How to Recognize and Improve Your Sales Management Style

This post originally appeared here in the Selling Power blog.

You’ve done everything right and still sales are lagging. You put in a new CRM system. You trained the sales team on the new selling process. You aligned the CRM system to support that process and you hired new superstar reps. Check, check, check. The only thing missing is results. The question you should be asking is: “Why? What have I missed?”

The answer probably lies with your sales managers. Most organizations have not trained their sales managers to execute on the job on a day-to-day basis. The sales manager touches every large sales opportunity, every key client and every sales rep.

Yet, for a number of reasons, most organizations overlook them when seeking to improve sales performance. Lacking training on how to do their jobs well each day, most sales managers default to one of two management styles. Recognizing which style your managers use may help you better understand how training can make them more productive.


Firefighters are at the beck and call of their team, working 60-70 hours a week, constantly putting out fires for employees, and rarely, if ever, having time to talk because their schedule is chaotic. Firefighters were often service-oriented top account managers (“farmers”) before becoming managers. As sales managers, they tend to try to duplicate that success by providing a high level of service to their team. As a consequence, they run from one fire to the next but are seldom able to provide strategic direction or guidance.


Frequently former sales superstars, Rainmakers received promotions based on their stellar success in closing larger deals – and they want to help their teams do the same by closing deals their reps have identified as opportunities. These managers often display few coaching and development skills, so team sales results are often hit or miss and overly reliant upon the closing of sufficient mega deals.

When these two types of managers dominate, sales rep training sales tools will make little impact on sales leaders’ desire to improve sales results. Fortunately, the strategic manager may be able to ride to the rescue! This third category typically consists of a small number of individuals. Some may have learned the tricks of the trade from a successful boss, and others tend naturally to have the traits of the strategic manager.


Leaders work a reasonable number of hours a week, are well liked by their peers, seem relaxed and comfortable, and yet their teams consistently hit their numbers. Can it really be this simple? In some ways, yes. Leaders are driven by the strategic application of a management rhythm plus developmental coaching that focuses them and their teams on the right sales activities. The result is beneficial all around: not only does the leader develop a cadre of high-performing salespeople, the latter frequently remain with their employers and go on to be top-performing managers in their own right. A win-win situation.

So how do you turn Firefighters and Rainmakers into Leaders? You offer them sales management training. The turnaround in sales results is almost always extremely rewarding. For example:

  • At Gates Corp., a leading global manufacturer of industrial automotive products, sales management training led to the sales force doubling its close rate while bringing new business won into line with the company’s strategic plan.
  • At KI, a manufacturer of innovative furniture and movable wall system solutions, following implementation of sales management training in a district, revenue grew 30 percent year-over-year after a period of almost zero growth.
  • At the U.S. division of a global technology manufacturer, a sales excellence initiative aimed in large part at equipping sales managers for success led to:
    • A sharp uptick in quarter-over-quarter results
    • A fourth-quarter 30 percent increase in sales over Q3
    • $12 million in new orders over forecasts

When you look at these outcomes, the question is, can you afford not to transform your Firefighters and Rainmakers into Leaders? New research from Vantage Point and the Sales Management Association shows the cost of a low-performing sales manager is a whopping $3.5 million. How much is it costing you?