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Tips for Business Owners Who Want to Be Effective Sales Managers

By Harriett Greenbaum and Lawrence Kohn

In many businesses, the owner is also the sales manager. Adding sales management to the job of overseeing the entire business can be daunting, espe-cially when sales are slow and sales reps need extra attention. This article provides some prac-tical tips for helping business owners become more effective in managing their sales force.

The process of becoming a better sales manager starts with an understanding of the universal obstacles. Sales reps, who have not experienced the benefits of effective management, are usually hostile to being managed. They resent the paperwork and procedures imposed by the company. They would prefer to be left alone and are not shy about voicing their complaints.

Additionally, owners frequently feel entitled to top performers who never need to be managed Inevitably, they get frustrated with under-performing, non-responsive sales reps. Since the owners may not be familiar with effective management tech-niques, they resort to a more aggressive version of the same ineffective techniques they were using before. This, of course, only creates more hostility. Or, they become intimidated by the complaints of the reps and find it easier to avoid sales manage-ment all together. Unfortunately, this lack of communication usually results in a downward spiral.

The good news is that owners who learn how to manage the sales force find out that people actually enjoy being well man-aged. They work harder and smarter. They’re happier. The increased morale and productivity reduce turnover. Their enthusiasm is contagious. Prospective customers get more excited and are more likely to commit sooner and for more dollars. After the sale, customers get better service, stay loyal longer and buy more products and services.

Here are five suggestions for overcoming the obstacles and managing your sales force more effectively:

1. Take responsibility for the performance of your staff.

Owners should stop automati-cally blaming the sales reps for their less-than-stellar perform-ance. They do not necessarily have a character defect and are not inherently lazy. More often, sales forces fail due to inadequate leadership. Rather than thinking, “They’re not getting it,” perhaps you’re not giving train-ing, motivation and structure. It’s been our experience that most people can dramatically improve their selling when they are supported by leaders who take responsibility for providing the necessary tools.

2. Open and maintain quality lines of communication.

A sales force must be in constant contact with manage-ment. Owners need to know the status of the sales effort and garner insights from the field. Sales reps need to be updated on changes in products, services and systems They also need to learn new sales techniques.

Since no one wants to waste time, the meetings should not be too frequent and must have a clear agenda. We recommend that each sales rep have at least one private meeting per month with the owner. The meeting can be brief and give both owner and sales rep an opportunity to bring each other up to date. The meeting can be conducted via telephone to make it easier to implement.

The sales force should also meet monthly to discuss needs, obstacles and best practices. Everyone can provide sugges-tions for creative approaches and efficient processes.

Both the individual and group meetings must be conducted in an energetic, positive way with a sincere desire to provide positive support. This is not a time for soapbox lectures, brag-ging, fear- mongering, shaming or guilt trips. Boring and/or negative meetings will be met with justifiably strong resistance.

3. Set clear expectations.

Lack of performance is often the result of an insufficient under-standing of the assignment. Owners must be precise about the details of their expectations, i.e. strategies to be implemented, number of calls to be made and revenue goals to be met.

One concern is that people don’t like being held accountable, which they know the employer can easily do, once clear-cut expectations have been set.

The solution is for the owner and each sales rep to reach agree-ment on the expectations. These expectations should be a “stretch,” however, the rep must consider them achievable or they won’t even try.

4. Provide recognition

Too often, owners believe that compensation alone is adequate recognition. The fact is most sales reps, even stellar performers, need more than money to feel motivated. They need to feel appreciated, respected and connected to both the owner and the company.

There are obstacles to providing recognition. Business owners may not be familiar with recogni-tion techniques. They may not feel comfortable giving recognition. Or, they are not sure how to customize recognition for individual employees.

Techniques for showing appreci-ation always include a sincere thank you or sincere congratula-tions and can happen in conjunction with everything from a handshake to monetary rewards.

To recognize a person ade-quately, owners really have to know their sales reps – what they like, what their interests are. This requires an investment of time. The investment of time in learning about sales reps is seen as being caring, respectful and appreciative. Once owners know what motivates a rep, they will find it easier to give recognition.

5. Establish a “Commitment Culture.”

Owners must create an environ-ment in which everyone lives up to the commitments they make. This may appear difficult in most companies because people have failed to live up to their commitments so often that it appears as though failure to follow-through is standard operating procedure.

To solve this problem, owners must embrace a zero tolerance for failure to live up to commit-ments. Everyone must be informed about the new policy and educated about the dramatic benefits of creating a Commitment Culture. Living up to commitments builds trust. When people can trust each other, they can feel more confi-dent in their ability to serve customers. That results in more sales as well as a more pleasant working environment.

To create a Commitment Culture, everyone must be notified that all commitments are to be taken seriously. An agreement to implement even the smallest task is a commitment. Remind everyone that trust is built in small steps.

Since every agreement is a commitment, everyone must learn to give adequate consider-ation prior to making a commit-ment People need to get clear about the details. What are the quality standards? Who should be in the “loop?” What is the deadline? In most cases, commitments will have to be negotiated to meet the needs of everyone involved. Of course, if circumstances arise that derail a commitment, people need to learn to notify the affected parties instantly, and negotiate new commitments at that time. Procrastinating to notify people about the potential of not meet-ing commitments hurts credibility and weakens a Commitment Culture.


Performing the duties of a sales manager requires clarity, skills, patience, and persistence. It is easy to become frustrated with the pressure and the personalities. However, by implementing these five sales management techniques, business owners can create a supportive and motivational environment in which sales reps, and subse-quently the company, can prosper.

Harriett Greenbaum and Lawrence Kohn are colleagues in Kohn Communications, a consulting firm that provides coaching to business owners, executives, marketing directors, sales managers and sales reps. They can be reached at 310 652-1442 or you can visit their website at