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Three reasons why your sales manager is terrible

By Chris Clovis

Chris Clovis BlogWe’ve all had one:  The highly-ineffective manager. Whether in retail, dealership, B2B, or whatever – each of us knows what it’s like to live with a bad leader. Sometimes it’s easy to define why they’re bad, other times it more nebulous; like Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s famous 1964 description of pornography, when he said, (paraphrasing) “…I may not be able to define it, but I know it when I see it.”  We may not necessarily know what makes a bad manager a bad manager, but we all know it when we see it.


By nature, bad managers generally think themselves as great managers.

But why are bad managers so bad in the first place?  Three basic reasons:

Problem #1 — The salesperson who got promoted

Nearly all sales managers became managers because they were at one time a good sales rep; and great salespeople aren’t automatically great managers. Balancing process, personnel, activity and accountability demands an entirely different skillset than selling requires. Ultimately, they’ve lost a good salesperson while gaining a mediocre manager. Nearly every business has made this error at one point or another — from Fortune 500’s to Mom and Pop dealerships. 

Problem #2 — There is no problem

Bad managers don’t want to be bad managers; they want to be great at their job. They want to deliver amazing value and inspire their team to go the extra mile. They want to be respected and admired. However, with no one pointing-out weaknesses, their personal and career development stagnates. They stop getting better, their ineffective methods become habit, and they cease to improve. Without critical analysis, it’s impossible to achieve greatness at anything.

A good example is the bad manager that’s has more than 20 years on the job. Because of that tenure, they (and everyone else) assume he or she must really know what they’re doing. In reality, they’ve merely continued to repeat the same bad tactics for an extended period — never getting better, only getting more practiced at being ineffective. Experience doesn’t make you skilled; it only makes you comfortable at your own (often poor) methods. Unfortunately, that’s a recipe for a bad manager completely unaware of the fact. As the saying goes, ‘Practice doesn’t make Perfect — Practice just makes Permanent.’

Problem #3 — Success breeds stagnation

The majority of sales managers working today have enjoyed some level of success throughout their tenure. Whether from having a hot shot Rep, riding the wave of a growing market, or simply being in the right place at the right time, nearly every active manager has plenty to brag about. Were it not so, chances are they’d have moved on to another line of work by now.

Here’s a secret: Having The Hot Product does NOT make you a great sales manager or salesperson. A perfect real-world example is the Harley-Davidson sales manager who, after selling bikes during the hay days, thinks their success was a result of personal skill alone. Look, there are plenty of brilliant and effective managers in the Harley world, but just like in every other industry, there are also a few who aren’t nearly as good as they think they are. They were selling a product whose demand so far exceeded supply that people would place a deposit just to get their name on a waiting list. So if you sold every bike you were allocated and made a bunch of profit, does that prove what amazing leadership and/or sales skills you have?  Or were you simply selling the right product at the right time?  Nothing against you, your talents or your hard work, but one should always keep strong sales numbers in perspective. Results don’t automatically equate to effective leadership. Be grateful for the success you’ve enjoyed and work to improve your skills, so that you’ll thrive even without The Hot Product.

I recently spoke with the owner of a large multi-line store who had watched many of its competitors fail during the challenging economic period of 2008-2010. Keeping a big, high-overhead metric store open through those years hadn’t been easy; so I complimented him on surviving the recession and economic turmoil. “Survive my ass!” he replied, “We didn’t ‘survive’, we made MONEY!”  Now there’s a boast I’ll concur with. For that particular store to thrive while nearly all of their competition failed means good leadership, good managers and good strategy were all in place. The other reason why I know they possess strong leaders?  Their managers are constantly looking for new ways to learn, improve and innovate; to ultimately make them better at what they do.

Acknowledging the need to assess, improve, and deliver more value are the first steps to becoming the great manager you want to be — the one your team deserves. And believe me, they’ll know it when they see it.

Ride On,


Chris Clovis has had the honor and pleasure of 25 years in the Powersports Industry, currently serving as Vice-President of Eaglerider Motorcycles [www.eaglerider.com]. Chris’ opinions are his own, and do not necessarily reflect those of his employer, publisher, or clients.

One comment

  1. Good post, Chris. But I do think that Problem #2 deserves more discussion here. Although I get your point that experience does not necessarily equal proficiency, I disagree with the quote, “Practice doesn’t make Perfect — Practice just makes Permanent.” for the following reason:

    Practice does make perfect if it involves iteration, in which each repetition of the process (an iteration) has the aim of approaching a desired target. The results of each iteration are used as the starting point for the next iteration.

    Since one accepted definition of practice is "repeated exercise in or performance of an activity or skill so as to acquire or maintain proficiency in it", then it follows that if one is 'practicing', one is also improving on each cycle (iteration).

    Alas, a recent study appears to confuse/commingle 'practice' with mere 'repetition' (iteration vs. loop?), which by definition are not the same thing, hence an erroneous conclusion is derived from their findings.

    Your article will open someone's eyes which is good for the industry, so thanks for that Chris.


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