Part III: Rep Demoralization
Profiles in Sales Management
By Jack R. Snader and Marsha Wells
When sales representatives from one particular sales district start complaining
about their sales manager--and yet you, as a leader in the organization,
think that manager is doing an excellent job--what do you do? Many organizational
executives tend to trust their own instincts and stick up for the sales
manager. After all, trusting their own instincts and perceptions has been
the key to their career success all along. They rationalize away the problem
by minimizing the representatives' complaints or attributing them to problems
of the reps themselves, and they continue to enjoy good rapport with that
But the price of ignoring the representatives' calls for help may eventually
be a serious loss of sales representative morale in that district...which, of course, can lead to sales losses in that district. The ugly truth is that, as much as we like to think we are good judges
of character, there are some people so smooth and so calculating that they
can fool all of the people at least some of the time.
Peter the Politician
When Peter began his sales career in a mid-sized pharmaceutical company
several years ago, he learned well and grew quickly. Reports from his physician
customers concurred that Peter's selling skills were above average across
the board. On first entering the organization, Peter was quite humble about
his abilities. By contrast to his customer's positive remarks about him
and the exemplary behavior they saw in him, this humility created a very
positive image of him in the eyes of his managers.
Peter was popular within the company and knew how to handle people, but
he did not sell the most in his district. Interestingly, while his physician
customers felt Peter was a fairly good salesperson, and while his actual
sales dollars per quarter were moderately high in his district, his sales
managers (two different sales managers in six years) consistently touted
him as being spectacular.
Of note: throughout his years of selling, Peter judged his own ability
to inspire trust among his customers as his lowest selling ability. Why
did he think he wasn't trusted? Many of his customers and his managers
repeatedly reported on surveys that he was more trustworthy than the average
representative. Was Peter paranoid? Or did he know something about himself
that others hadn't discovered yet?
Promoted to a Sales Manager
When Peter was promoted to a sales manager position, many of his peers
were suspicious. Because Peter's sales were not outstanding, they suspected
that some type of favoritism was operant. However, Peter's sales manager
felt confident that Peter would do an outstanding job as a sales manager,
and Peter himself felt that he had always been the "heir apparent"
for this promotion, so savvy, sophisticated, and superior. Finally, he
had some power in the organization ...at least a first stepping stone.
Assuming the role of a sales manager, Peter felt he had an image to build
and reinforce in the interest of his next promotion. Consequently, he wanted
everything in his district to go well--top selling, no mistakes, no excuses.
Peter knew that the salespeople under his leadership were not as charismatic
as he was, and were far from perfect in their selling skills and their
sales results. His remedy? To become, in his mind, a "superstar"
sales manager by checking up on his people constantly.
He thought he could bring his people up to speed by "coaching"
them with daily voicemail reminders and questions, e-mail advice and critiques.
He initiated a detailed report system so that he could be sure each of
his representatives did every single thing they were supposed to do each
day. He also chummed around with his representatives to show supportiveness
and he let them know little tidbits about each other to make them feel
special, and to keep them all on their toes and feeling competitive.
Sure enough, Peter's superiors were impressed. To them, Peter appeared
to be active, proactive, enthusiastic, competent, and confident, handling
even the toughest issues quickly and effectively. On his first review as
a sales manager, Peter's boss reassured him that he felt Peter treated
all his people equally, was a tough competitor, and had a solid, "hands-on"
management style that helped his people stay focused on performance. Peter
got a raise and a pat on the back, and walked out of his boss's office
with a self-satisfied smirk while actively visualizing his next promotion.
The Rest of the Story
But what were his representatives saying about Peter? To quote a few choice
- Peter is a micro-management control freak.
- More honesty is needed.
- He uses scare tactics; even positive messages end with a negative tone.
- More recognition of individual and team achievement is needed.
- Too much pressure; talks about others inappropriately; he is sneaky.
- Unapproachable, pushy, unyielding, in a word, "dictator."
- Peter should stop using racist/sexist remarks.
- Peter is very difficult to work for. We are unhappy.
- He's horrible! Stop excessive use of voice mail. Stop being sexist, racist,
controlling, gossiping, disrespectful.
- He is terribly unprofessional; instills too much competition amongst the
- Peter treats us as puppets. He instills fear, treats us without respect,
implies that we are expendable!
- He micro-manages; treats us like children, makes the district call in every
- I love my job but I hate my manager.
What was Peter's reaction to learning of his representatives' comments?
He felt they didn't understand him, and anyway, they did not have power
over him so their opinions didn't matter. Only the opinions of his managers
who had the power to promote him mattered.
Managing the Manager
If you were managing Peter, how would you handle the situation? Would you
believe Peter, the man with a smooth answer for everything, or his representatives
who sound disgruntled? Would you, as a corporate leader, stand up to your
peers and take a stand against a corporate rising star that they all liked?
Sales managers who demoralize their representatives must change or be stopped
in order for sales to remain healthy and competitive. The sales manager's position is critical to the success of sales representatives, and the company's cash flow is dependent on them. That's why Systema offers
a number of sales management development and decision-making solutions.
We help corporate executives handle a wide variety of complex problems
in sales management, including the Peters of the world.
Want more information on how Systema has helped improve sales management
performance? Contact us at email@example.com
Energizing Sales Performance World Wide Since 1969