulfill. The tell-tale sign is the dazed Sales Manager overworked and unclear on the next thing to do. The impact is significant for the whole organization.

The Sales Manager has two primary responsibilities:

  1. Manage, Communicate and Optimize (size, value and speed) the Forecast and Pipeline to the Sales Leadership.
  2. Support and Improve team members to maximize their productivity

It looks simple here, so what happens to get in the way of these two tasks? Information (sometimes too much, sometimes too little) stifles and confuses. There is so much data but most of it is unhelpful, inaccessible, misleading, biased or presented in the wrong way at the wrong time.

For example, if rep A has a win rate of 20% and Rep B has a win rate of 40% that may seem helpful and point to some help and coaching required for Rep A. However, if Rep A has closed 4 deals with an average order value of $45,000 and Rep B has close 6 deals with an average order value of $125,000 there is a different problem.

What if Pipeline Value is $14M versus a goal of $9M, but unknown to the Sales Manager 60% of the Pipeline is stalled and not prioritized project spend by the Customer?

The Sales Organization trades in information and prides itself “to be in the know” but rarely does the required evidence get surfaced, reviewed, analyzed or acted upon.

Here are 6 Steps to Follow to Achieve Success as a Sales Manager

1. Adopt a sales process
With defined steps and stages a Sales Process keeps the Selling process internally and the Buying Process for the customer in sync. This has three huge benefits.

a) Your forecast, now based on Evidence from the customer, will become more accurate. This will keep the Sales Leader happy. If you lack a Sales Process (that the Sales Leadership reinforces) getting a grip on the forecast is impossible.
b) As you will have a common framework and questions to ask, communication on deals will be quicker and more effective internally, thus increasing selling time.
c) Quickly you will be able to see where your rep is on a deal, you know where they are stuck and can coach them on the right topic at the right time.

2. Qualification
Qualification is only useful if you disqualify Opportunities too! The goal is to end up selecting fewer, better, bigger deals to work on. This improves win rate, which in turn increases the confidence of your Sales Team. More confidence and more Won Deals helps say no to unreasonable requests from prospects.
Selecting better deals and the resulting win rate also feeds into more predictable forecast with fewer surprises. This will reduce ad hoc requests for forecast info from Sales Leadership.

3. Don’t push for the unrealistic
When the pressure comes on there is temptation to assume that force and coercion and sheer force of will can make a difference. Resist the urge to expect hard closing will accelerate a deal. The deal will only happen when the customer is confident that their risk will be repaid by the benefit of your Solution.

Support your sales people to support the customer and build a strong business case. Sales Leaders (who remember have an average tenure of 18 months) really feel the pressure, and will sometimes seek an extra “push” from the Sales Managers.

Hard though it may be, the Sales manger needs to set expectation and remind the Sales Leader of the steps and stages the deals are going through. This will help to repel the “just do something” mentality that can be adopted where any action is seen as helpful. Weekly or even daily forecast calls to “weigh the pig” won’t change the result.

So be realistic and stick to the process in good times and bad.

4. Focus on the Poor Performance
It is natural and healthy to surround yourself by success and positive experiences however the role of the Sales manger is to seek out poor performance with a Specific Account or Opportunity and focus on helping there.

Celebrate success, but don’t only work on the biggest and best deals. The best Sales Managers can help reset and disqualify Opportunities. This will accelerate the learning of your team, build trust and respect between Sales Manager and Sales Rep. This increased trust helps information flow through the Sales process which benefits everyone.

5. Train your people
With limited time, activities not seen as directly revenue-generating get dropped. Often, although counter-intuitive, this is incorrect.

If conversion rates are low, then your team needs to work on how to turn meeting #1 into meeting #2.

Role-play the discovery call and high yield questions as a group. Learn from what has worked.

Draft a call plan together and report back on how it worked with the customer. The top 10% of reps will rehearse, practice and learn constantly. The majority of the team need a formal program to learn and improve these essential skills.

This team activity also helps you keep up to speed with current selling techniques and challenges as it may be some time since you ran your own territory.

6. Completion
Failing to complete a task and running out of time is frustrating and demoralizing. “Drilling down” into the pipeline is often a waste of time. The report has so many deals on it you can’t actually truly understand any of the key data points or missing evidence or risks on a deal let alone collectively agree the next steps that will de-risk the deal and move it forward:

a) Define the objective – such as understand the risk factors on the 2 largest deals of the Next Quarter.
b) Get the required data and assign the required amount of time to review in detail
c) Agree the insights and risk factors
d) Finally write down and assign the actions.

If the process helps, repeat a few days later with the next two deals on the list. Don’t sleep walk through tasks where you have no chance of completing or actually making a difference to the job in hand.

All these actions will help your Sales Managers maximize the most precious resource in your organization…’Time.’

Focusing time in the right areas on the 6 tasks will keep everyone happy, most importantly the Sales Manager.

Reliable products. Real results.

Every day, thousands of companies rely on Upland to get their jobs done simply and effectively. See how brands are putting Upland to work.

View Success Stories