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August 11, 2020

Sales Managers Need to Be Sales Leaders

I struck a nerve last week.

The article I wrote – ‘Why full-time sales reps fail in our industry’ – was one of the most widely-read articles that I’ve written in the past 8 years. It also generated a lot of engagement and comments on LinkedIn.

But there’s more to the topic than was covered last week. So, this week, I want to talk about a couple of common sales tactics that – in most cases – are executed very poorly in our industry. And why that happens.

These tactics, which are closely related, are selling on LinkedIn and selling via email. What triggered this article – even more than the reaction to the article last week – were the two examples below. Each of which I received in the last few days.

Selling on LinkedIn

‘Social selling’ is first and foremost… ‘social.’ It’s about connecting, engaging and using the platform to establish a relationship. Though it takes time, it can be very effective… but most sales reps are not willing to be patient and do what’s necessary to help the relationship unfold.

Here’s what happened to me: Two days after accepting an invitation to connect with another ‘professional’ in our industry, I received a very salesy note via LinkedIn messaging that said (and I’m paraphrasing, but not by much), “Since we’re both in the Market Research industry, can we schedule a call so I can sell you my products?” Here’s the problem with that:

  1. I don’t know this person or her company. Never heard of them.
  2. She did not try to engage with me or build any sort of relationship. She just wanted to pitch her products.
  3. And, in fact, if she had actually looked at my LinkedIn profile, she would have seen what my firm does and that we just don’t need what she’s selling.

Badly done!

Selling via email

This next example not only follows the mistakes made above, but the way in which he did it was just awful.

  1. Like above, I don’t know this person, though I think I might have heard of his company.
  2. He didn’t try to engage with me… just sell.
  3. I had no need of his products, either.

But what really caught my eye was the actual content of his email. In a very short 3-paragragh message, he used the word ‘we’ 9 times! The entire email was about them, what they did and how ‘awesome’ they were.

Even if I could have used the products he was selling, I would not have responded. In the email, he never once said how we would benefit by using his products or that he understood at least one of my business challenges or how he would address those challenges. Bottom line: he never answered the question a real buyer would have been asking as they read the email… “So what?”

Really badly done.


The examples above really did happen to me in the last week. And it was not an anomaly… I seem to be a magnet for this kind of poorly executed selling. So, here’s the question…

Is bad selling behavior the fault of sales reps or sales managers?

While it would be easy to blame sales reps… most likely (and in keeping with the theme from last week’s article), it’s the ‘sales managers’ who are at fault. And for a number of possible reasons:

  • The sales managers might not have known that this sort of bad behavior was going on. And they should have.
  • The sales managers might have known what was happening and thought it was OK… they just didn’t know any better. So, they couldn’t provide any sort of guidance to their sales reps.
  • The sales managers might have known and really liked this sort of approach. Encouraged it even.
  • The sales managers – often without much in the way of sales management skills or experience – were just happy that their sales reps were doing something. Anything. Then they could report to their firm’s owners that the sales team has been really busy.

Like the old phrase says, “It takes two to tango.” And just like dancing – someone has to lead and someone has to follow. In this case, the sales managers must lead. But only if they know how to. When they don’t know, they are incapable of providing the direction, guidance or coaching that their sales reps need to be successful. And without that sort of sales leadership, the sales program is doomed to failure. Every time.


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