Sales leadership don'ts #1 Don’t take over and do it for them!

Sales leadership don'ts #1 Don’t take over and do it for them!

What should you not do if you want to be a great sales manager? This question was posted in a LinkedIn sales leadership group a while ago and the comments literally flooded in from sales people and managers around the world – more than 600 at the last count – some calm and matter-of-fact, some very passionate and clearly as a result of painful experiences!

This represents a great source of real-world wisdom for anyone wanting to become skilled in the art of sales management.  

Over the next few weeks we will be publishing a series of blogs drawn from this invaluable source of know-how

The first theme – Don’t take over and do it for them

This had more comments than anything else. Here are some highlights of what not to do….

  • Don’t do their jobs! They sell and you manage.
  • A good sales manager should not try to be a salesperson. I've been in meetings with managers who take over meetings - the only result being that I stop taking them to meetings.
  • He shouldn't leap in, take over and dominate the meeting.
  • Don’t close the deals instead of coaching for their success
  • Never assume your team can't get the job done and thus take over their responsibilities for them, confidence in your team is vital.

 What is the result of taking over in this way…?

The sales manager gets a short term ego boost – and the sale is closed successfully - so that’s good right?


  • The client bonds with you as the sales manager and may prefer to talk to you, which disempowers the sales person and gives you extra work
  • The sales people become demotivated and lose confidence
  • They may stop taking you to their meetings (if they have a choice that is!)
  • The sales people never have the opportunity to learn new behaviours
  • You therefore continue to feel you have to compensate for them

 Essentially if you are in this type of downward cycle you are not acting as a true manager, although you may see yourself as a sales role model. It will limit the size of sales team they can manage and will definitely inhibit promotion to more senior sales leadership roles.

 What should you do instead?

Again quotes from the LinkedIn comments:

  • A good sales manager should go out on sales accompaniments with his/her team, using it as an opportunity to observe, coach, show support.
  • A good manager will play manager and observer in meetings, playing a specific executive role which is a much more potent combination than having two sales people in a meeting.
  • You should recruit the right people, empower them, coach them, and motivate them, but do not take over any task or activity that they should be completing themselves or could learn from.
  • You remove inhibitors, automate things, monitor, mentor, maximise the benefit from the team, brainstorm, regulate, adapt, drive and focus them and most importantly get their commission. They sell!
  • Rather than be the "super sales person" take the time to coach, drive the long term behaviours you are looking for.

 In our coaching with sales leaders we use the metaphor of the ‘Admiral of the Fleet’ who always asks the captain of the ship if he has permission to come on board, even though he is way above him in the managerial structure. Showing this deference means that when the Admiral has left and the ship sails, the captain remains in charge.

A sales manager who takes the opportunity to show respect for a sales person in front of the client will do a lot to build the sales person's confidence.

 A client also has the opportunity to witness positive working relationships between you which will build his confidence in your organisation too.

 But what if the client asks you an important question?

From our experience this is a crux point where the best plans can go wrong - Again some advice from the LinkedIn comments

  • Some sales managers take over when a client/prospect asks a question or raises an issue that the salesperson does not address well. It's only natural for a sales manager to want to support the salesperson during difficult moments. The important step is planning for this during pre-call planning - the plan should include agreement on when a sales manager can and should add value and how to get the lead back to the salesperson.

Our advice is always to steer the conversation and any key decisions back promptly to the account manager. They know more about the account and the client needs to know that you respect that.

We also second the importance of pre-call planning. A sales leader who is ‘busking’ is much more likely to take over the meeting.

 And what if the salesperson is making a real mess of things?

This is something that can only be judged at the time. There were two schools of thought:

  • Never do their job for them when co-calling on a customer. The result may be magic or tragic, but let them stay in the lead.
  • Let them run the course and then debrief them later. The sale is secondary to the training.

On the other hand…

  • A manager shouldn't let his sales person totally go down in flames or give the customer erroneous information. Pre-call planning can go a long way to avoid a negative outcome on the call.

 Clearly a lot of this depends on the skill level of your sales team.

Some sales managers manage really ‘green’ salespeople, who need a great deal of guidance. Do as much as you can in briefing, planning and training before you go out to see the client. If you do need to take over as a last resort, then make sure you work with them so they don’t make the same mistake again.

Some sales manager may manage very experienced sales people with big egos – undermine them in a client meeting and you will really see the sparks fly!

 So can all sales managers make this transition?

We have worked with many sales managers on their development so have a lot of experience of this dilemma.

Some sales managers quickly recognise the sense of this argument, and adjust their behaviour. They are happy taking on this new developmental approach and come to gain great satisfaction from developing their team.

 Other sales managers find this more difficult and resist the change. It could be that they have major reservations about the capability of their team. Like a parent teaching a child to ride a bike, they fear taking off the stabilisers! Their fears may be well-founded, but if this is a long-term situation then maybe a change in personnel is needed.  However sometimes this is just a limiting belief or a prejudice about sales people that should be challenged.

 It could be that truthfully the manager has never made the essential transition into leadership – they still get most of their satisfaction out of selling rather than managing.  They are perhaps in a management role because of a 'battlefield promotion'! In that case a heavy dose of soul-searching may be required. Does that person really have a long-term future in sales management?

Tags in this article: solutions selling

< Back to blog articles