The Sales Manager Dilemma: Too Much Technology, Too Little Leadership

In today’s fast-paced business environment, sales managers are under constant pressure to meet targets and increase revenue. In response, many rely profoundly on their sales tech stack to help manage their salespeople and improve sales performance. One estimate states the sales technology landscape has evolved from just over 300 technological software sales tools in 2015 to over 1,200 in 2022, providing sales managers with a plethora of specialized tools to drive sales performance.

As technology is embedded in all parts of the sales process and sales funnel, there is a growing concern that sales managers are relying too heavily on these tools at the expense of developing their leadership skills.

The Peter Principle states that individuals within an organization tend to rise to a level of respective incompetence, meaning they are promoted to positions for which they are not suited. The best worker is only sometimes the best candidate for management.

In a study of 38,843 salespeople, Benson, Li, and Shue (2020) showed a 33% impact on sales outcomes when companies place greater promotional weight on a salesperson’s sales performance rather than on managerial potential. As a result, sales managers may be promoted to leadership positions despite having little experience in developing people. This practice likely leads to their use of technology as a crutch rather than focusing on the human skills that are essential for effective leadership.

Sales management is a people-centric role that relies on the manager’s ability to motivate, inspire and coach their team.

Today, however, technology has changed the way sales teams work and, more importantly, how sales managers use technology to monitor their salespeople. For example, a sales manager can monitor an outside salesperson’s exact location while at the same time recording, evaluating and scoring every word spoken by an inside salesperson. While these tools can be incredibly helpful in monitoring salespeople, they can create a “Tayloristic” work environment, where salespeople do something to obtain a reward or avoid the punishment that leads to limited sales performance.

Sales managers may become so reliant on customer relationship management (CRM) systems to constantly evaluate and scrutinize data that they neglect to heed the importance of building personal relationships with their team members. They may also rely too heavily on performance management tools to track sales performance rather than spending time coaching and motivating their team to reach their goals. This practice can lead to a lack of engagement and motivation among team members, negatively impacting sales performance.

In addition, the over-reliance on technology can also lead to the erosion of emotional intelligence and interpersonal skills among sales managers. These skills are essential for effective leadership and include empathy, self-awareness, and building and maintaining relationships. These skills are necessary for sales managers to build trust and rapport with their team members, which can harm team morale and performance.

Sales managers need to understand the importance of creating a culture that maximizes a salesperson’s autonomy and the ability to learn while building strong relationships with their team. Rather than spend time behind a computer screen evaluating numbers, sales managers should spend time side- by-side, coaching and mentoring their team members.

Sales managers must also be willing to invest time and effort in developing their leadership skills, such as communication, coaching and creating an employee-centric culture. There are many tools available to help sales managers be more people focused. At the same time, companies need to provide their sales managers with training focused on people-oriented skills.

These programs can provide valuable insights into the latest best practices and techniques for building high-performing teams and help sales managers develop the emotional intelligence and interpersonal skills essential for effective leadership.

Technology can be incredibly helpful in monitoring sales performance, but sales managers must be careful not to rely too heavily on these tools at the cost of neglecting people management skills. It’s important to always remember that sales managers lead people.


  • Richard Conde

    Richard Conde is an assistant professor at the University of Houston-Downtown, responsible for teaching sales MBA seminars, plus digital and international marketing courses. As the chief researcher for the American Association of Inside Sales Professionals, Conde has provided insights into the conflict of inside sales agents’ job duties, the importance of initial and continuous training, and the limited influence of pay for performance on agent retention.

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