Sales managers...and other control freaks.

Last Updated Jun 13, 2007 9:38 AM EDT

A few posts ago, I lambasted time-wasting technology. I expected a chorus of agreement, but what I got were grumblings from managers who love CRM because it lets them spy on their sales reps.

It's that kind of "Big Brother" mentality that turns CRM from a useful tool into what software pundits call "nazi-ware." That's an appropriate moniker, because the sales managers who abuse CRM always trot out the same logic that dictators and tyrants have used for centuries: "if they have nothing to hide, they have nothing to fear."

One of the managers who defended CRM abuse even had his own "secret police" (i.e. "secret shoppers") to go around and spy on his sales reps. He justified this on the grounds that they sometimes rooted out sales reps who were misbehaving. This guy clearly wasn't insightful enough to realize that his attitude was attracting sales reps who were likely to misbehave because only a second rate player would be willing to work for the kind of manager who needs a secret police force.

Here's the real problem: these sales managers think that "managing people" and "controlling people" are the same thing.

It's understandable, of course. The structure of the modern corporation is directly based upon the Napoleonic army, where the concept of "command and control" originally developed. And today's business world is constantly changing, scaring the pants off people who can't tolerate a certain amount of unavoidable chaos. For these insecure types, the idea that you can control people is deeply comforting.

Back when I used to give keynotes on management theory, I'd ask for a show of hands of everyone who "wants to be in a relationship with a controlling person." Nobody raised their hand. Ever. Even control freak managers don't like working for control freaks. Get a clue, guys.

Sales management - good sales management, that is - is not about control. Control freaks create massive resentment, drive away top talent, generate back-biters who snitch, and create brittle teams that chafe against the bit. In other words, control freaks create the very conditions that confirm the belief that everything will go to hell in a handbasket if the manager doesn't constantly ride herd.

What is sales management all about, if it's not about control? I'll tell you. Sales management is about service. Specifically, it's about hiring the best raw talent (that's being of service to the corporation) and then helping that talent to become the best sales pros they're capable of becoming (that's being of service to the employees.)

Rather than worrying about controlling people, sales managers should recruit people who don't need to be controlled. The key to doing this is conducting in-depth interviews, according to Mary Delaney, chief sales officer at the giant online job site CareerBuilder.com. "Sales is all about relationships and relationships are all about trust," she says, "So it's absolutely critical that you ensure that you hire only trustworthy people."

To do this, Delaney pokes and probes during the interview process to find any disconnects by asking the same question in multiple ways. "Don't just ask how much money they made at their last job. Also ask: What was your quota? How often did you make your quota? What did you report on your W2? Then compares the answers. If there's a disconnect, don't hire."

It's really that simple.

I'm not saying that you're not going to run into the occasional bad apple. But if you think that managing sales reps is about controlling their behavior, and you use technology to enforce that control, you're creating bad apples.