How Not to Be an Asshole Sales Manager

There’s no way you could be a bad sales manager… right? Are you sure? Like, really sure? I'm outlining the characteristics of a crappy manager and how to make sure that you aren't a bad boss.

why are sales managers so often assholes

9 min. read

People don’t leave companies; they leave bad managers.

That business saying is quoted all over because it’s true.

Even from your position as a sales leader, you can probably think back on a manager you reported to in the past who wasn’t that great at, you know… managing.

It might have been the manager at your summer job. They wanted everyone to be their friend, so they gave the weekend off to anyone who asked for it, leaving those scheduled seething as they picked up the slack.

Maybe it was the micromanaging supervisor at your first office job, who would throw things when they were frustrated (and they were always frustrated).

Or maybe it wasn’t one big thing, but many smaller things a manager did. Some comments on how a subordinate’s appearance might be negatively influencing their sales here, some scare tactics there, and, boom, you’ve got a bad manager.

“Beatings will continue until morale improves.”

The ghosts of poor managers past

The examples above are real, crowdsourced from amongst colleagues.

Even though those managers and situations are now tiny dots in the rearview mirror of life, the impact of the bad managers still resonate. The stories were recounted with a trace of bitterness or a sad shake of the head.

You don’t want to be someone else’s bad manager horror story.

Bad sales managers are a drain on their team’s morale and productivity. Overall, bad bosses cost hundreds of billions of dollars every year in lost productivity, plus even more in employee turnover expenses, including recruiting and training replacements.

Don’t be a bad-boss statistic by avoiding these tell-tale signs of sales mismanagement.

Taking all the credit for success—and none for failure

Poor sales managers are fair-weather leaders. For them, a win is a sales team win; a loss rests solely with sales reps.

Sales managers are usually in charge of setting the strategy and priorities for the sales team. If salespeople are following the plan, it would follow that the success or failure of that plan should be collective.

In certain situations, failure can be a temporary stop on the road to success. It can show that you are trying something new, taking risks, making things happen, but without the results you were hoping for—yet. That environment of experimentation and learning from mistakes together creates a stronger team.

Pointing fingers and passing off blame shows a sales team that their leader doesn’t have their back and will likely be nowhere to be found when times are tough.

Using childish tactics

Bad sales managers haven’t evolved past the schoolyard. They bully their salespeople or play favourites and cruelly pit sales reps against one another.

Publicly belittling sales reps for mistakes or faults is not coaching. It’s leading by fear and bullying, particularly when it devolves into name-calling, ridiculing, or mocking.

Even if it’s done in the name of “motivation”, fear is not a great incentive in sales. Instead, this is more likely to motivate salespeople to find a new job at a different company.

Inviting conflict

Sales is a competitive discipline, but poor sales managers try to make it a full-contact sport. While some competition amongst sales reps can push them to greater success, in-fighting and backstabbing absolutely won’t.

Some internal competition amongst sales reps is normal and encouraged. It’s how this competition is managed and leveraged that matters.

If the outcome of competition is negative (like job vulnerability, pay cuts, or humiliation), the competition itself will be a pessimistic influence on the sales team. This leads to infighting, hostility, and people taking shortcuts to get ahead.

Competitions focused on positive reinforcement foster a culture of innovation, collaboration, and high quality work.

Creating an always-on-at-all-costs atmosphere

Expecting emails to be answered, within minutes of receipt, at all hours of the night. Making it an ordeal to take a personal or vacation day.

Managers who don’t understand that people need to turn off work mode, sometimes literally, don’t have the best interests of their employees at heart.

An always-on work culture is bad for productivity and worker health. Multitasking, interrupted sleep, and no quality of life outside work decrease efficiency and increase the risk of stress and stress-related health issues, including depression and anxiety.

Playing office politics instead of leading

A poor manager steps on their sales team to get ahead, maybe spending their time sucking up to the CEO or claiming sales reps’ smart ideas as their own.

Every workplace has complex interpersonal dynamics. But playing politics doesn’t have to be all sleazy manipulation for personal gain.

As a sales manager, it’s no longer just about you. Playing office politics effectively as a sales manager means advocating for your team, not just yourself. 

For example, you might need to do some political maneuvering to get your sales team the resources they need or to get the C-suite to approve an urgent update to your sales strategy in a timely manner.

Only caring about numbers

Numbers are important, but closing the deal at any cost is a sign of a bad sales manager. It shows a lack of care for the lead and for the sales rep. 

If the wrong reporting and metrics drive strategy, the human side of sales gets lost in the process.

