Ignore Zuckerberg. Effective Sales Organizations Need a Sales Manager

23 Feb 23

Removing managers from your sales team may cut costs, but at what expense? Learn why a full-time sales manager is vital to an effective sales organization.

Can a company succeed without managers? Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Meta, thinks so. He's proposed a cost-cutting measure to "flatten" the organization by removing layers of middle management. Is this idea feasible?

Recently, Zuckerberg has been making headlines.

First, he pivoted the company to the Metaverse. Next, Meta cut 11,000 jobs due to a slowing online ad market. Now Zuckerberg is declaring 2023 the “year of efficiency,” focusing on cutting costs, a drastic change for a once high-flying mega-tech company.

One of Zuckerburg’s cost-cutting ideas is to “flatten” Meta’s organization by removing layers of managers. He has publicly stated that middle managers at Meta need to become individual contributors or resign. Harsh medicine and perhaps necessary for Meta, depending on how bloated its management structure is.

But what about sales organizations? Should they turn sales managers into individual contributors — giving managers sales quotas in addition to their management responsibilities? Some sales organizations already require their frontline sales managers to carry quotas or are held responsible for a target list of accounts.

Here are four reasons why full-time sales managers are vital to the success of a sales organization.

#1: Managing a sales team is a highly visible and intense job

Few metrics in a company are as visible or important as the revenue number. A sales manager doesn’t have the luxury of managing to a fuzzy goal or a metric that can be explained away with qualitative excuses. Sales results are life or death for companies, especially for public companies where billions of dollars of shareholder value can ride on a quarterly earnings announcement. Miss your number once, and you may have a problem; miss it twice, and you could be out of a job.

As a general guideline, a frontline sales manager can manage between 6 to 10 salespeople, but this number varies depending on sale complexity (e.g., SMB vs. Enterprise). In some cases, a sales manager may be able to manage 15 or 20 sales representatives, while in other cases, the number is closer to 4 or 5 people.

Sales managers are responsible for an incredible range of tasks, including managing performance, coaching, forecasting, motivating, leading the team, hiring new salespeople, strategic planning, and sales administration duties. Additionally, they have to manage salespeople who are typically independent, strong-willed, and often have little day-to-day contact with them.  

Managing a sales team is dynamic and fast-paced, requiring strong interpersonal and communication skills, and the ability to manage multiple priorities and adapt to changing market conditions. Such an intense job requires complete focus.

#2: Coaching a Sales Team is Time-Consuming

To maximize sales results, a manager must ensure their team operates at a peak level like a sports team. Sales managers who devote more than three hours of coaching per month to each team member achieved 107% of their team quota. On the other hand, teams that received no coaching met only 82% of their quota.

Sales coaching is necessary but time-consuming. Research suggests that B-to-B sales managers should spend 25% to 40% of their time coaching their team – that’s on top of all their other responsibilities. Such a significant time commitment is necessary because the most effective sales coaching involves observing your sales reps on sales calls and then giving coaching feedback. This type of coaching is unique to the sales function, where most of the important part of the job occurs during meetings with customers.

#3: Managing Behaviors is Difficult

The one element common to all sales managers, regardless of specific responsibilities, is that their primary role is to achieve results through and with others. This is the classic management definition and forms the basis of what sales managers do daily.

Successful sales managers need to manage results (“How much did you sell?) together with underlying behaviors (“What did you do”) that produce those results. The challenge is that there are many behaviors to manage: prospecting activities, meetings conducted, the number of new opportunities added to the pipeline, etc.

Since a typical sales manager manages a team of 6-10 salespeople, they have the daunting task of managing hundreds of behaviors across their team, including providing ongoing feedback.

#4: Motivating a Team Means Understanding Them

Successful sales managers must also be expert motivators. That means understanding the unique motivators that drive each member of your team. Many salespeople are motivated by money. However, money isn’t necessarily a top priority for everyone. Some salespeople are motivated by opportunities to improve their situation, while others are motivated by public recognition. It’s the sales manager’s job to understand what motivates their team and then develop incentives around those motivators. A sales manager can only develop such insights by spending time with their team.

In Conclusion

While it can be tempting to look to managers as a source of cost savings, it may not be appropriate for all types of organizations. For Sales organizations in particular, it’s best to leave frontline sales managers alone and let them manage their teams without distractions. Even selling responsibilities can distract them from the intense job of managing a sales team.

Do you want to give your frontline sales managers the essential skills to build, coach, and lead a high-performing sales team? Check out our High-Impact Sales Manager program! This program teaches sales managers to make more accurate sales forecasts, coach reps to advance opportunities, and unclog their sales pipeline. Learn More about the program and how it can help your team.

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