Micromanaging of Salespeople is Not a Good Strategy

Years ago, as an accountant, I reported to a manager named Bob.  One day, I excused myself and went to the restroom, and when I returned, Bob said, “Steve, you took too long.” My response was, “What?” Then he said, “You took 8 minutes.  I can go to the bathroom and back in 4 minutes.”  I responded, “Good for you.”  The conversation was very insulting and degrading. Should I hurry my time in the restroom to keep my manager happy?  Did the 4 minutes matter? What about proper hygiene? There were other similar incidents where Bob watched over me every minute, so I didn’t stay at that company very long.  He made me feel like a teenager being watched by a suspicious parent.

I assume it was a management practice to micromanage workers to increase productivity. But did it do so? We now know that training workers to do their jobs with minimal supervision is a much better practice and results in greater productivity – and the staff will want to remain with the company. Looking back at this management method now, it seems almost comical that it was the prevailing management practice.

Perhaps this practice transferred from the management of factory processes, where a foreman watched over the workers, who were typically paid a wage per hour and often represented by labor unions.  It was assumed that the workers would not work as diligently if the foreman weren’t carefully watching over them.  Recently, many factory workers have been replaced by robots, and the remaining workers require higher skills than their predecessors. Also, perhaps because of technology and updated management practices, close supervision no longer occurs.

Micromanagement also doesn’t work for today’s sales managers either.  Sales managers cannot be on every sales pro’s calls.  And they cannot direct them what to do.  Sales pros must receive the proper onboarding and training to be mostly self-sufficient.

Contented workers are more productive. Disgruntled workers are not only less productive; they cause morale problems, may harass other employees, can sabotage or damage a company’s plant or equipment, or may seek to organize workers into an adversarial arrangement.

There is also a fine line between a sales manager being “hands-on,” which is desirable, versus micromanaging, which is not.  And most sales managers seem to have difficulty delegating some tasks.

Most sales managers have 3 to 12 sales pros and sales support people reporting to them, so micromanaging will also not scale for them.  The prevailing sales management practices are that sales pros’ daily activities must also be closely supervised.  This includes scrutinizing their pipelines and questioning their forecasts. But is this the best practice?  I suggest that sales managers focus on the following five activities:

  • Staffing. Do you have the best team of sales pros reporting to you? How do you know? Are you fully staffed? Have you determined what your desired hiring profile is? Do you have a plan for dealing with your low performers? What are you doing to nurture your mediocre performers to improve and your high performers to continue closing more sales?
  • Internal obstacles. Are you removing or mitigating internal barriers that prevent sales pros from closing sales? These include onerous paperwork, unnecessary meetings, complex CRM systems, and, very often, the company’s legal department. Are you representing your sales teams’ suggestions and concerns to upper management?
  • Pipeline management. Are you current on all the significant opportunities in your team’s pipeline? Do you know what needs to happen for the opportunities forecasted to close this month? Are you adding value to your sales pro’s efforts to close them?
  • One-on-one” coaching. Are you coaching your sales pros individually to help them improve their competencies? Do you accompany them on sales calls and debrief them afterward?
  • Morale and team building. What are you doing to improve the morale and build the teamwork of your sales team? If so, what are you doing to address any mental health issues? Are you meeting the unique needs of your female sales pros?

Just like managing factory workers, micromanaging sales pros doesn’t work. Those who practice this style, and there still are some, will soon be relics of the past.  Sales pros need to treated as professionals by their managers.