Saturday Morning Sales

Kevin Latchford


The Sales Manager from Hell - September 27, 2014

Not every sales manager should be the sales manager. We’ve all experienced the sales manager from hell at least once in our careers, whether as a rep or as a buyer. So what defines a sales manager from hell and why should you run away from them?


Over the past several months I’ve been counseling a sales representative that was a one-time owner in his company. He and his partner sold their business a little over one year ago and as part of the transaction they were to remain onboard for a period of eighteen months. My client Dan has always been the top producing sales person in the company, and now even in a larger organization, he remains at the top. However, he is no longer the head of sales, but rather reports to the Vice President of the company. Enter the sales manager from hell.


Susan does not trust her employees. She requires employees to be in the office way to much when they should be visiting clients. She requires pre-approval for every expense, even when buying your client a cup of coffee, otherwise she refuses reimbursement. She threatens to put tracking on the sales reps cell phones so that she knows where they are at all times. She admits to reading the reps emails. And she contacts clients to check up on her reps. Trust in her team is a foreign concept to her.


Dan has been completely frustrated. The company he loved so much is now in the hands, at least partially, of a woman that has no idea how to sell, manage accounts, build relationships with clients, and trust in her reps to continue growth. Dan is beside himself and is visibly frustrated. As he comes close to the end of the eighteen month required stay period, it is clear that he is going to immediately leave. With Dan’s 20+ year career experience as an ‘A’ level sales person, you may be wondering why he’s asked me for help.


Dan’s frustration being under the thumb of the sales manager from hell is completely new to him. We’ve been working on how to handle the current situation so that he can exit amicably. But, Dan is concerned about what comes next. He has a non-competition agreement, so he’ll be seeking a new opportunity in a new industry. He’s concerned about entering another organization and being managed by another Susan. It’s been my job to assure him that the Susan’s of the sales world are the minority.


 Sales managers from hell can be toxic to both an organization and the sales reps within. Most ‘A’ level sales people know how to avoid these managers or work around them. They know what to look out for and are careful to manage themselves rather than letting the sales manager from hell take control. So, I’ve been helping Dan identify the characteristics to avoid: (1) keep an eye out for the overly personal questions, maybe skirting the HR boundaries just enough, from the person you will be reporting to; (2) be upfront about your own working style, schedule, time management, etc. and watch carefully the visible reactions from the sales manager (read their body language for agreement or discomfort); (3) ask as many or more questions of the sales manager as they are asking of you (an interview with a new company or for a promotion in your own company is a two way conversation); and, (4) whenever possible, place the sales manager into hypothetical scenarios, and have them explain their management style.


This is an approach recommended for any interview process, but it is very important to use the scenarios as the key to make sure your methodology for selling is a match for the person you’ll be reporting to. And as for Dan, he’s going to come out on top, while Susan’s very bad flaws will eventually be her demise. Sales managers from hell always lose in the end.

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