Should Sales Managers Sell?

Recently, a colleague and friend of mine in South Africa , Suzanne Burgess, posed this provocative question to several of her business colleagues. She pointed out that if there’s one raging debate in the sales world, it’s whether or not a sales manager, i.e. someone who has a team reporting directly to him or her, should also be responsible for having to meet a personal sales target.

I thought you might find some of the responses enlightening and informative. Of course, I’ll start with my own response.

My Take on the Situation

Should sales managers sell? It depends!

In general, part-time sales managers, like part-time salespeople don’t usually work out well in the end. You either manage or you sell.

Sales managing is a full-time job. When you split the job into two parts, sales and sales management, the incumbent is likely to favour one function over the other. This results in one of three things happening:

  • Good sales manager and poor salesperson
  • Poor sales manager and good salesperson
  • Mediocre sales manager and mediocre salesperson

There is an exception to the rule, and this depends upon the size of the sales team:

  • If the sales team has 10 or more salespeople, a dedicated sales manager is in order.
  • If the sales team has 5-9 salespeople, a part-time sales manager should be considered, keeping in mind that one of the three conditions outlined above will apply.
  • If the sales team has less than 5 salespeople, there is no need for a designated, formal sales manager. This does not mean that they don’t need to be sales managed; it means that there is no dedicated sales manager. In small sales teams, the best sales management is self-management.

Other Perspectives

Here’s the take on the question, “Should sales managers sell?” from the other side of the Atlantic.

Stephen Gladwin, General Manager of Mandilas Toyota in Lagos, Nigeria, responded with the following:

My experience since joining my present company in Lagos was that my National Marketing Manager (19 years with the company) had been allowed to sell cars and keep the commission. I recently persuaded my Managing Director to allow me to change the commission structures to even the playing fields and the National Marketing Manager resigned.

What was happening, she had built up a substantial client base over 19 years and would not allow any of the salespeople to get near her customers and as a result she would outsell them 20 to 1. Not only was this demoralizing for the sales staff but also dangerous for the company from the following aspects:

  • She had control of a large percentage of the company’s customer base.
  • Her time had been taken up selling and not managing.
  • The sales staff were looking for other illegal means of earning more money due to lack of proper supervision.

The structure that I now have in place is that my Manager does not actively sell and any sales that do come in as a result of him/her is a “dealer sale.” The manager earns a percentage of the overall sales departments controllable net profit. The salespeople were on a fixed amount per vehicle. They are now on a two-tier sliding scale, volume and net profit.

Stephen Varty, Managing Director of Life and Analytical Sciences (PTY) Ltd, Johannesburg, South Africa, points out that:

This is probably a hot potato only in our own minds. Usually the sales manager gets to this position because he is a great salesperson. He is usually your best salesperson bringing in the most revenue. He is usually put in the position because we hope that he will transfer his skills in a practical way to his sales team.”

We need the sales manager to lead by example and the only lasting way is “do as I do.” It all depends on the size of the business; the small and medium-size businesses cannot afford for the most effective sales person (usually the sales manager) not to be generating their own revenue. I firmly believe that the sales manager should have their own personal sales target.

However, Andy Miller, a Sales Consultant and Strategist located on this side of the pond in Alexandria, Virginia, has a different perspective. Andy said:

A sales manager is someone who increases sales by making their people stronger. In essence the sales manager is coach, trainer and mentor. They may still sell but it should be in a modeling/coaching role.

When the sales manager is also salesperson, reps question the manager’s motives and it totally undermines the manager. You can’t name one sport where the coach is also player.

In my opinion the only time for the sales manager to also be salesperson is as a transition strategy while building the sales team. That means one-year max in a dual function!

The Final Word

And the final word for this round goes to Cobus van Graan, Managing Director of Tracer CQM and Software International (Pty) Ltd, Johanneburg, South Africa, who points out:

For me, the most important responsibility of a sales manager is to develop his/her team members. If a sales manager does not focus on developing the team, he can be replaced by an admin clerk.

As a rule, I would suggest that a sales manager should not sell. Their focus and time should be to develop the team. If the sales manager can develop the team and get them to be great salespeople, the effect can be 10 times more than the effect of one sales manager selling.

The Bottom Line

What we have are differing views with no conclusion. But then, I’m not sure we’ve really heard the final word yet.