Sales Manager Quiz:
What is Your Mindset?

The shift from salesperson to sales manager involves a change in mindset. It is not a sales job on steroids. It is a fundamentally different job. Until the manager gets into the right mindset, it is very difficult to coach, must less coach effectively.

The following quiz is designed to help you get real about your current beliefs. To examine how you truly feel about the content of your job. Your beliefs drive your actions. Your actions determine your peace or lack thereof. Your actions and the choices you make also determine your effectiveness in managing your team. To that end, we’d like for you to consider whether the following statements are true or false – for you. No one else needs to know what is in your head, but it certainly helps for you to know. How you feel about the following statements is an indicator of your current sales management mindset.

True or False?

1. As a sales manager, you are responsible for everything involving your team.
2. You are required to make all important decisions.
3. To be an effective sales manager, you must be an expert in all sales-related areas.
4. If you can do something better and faster, it is much more efficient and effective to do it yourself.
5. It is best not to get too granular about expectations because your salespeople will feel micromanaged.

If you are like most sales managers taking this quiz (and thousands have taken it before you), you are feeling a bit exposed. You may have realized that you were being set up. You may have some intellectual reaction that the right response to the statements is false, but these statements feel very true for you. They feel true in a visceral way, one that gets your gut twisted and begins to make you feel defensive in a very self-righteous way. If that’s how you feel, good. We’ve gotten your attention. Now that we have your attention, let’s discuss each statement in a bit more detail to help you get into a more helpful frame of mind.

The Quiz – Unpacked

1. As a sales manager, you are responsible for everything involving your team
You’re the boss, the buck stops with you. Agreed. That’s true. However, being responsible is not the same as being accountable. You are truly accountable for the performance of your team. You are not responsible for everything your salespeople need to do to perform.

This distinction between responsibility and accountability is an important one and is at the heart of much angst. The sales manager that feels responsible is the one that feels the need to have all the answers, to be the super closer. This is the sales manager that is in a constant state of panic and feels insecure much of the time.

Contrast this with the sales manager that feels accountable and knows the importance of holding his team members accountable for doing their part. This is the sales manager that is willing to allow salespeople to solve some of their own problems.

2. You are required to make all important decisions

While it is probably advisable for you to be involved in decisions of a certain magnitude — like pricing approvals or contractual obligations — it is also true that there are routine decisions that can be made at the salesperson level. Many sales managers unconsciously become bottle necks in the sales process because sellers believe that they need approval for all decisions. In the psychological literature, there is a term called learned helplessness. It is a state of mind where subjects are conditioned over time to avoid making decisions. Being highly controlling as a sales manager often creates this sort of mindset by requiring sellers to constantly seek approval and/or permission. This approach is inadvisable for you and downright unhealthy for your salespeople. Don’t do it. Getting clear on the types of decisions that could truly benefit from your involvement will give your salespeople more autonomy and allow them to feel more empowered.

3. To be an effective sales manager, you must be an expert in all sales-related areas

There is no doubt that you were a successful salesperson. The proof is that you were promoted and are now a sales manager. It is the rare case that mediocre salespeople are promoted to sales manager. So, for argument’s sake, let’s assume you know how to sell. Knowing how to sell is only part of the task.

The world of sales is a rapidly changing environment. Customers change their buying patterns, new products are developed, and new approaches to selling are required. You may change industries or find yourself managing a sales team with roles that were very different from the sales jobs you’ve had. In sales, very little is stable over time. It is virtually impossible to keep up with the myriad of changes that occur and be expert on all of them.

The most effective sales managers don’t have all the answers, which they will readily admit. They are willing to get the answers they don’t have and they are willing to leverage the expertise available to them, including the expertise of the salespeople they manage. They don’t let their ego get in the way of progress.

4. If you can do something better and faster, it is much more efficient and effective to do it yourself

This is arguably the thorniest item in the quiz. It is also a bit controversial because we include the words efficiency and effectiveness in the statement. While it may be more efficient in the short-term to do something yourself – such as submit that expense report or get an answer to a billing question – it is not a good long-term strategy. Although occasionally completing one of your salespeople’s tasks may not be problematic, doing this regularly for your entire sales team is the kiss of death.

Those of you who are parents understand this dilemma. Kids and salespeople are a lot alike. They are masters at getting others to do what they want. Whether it is resolving billing issues or doing the math homework. It is the same thing. Keep the responsibility where it belongs as often as you can, with the salesperson.

5. It is best not to get too granular about expectations because your salespeople will feel micromanaged

Most of us have had managers that we considered micromanagers. We didn’t like it. We felt it was a waste of time and energy. So, what is micromanaging – and why does it feel bad? Micromanaging is the act of digging into details of one’s work until it feels invasive, or inappropriate, given the situation. If feels bad because to the salesperson it may feel like a lack of trust.

The reality is that micromanagement is often the result of unclear expectations and typically occurs because the manager feels the salespeople are either not doing the right things, or are doing things the wrong way. Oftentimes, there is a significant difference between your perspective and the perspective of your salespeople. Let’s use the example of lead follow-up. A salesperson might think that an email response is completely sufficient, whereas your perspective is that an initial phone call is more appropriate, followed by a series of emails. This is a big disconnect in expectations and could possibly lead to micromanagement.

In his book “Leading Change,” John Kotter estimates the gap between what we intend to communicate versus what people hear is off by a factor of 10. That is a staggering gap! Closing this perspective gap is important for effective sales management. If we continue with the example of lead follow-up, it would be useful to provide expectations regarding the timeliness of follow-up, say within two hours of receiving the lead. It would also be useful to be highly specific regarding the type of follow-up that is required. If it is a balance of phone calls and emails, how many, and in what timeframe. These expectations should be made very concrete and reinforced over time through dialog between the manager and the salespeople.

The most effective sales managers are crystal clear about what they expect from their salespeople. They communicate their expectations clearly and in very concrete ways. They put these expectations in writing to avoid confusion. They also reinforce expectations in relevant conversations with their salespeople. This clarity of communication helps sales managers feel more secure because it improves the likelihood that salespeople will do the right things. It helps salespeople by removing ambiguity regarding their jobs. Salespeople working in these conditions don’t waste mental energy trying to figure out what their sales manager wants. We will explore the best way to create this clarity of expectations in later chapters.