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Business Journal

The Manager Effect

The talent of a manager can make or break a sales team's performance

by Benson Smith and Tony Rutigliano
Excerpted from Discover Your Sales Strengths

We were doing some work with one of the world's largest software companies. Our research with this organization's U.S. subsidiary indicated that its sales force was one of the least committed segments of its employee population. This is hardly a result that any company leader wants to hear.

As we looked into the causes, we found that many of the sales managers we talked to had excuses for this poor showing: greater competition, the increasing "virtualness" of the regional sales offices, reorganizations -- an all too familiar litany of excuses for poor management practice. However, in each of the twenty-seven meetings we held with this company's various managers, we heard from at least one who, despite the increasing number of obstacles, worked hard at getting his people to stay committed and to sense that the organization cared about them.

Later, we heard from an account executive lucky enough to work for one such manager. Steve told us that he had been lured by the siren song of the dot-com craze and quit his job with the company. "I handed my resignation to my boss, John, and he told me that he knew that this move was not right for me. But all I could see were dollar signs and stock options."

Lo and behold, John was right, and Steve, after just two weeks at his new job, couldn't believe the mistake he had made. One day John called him to see how things were going, and Steve swallowed his pride and opened up. "Why don't you stop by the office on your way home tonight?" asked John.

That night, as Steve started to complain about the madhouse he'd signed on with, John opened his desk drawer and took out Steve's resignation. "I never sent this to headquarters and haven't told anyone there, including payroll, that you've quit," said John. "You can come back on Monday as if nothing has happened." Steve did just that and two years later is praying that John never retires. He has come to realize that managers like John are rare. We have noticed that great managers find a way to bend over backwards for their people at just the right time.

Is this the kind of boss that you deserve? How can you ensure that this is the type of relationship you have with a manager?

Our research indicates that for every manager like John, there are at least four with far less ability to motivate and inspire loyalty. While we have heard a fair share about truly rotten managers, we are even more worried about the wider ranks of average bosses out there.

Bad managers tend not to stick around in good companies. They have only a short time to wreak havoc, and before long they are history. Average managers have a longer shelf life. If they have mastered any managerial skill at all, it's that of surviving. However, their impact on top producers can be just as demotivating and corrosive as that of bad managers.

Think back for a moment to your best manager. Is there any doubt in your mind that you were more productive working for that individual? Assuming the job was a good fit, you probably sold more and were a lot happier as well. You probably learned a great deal, felt committed to your role, and were more likely to be loyal. Indeed, great managers make a big difference and are the third common denominator, along with strengths and fit, we find when we study the world's best salespeople. Yet the role managers play is frequently overlooked and underappreciated.

Tony Rutigliano is coauthor of Strengths Based Selling and Discover Your Sales Strengths.
Benson Smith is coauthor of Discover Your Sales Strengths.

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