Bad sales managers get caught up in vanity metrics or focus too intently on metrics that don’t boost productivity or close deals. 

They monitor too many trivial metrics and spend all their time creating and updating reports instead of investing in valuable hands-on sales team management.

Acting like a pylon on the road to success

A sales manager’s job is to empower the success of your sales team by removing impediments to your sales reps’ success.

Good sales managers give their salespeople the tools and techniques they need, then get out of the way so the salespeople can use their talents productively.

Poor sales managers hinder their team’s productivity. They ask for insignificant or redundant reporting, don’t provide the tools needed to reduce time spent on administrative tasks, hold inefficient sales meetings, and generally eat up sales rep selling time.

Oh, were you walking there?

Sure, cats are jerks, but sales managers don’t have to be

So, what’s the best way to prevent being remembered by your salespeople for all the wrong reasons? Consistently committing to being a great sales manager yourself.

Sales is notorious for high employee turnover. In B2B sales, the rep turnover rate is reported as anywhere from 10 to 50 percent. What are all these salespeople running away from?

You guessed it: bad sales managers. Up to 80 percent of B2B salespeople who leave a job cite incompetent sales leadership as major factors in their decision. And, it’s likely that those still working under bad managers have at least one foot out the door.

In fact, one of the most-searched phrases that includes the term “sales manager” is “Why are sales managers so often assholes?”

So, potential assholes, let’s stop the spread of jerks in sales management. How can you make sure you’re providing your sales team with what they want and need and none of what they don’t?

Create an optimal team culture

Culture is the basis of everything a company does, how they do it, and who they do it for. Everyone should buy into the mission statement, especially the sales team.

A good sales manager makes culture fit a big part of the sales rep hiring process. A collaborative, supportive, optimistic, open, and fun environment leads to sales success.

Champion continuous learning

You set the standard for the team. If you are sharing your skills and experience, and open to evolving and expanding upon them, your team will be excited to do the same.

Give salespeople consistent, constructive feedback on their techniques and provide one-on-one sales coaching as needed. Encourage sales rep career development with opportunities for training and advancement. 

When you invest in a sales rep’s career future, they’ll appreciate the support and confidence in them.

Recognize and reward success

Motivation isn’t just a black-framed poster on the wall. It’s what moves a sales rep from okay to great.

A quick Google search will tell you that there are tons of ways to recognize and reward sales reps for their successes.

Extravagant tangible ones, including new cars, and all-expense-paid trips, can be aspirational, but finding intrinsic, non-monetary motivators that work for your team, like a strong sense of purpose, can be just as powerful.   

Hold your sales reps accountable (without throwing anyone under the bus)

Sales managers are responsible for the sales team’s outcomes. They’re also in charge of their sales team’s accountability to these goals.

Be organized and on top of deadlines and to-dos to keep your sales team running like a well-oiled machine. 

Hold reps accountable to commitments made, like individual and team goals, and make sure that everyone knows exactly what is expected of them.

Streamlining your sales processes into a sales playbook adds efficiency and consistency to your sales team. It keeps everyone aligned with strategy and goals, making it easier to keep your salespeople on track and on target.

Have a clear vision for the future and a strategy for how to get there

Working with metrics and reporting helps you and your salespeople understand and organize work and effort around priorities. 

Keeping your sales reps accountable is easier when goals are clearly outlined and aren’t some sort of arbitrary number.  

Successful sales managers are able to operate in the past (metrics), the present (sales process), and the future (targets and strategy). Set reasonable, yet ambitious, targets and create a plan to meet them.

Have grace under fire

A sales career can mean experiencing lots of highs, like closing that big deal, but also some tougher times too. 

Sales reps appreciate having a sales manager who keeps an even keel, surfing the emotional wave of sales with them.

A good sales manager shows grace under fire when things get chaotic. They are open to, and embrace, change and pivot their strategy accordingly. 

And they don’t let any chaos or uncertainty they’re feeling trickle down to impact the rest of the team.

And, of course…

Trust your sales reps, and earn theirs

Driving results requires leadership and communication. Be hands-on and available. Essentially, lead and then get out of your sales reps’ way

Managing salespeople is a difficult and complicated job. So complex, in fact, that you could be thought of as an asshole sales manager and not even realize it. Even those leaders with the best of intentions could still inadvertently be committing some of the don’ts mentioned here.

Ultimately, sales management is about getting the best from your salespeople. Understanding that it’s more about the relationships than just the results is the best way to lead your team.

And, the best way to make sure your name doesn’t come up when salespeople start swapping sales manager horror stories.

How Not to Be an Asshole Sales Manager

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