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Three Invisible Traps Tripped by Managers of Sales Managers

Can managers of sales managers who possess strong coaching and leadership skills really be blind to their key opportunities to have impact? Yes! While most are doing what they believe makes a difference, their efforts and good intentions aren’t necessarily improving their sales managers’ performance. What is it they can’t see that, if they could, would make all the difference?


The biggest invisible trap is the unconscious habit of focusing the coaching conversation on the salesperson.

Typical scenario: The one-on-one with the sales manager involves discussing each salesperson’s performance and what the salesperson needs to do. There is little discussion of what the sales manager needs to do differently.

When this scenario plays out on a regular basis, the sales manager is basically left off the hook and unaccountable for his/her actions…AND he/she is given no help to become a better sales manager.

Breakthrough tip: Focus the coaching conversation on the sales manager: what he/she is supposed to be doing, diagnosing what is or isn’t working with his/her activities, and helping him/her improve at executing critical sales management activities.


All managers at all levels look at the final sales results because that’s what the game is about: hitting sales goals. However, this is the second invisible trap – one that hides important realities of the sales manager’s performance.

Typical scenario: A sales manager hits their top line number by relying upon a few high performers, allowing average performers (the movable middle) to have flat YOY performance and/or not addressing performance problems with the bottom.

Not seeing the real performance of a sales manager is what leads to the common scenario of a small portion of the salespeople bringing in a significant amount of the sales. This is a problem because one of the best ways to grow sales is to get a larger number of salespeople achieving their sales goals. Not paying attention to how well the sales manager gets all of his/her people performing disguises the opportunity.

Breakthrough tip: Set expectations and assess the sales manager on performance metrics such as: 1) What percentage of salespeople are hitting sales goals, 2) What percentage improvement did a targeted group of salespeople achieve (middle 60% of the team), or 3) Moving the bottom performers up or out.


“Walk the Talk” may be well known, but managers of sales managers forget its significance when implementing any organizational change, making it the third invisible trap.

Typical scenario: New strategies, initiatives, processes, and programs are introduced which should require significant change by the sales managers. The manager of the sales manager, however, proceeds to do what they’ve always done and not change anything in what or how they coach or manage the sales manager. This leaves the sales managers questioning what is really expected and uninspired to make any real change.

If the manager of sales managers doesn’t right-way model how to incorporate the new expectation into the new business as usual, their ability to lead sales transformation and improve their organization’s performance is significantly diminished.

Breakthrough tip: Recognize that managers of sales managers must be the first to change; that’s what leaders do. Take the time to determine how you can best model, at your level, whatever’s being expected of your sales managers.

To be a great leader of sales managers, you have to learn to avoid the three invisible traps that prevent you from having real impact. Challenge yourself to focus on and execute your job – not theirs – and experience the difference in your sales managers’ improved performance.

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