Rookie Move: 3 Big Mistakes First-Time Sales Managers Make

July 3, 2013

Avoid these rookie sales manager mistakes before you strike out and turn into a micromanaging monster.

 sales manager mistakes
In most professions, rookies, or first-timers, are given a certain degree of leeway to make mistakes. After all, the only way to learn is to try. And trying something new almost invariably leads to surprises if not errors.
That’s certainly true in the world of sales management, says sales consultant Jim Keenan, who operates A Sales Guy Consultancy and was recently named one of OpenView’s Top 25 Sales Influencers for 2013.
“No one’s perfect and it’s almost expected that first-time sales managers will screw up at some point,” Keenan says. “It’s part of a learning curve, and the hope is that rookie sales managers can take those mistakes and grow into better leaders because of them.”
That being said, Keenan says there are some mistakes that first-time sales managers should avoid at all costs. Because if they make them, those flaws can sink their careers before they ever have a chance to take off.
“We’re not talking about botching a sales forecast or forgetting to host weekly sales reviews,” says Keenan. “The really dangerous mistakes are the ones that indicate inherent character flaws, or make it very difficult for the sales team to respect the new sales manager. If you make those types of mistakes, the tide can turn against you pretty quickly.”

Are You an Overbearing Micromanager? 

So, which types of mistakes would be classified under that category?
There are several types of mistakes that Keenan could classify under the “you make these you fail” category, but the former B2B sales executive says most rookie mistakes can be attributed to one of three core issues:

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  1. Trying to take too much control, too quickly. These types of rookie managers are overly prescriptive and tend to tell everyone what to do, instead of working with them to do it. They’re micromanagers who often get too involved in their salespeople’s day-to-day activities and demand unnecessary work, just for the sake of demanding it.
  2. Being a know-it-all: No one likes a leader who acts like he or she has all the answers, Keenan says, particularly if that leader is a first-time manager with lightweight credentials. Keenan says managers who make this mistake typically refuse to invest the time necessary to truly understand their salespeople’s point of view, which can quickly cause an unfixable rift.
  3. Talking too much: Rather than opening their ears and encouraging salespeople to communicate their problems or frustrations, these managers suck the air out of the room. They host meetings just to talk at – not with – their salespeople, and rarely pause long enough to ask for responses or feedback.

What can happen if first-time sales managers commit any one of those mistakes?
The biggest risk, Keenan says, is creating a combative environment in which salespeople resent their manager, choose not to communicate problems, and refuse to comply with processes.
“Those are hugely problematic byproducts of poor leadership,” Keenan says. “If first-time sales managers aren’t careful, they can take root pretty quickly. And that kind of employee malcontent can be pretty difficult to repair.”

How to Avoid Falling into the Rookie Manager Abyss

The good news is that Keenan says most first-time managers can skirt those issues by doing three very simple things:

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  1. Displaying empathy for sales reps’ struggles: Rather than immediately scolding salespeople who are struggling to hit their numbers or are in need of direction to overcome a sales challenge, first-time sales managers should try to empathize with reps by sharing their own previous experience and brainstorming ways to fix the problem, Keenan says.
  2. Taking time to listen: Whether it’s through weekly performance reviews or daily sit down meetings, it’s critical that sales managers stop talking long enough to understand their reps’ needs — from sales support to organizational challenges. Keenan says that will make them feel more involved and prevent them from immediately going on the defensive. 
  3. Communicating a vision to the team: According to Keenan, there’s nothing more motivating than giving people the opportunity to own their situation and control their destiny. If sales managers can give their teams something to aspire to and encourage them to take responsibility for that vision, they’ll stand a far better chance of capturing their team’s attention.

“The bottom line is that the term ‘manager’ is kind of a misnomer,” Keenan says. “You really need to be more of an advisor and a mentor, working with your team to help them achieve their goals. If you’re too focused on dictating responsibilities and tasks, you won’t be able to do that and it won’t be long until your team begins to resent you for it.”

What sales manager mistakes did you make starting out? How did you learn from them?

CEO & President

<strong>Jim Keenan</strong> is founder and Senior Partner of <a href="">A Sales Guy Consulting</a>. He has over 15 years of sales and executive sales leadership with particular experience in sales process, and sales team development. Prior to that he was also founder and CEO of <a href=""></a>.