Pointing the Finger at Sales Managers and Executives: An Interview with Mike Weinberg

Pointing the Finger at Sales Managers and Executives: An Interview with Mike Weinberg
December 7, 2015

Mike Weinberg

“Because I’m from New York.”

“Because I call it like I see it.”

“Because someone had to tell executives and sales leaders the truth!”

“I’m a sales guy at heart. And for the honor of the professional seller, someone needed to stand up and point the finger in the opposite direction. Someone needed to tell executives and sales managers to look in the mirror.”

These were the words of sales influencer and best-selling author Mike Weinberg, when I asked him why he is so blunt when communicating around the sales leadership topic. More than one review of his latest book, Sales Management. Simplified., as well as his own introduction to the book, describes his approach that way. And he lived up to my expectations, as he remained consistently and unabashedly direct throughout our conversation.

A Message to Sales Managers and Leaders

In the Foreword to Weinberg’s book, Jeb Blount said that “businesses are [desperate] for a solution to the #1 problem plaguing twenty-first century companies: under-performing salespeople in dysfunctional and sub-optimized sales organizations.” When probed about whether this is the problem he was aiming to help solve with this book, Weinberg confirms that rather than discussing the issue that everyone knows exists, he is exposing the cause: sales management.

“I’m pointing the finger back at the people that hired me to fix the problem,” Weinberg said. He had been entrusted with getting to the root of the issue, and ended up having to advise his clients to take a good hard look in the mirror. Rather than digging around for sales reps’ missteps and shortcomings, he challenges sales managers and leaders: “Look at your micromanagement, your lack of clarity, your ego, your emphasis on CRM updates rather than actual sales results, your unhealthy anti-sales culture. I can’t stand what I’m seeing. The problem is way deeper than ineffective salespeople. And if you don’t deal with the leader and the sales manager and the culture, nothing changes.”

Distinguishing Sales Leadership, Management, and Coaching

In thinking about three words that are used throughout his book: leading, managing, and coaching, I inquired about how they are different, and whether one is more important than another. Weinberg explained, “They are different. The culture stems from leadership. What does it feel like to work in that organization? What is the level of respect for the sales team? What is the vision for where the company is going? Is the strategy clear? Are the salespeople’s hearts engaged? Is there a laser focus on goals and results?

“I would call the management piece the accountability piece. Are they only doing administrative stuff and playing firefighter? Managers go to a lot of meetings that have nothing to do with managing a sales team or driving revenue. They are buried in the CRM instead of meeting one-on-one with their sales team members.”

And that’s where the coaching piece is supposed to come in, Weinberg explained. “Do you know how little coaching and mentoring I see from managers because they are buried by their bosses? Sales managers are overwhelmed. Execs are frustrated and angry. And sales teams are struggling because they don’t get led well and are operating in an ineffective sales culture. You put those pieces together and we’ve got issues in all three categories…which is honestly what compelled me to write the book.

“But the problems aren’t all that complicated. They are simple. We just need to make the commitment to tackling them. For example, nobody argues that one-on-one coaching sessions aren’t important. Everybody knows it’s the highest value thing to affect a high performance culture. But they say they don’t have time for it.” Weinberg went on to list the million and one other administrative things that managers find time for in lieu of coaching their salesforce before commenting, “It’s brutal. It’s total mismanagement. It’s malpractice.”

Sales Management & Making Heroes

To Weinberg’s point, a big theme we’ve heard is that top reps promoted to front-line sales managers aren’t always the best candidates for the job, which may lead to this “malpractice.” Weinberg agreed, asserting that “The job of the salesperson is almost the complete opposite to the job of the sales manager. Really, the only thing similar is the world ‘sales.’

“The top salesperson is often the most selfish person in a sales organization. They know exactly how to win on their own. The sales manager’s job, on the other hand, is to win through her people. She needs to be available to her people, and has all kinds of administrative stuff that she needs to deal with. It’s a very different job. There are some top reps that can turn into top managers…but not many.

“Leadership characteristics are much more important than sales skills [when it comes to sales management]. A rock star seller might not know how to multiply their skill or giftedness into other people. One of the biggest tendencies—or sins—I see in sales managers is the one who wants to be the hero. The top salesperson who gets promoted, wants to be the sales superstar, jumps into every deal, and then takes all the credit. Nothing takes the fun out of sales more than that… If your manager is taking away your passion and disengaging your heart, you’re in the wrong place.”

The point is, Weinberg said as we closed out our conversation, “Nobody wants to work for someone who has all the answers, but they DO want to work for the person who challenges them to find them. The best managers don’t want to be heroes; they want to make heroes.

For more of Mike Weinberg’s brutally honest truth about sales management, buy his book: Sales Management. Simplified.