The “Incompetent” Sales Manager Who Gets Sales Results

Recently, I read a good sales article “Dismantling the Sales Machine - Harvard Business Review”. It is a plea for sales managers and sales people to rely less on “canned” processes and controls and more on insight to manage the business.

As with many sales books and articles, it is heavy on theory and light on operational insights. This is  a problem. In our consulting experience, high performing sales organizations are full of great sales people led by great managers. It is never the other way around.

The article made me think of a very successful sales manager I had when I first started as a salesperson. At first, I thought he was an “incompetent” sales manager. It turned out that he was a brilliant sales manager. While most other sales managers were directed to manage through the rigid formula, control and process, our sales manager seemed to “fumble around” the formula and control part.

Our sales manager was strong on direction and leadership but was flexible and adaptable. I was already strong performer before he came to be our boss. At our first meeting, I brought in my proposals for his review. He said to me that I really was much stronger at sales proposals than he was and why don’t we move onto something else.

I followed with a discussion about very large opportunity that I had unearthed. I asked if he would attend the initial meeting. He said that I was much persuasive than he was and that I would do fine alone. I was stunned.

Yes, there were discussions about prospect levels, opportunities and targeted accounts, but the normal mindless process and activity discussions were absent. It left me somewhat confused. Especially when I found out he was much more process and control minded with our low performers.

He made me a better sales person by supporting me while at the same time holding me accountable. But his best gift to me was that he made me a much better first and second line sales manager. As most of us find out, sales management and selling is much more about the application of the science of selling and management than just knowing it. I am quite certain, my "incompetent" manager read no books, articles or attended training workshops on how to manage. He understood the business and was a leader.

There are no “magic formulas” in selling and sales management.  Great selling requires knowledge of what and who we are selling to, great sales skills and knowing what sales process is required.  The key is not in theory or even knowing what is right but in the correct application of these areas to the right selling situation. At Intellective Solutions, we call this "Intellective Selling". 

Good luck and good selling