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Don't manage salespeople, mentor them

Mar 1, 2004 12:00 AM

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During recent years, I've written extensively about the changing role and relationship between the print salesperson and customer service representative. This issue has assumed some immediacy because of customers' increasing reliance upon customer service reps and a growing compensation discrepancy between the two positions.

Little dialogue has been devoted to the role of the sales manager in this dynamic buyer-seller environment. That role should be fundamentally changing in response to the conditions of the marketplace, but is typically slow — or resistant — to change due to industry paradigms, a lack of understanding of the “new marketplace” and company history. The sales manager should be an active change agent in today's business climate and he/she should view his or her own success in terms of subordinates' success.

There's an assumption that, when a company reaches a certain size, it should have a sales manager. Unfortunately, the sales manager selection process often merely consists of the coronation of a productive, loyal salesperson. Rarely is an actual attempt made to identify the skills such a position should require. In fact, since the sales manager is often expected to sell part-time on top of managing, designating individuals with such skills might just be an exercise in futility.

More than a sales controller

What does a sales manager do? Companies that have pondered this question and developed a thoughtful job description are, in my experience, few and far between. When asked the question, owners and CEOs frequently act as though the answer is self-evident: “The sales manager manages the sales force, of course.”

The expectation is usually that the sales manager functions as a sales controller, monitoring and directing the physical activities of subordinates. This typically includes obtaining and reading sales reps' call reports and expense reports, monitoring sales and profit performance, conducting sales meetings and taking steps to ensure that salespeople spend as much time as possible outside of the office.

If this characterization misrepresents the daily activities of many, if not most, sales managers, it is a characterization shared by nearly all sales reps. In a national study of several thousand graphic-arts salespeople, sponsored by Hammermill Papers and GASF, a central theme emerged: salespeople issued a call for help for themselves and their customers — and they don't believe that their reports and sales meetings are being used to their full potential.

Much of this feedback begs the question of the role of the sales manager. The title “sales manager” reflects the dilemma. The focus in recent years has shifted to customers and steps that can be taken to help them achieve their respective business objectives. In the current business environment, salespeople can no longer be treated as the sole instrument of sales generation.

Teaching the team

Today's role of the sales manager is, among other things, creating more competent subordinates and customers — and representing the marketplace within his/her own company. The role calls for expertise in communicating both within and outside of the company. Success needs to be defined in terms of the success of others.

The word “mentoring” is increasingly used in describing the duties of the sales manager. Here is the litmus test of a well-run sales meeting: attendees are more knowledgeable and competent at the end of the meeting than they were at the beginning.

Time devoted exclusively or mostly to “motivation” is unfortunate. Motivation without information is little more than cheerleading. “Sales leadership” is becoming a more appropriate term than “sales management.”

Companies would be well served if the role and position of the sales manager were put under the microscope to ensure that the interest of customers, sales, support staff and others in the company are well served. The roles of the CEO, customer service rep, salesperson, prepress operator, delivery person and others have changed in the recent past. In many companies, it is now just as important to question and redefine the role and duties of the sales manager.

Dick Gorelick is president of Gorelick & Associates and the Graphic Arts Sales Foundation (GASF). Contact him at