Salesperson + Sales Manager = Failure

Posted by Doug Davidoff

Nov 19, 2008 4:20:50 AM

I realize that I am not the first person to say that you cannot effectively combine the role of salesperson with the role of sales manager or sales leader - but, let me be the latest.  The entire premise that allows otherwise reasonable and intelligent people to even consider this idea is based on the flawed premise that either:

  • Neither has to be a full time job, or

  • The roles are complementary, or

  • The only way that a company can afford the intelligence and knowledge of a VP level person is by asking/requiring them to cover their overhead costs through sales.

All three premises are flawed (I'll address each in a minute) and the failure to understand this leads to as much wasted resource and frustration as any other aspect of a company's sales and marketing efforts.  Just today, I'm in the midst of helping two prospective companies untangle these issues.

Let's take a look at each premise:

Neither has to be a full time job:

Rooted in the idea that "she only needs to manage 30% of the time, so she can sell the other 70%;" the flaw here is that the key limiting factor in selling is time.  This is not true - the limiting factor is attention (often called bandwidth).  Selling and managing may not require full-"time" each, but they certainly require full-"attention".

Both selling and sales management require one's full, complete and total focus.  Diverting the attention significantly increases the likelihood that neither function is done well.  While other disciplines require excellence, there is virtually no such thing as mediocre sales performance. It's either excellent or not-acceptable.

Complementary Roles:

I'm always amazed at the number of people who freely admit that selling is a far different skill than managing.  Then they proceed in a constant search of the "unicorn" who can and will do both things well.  From there, the justifications begin.

Let me clear, I am not saying that someone cannot be a great salesperson and a great sales manager - I'm clearly saying they cannot be great doing both at the same time (as a matter of fact, the odds clearly say they can't be good at either if they try to do both).  Selling and managing/leading require different disciplines, different thought processes.  One has to dominate the other to be successful.  It's a question of what do you think about when you go to sleep.  Do you think about leveraging your sales team or do you think about leveraging your pipeline?  If you think about both, neither is getting enough attention.


The rationale has the benefit of being true, in that most companies under $25 million of gross profit can not justify the resources needed to retain an excellent VP level person without requiring them to produce revenue to offset their costs.  It becomes a chicken or egg type question - do I hire the VP level capability before I get the revenue; and if I can't afford to do that, how do I get the revenue?  This "damned if I do, damned if I don't" predicament is what leads companies to make the bad decision of mixing the roles (for the reasons mentioned above).

Unfortunately, it's not as easy as merely eating the expense associated with hiring a VP level person and asking them to manage alone.  Why?  Because rarely does a company under $25 million in gross profit have the resources or the complexity to be attractive to the type of person they need.  Simply put, good managers like to manage - and good leaders like to lead.  Companies under $25 million GP can rarely afford to have more than one leader - and that leader needs to be the CEO.

So what can you do when you need management/leadership and you need people to sell.  Stay tuned to my next post (and many more in the future).

Topics: B2B Sales Strategy