What Causes Conflict Between Managers and Salespeople

In roughly 30% of business relationships between sales people and sales managers the two parties fall out every year and is a reason why mangers want management training. This has spurred the Business Psychology Institute to carry out an extensive survey to interpret points of friction and concealed potential opposition areas between salespeople and sales managers.

The survey carried out intensive interviews with representatives and sales managers concerning their experiences of working together. The assessment was carried out both as a group comparison and pair-specific.

What do those asked imagine the focus of the company partnership is? The proposition showed that there are large differences in way of thinking. Only three pairs were in concurrence about corporate goals. Just a half of all salespeople believed that increasing turnover is the most prominent corporate target. A third of sales managers said that the essential corporate target is increasing market share.

These differing points of view are quite surprising, in view of both work for the same Firm. This essentially serves to demonstrate the insufficiency of communication within the relationship.

The theme about the salespersons goals confirms this inadequacy of communication: only two pairs were in concurrence. 40% of all salespeople said increasing turnover was their predominant target, 40% said creating a livelihood was their predominant ambition.

On the other hand, only a third of the sales managers believed that increasing turnover was the salespersons paramount ambition. Not one mentioned creating a livelihood as a target and a third did not even identify what their individual team goals were.

Genre and distinction of support. The greater part of sales people asked said that they felt supported by their preceding Firm. The genre of support was assessed differently, though. Sales managers essentially said that they had supported representatives through training sessions or meetings.

Almost all representatives, on the other hand, thought that they had been supported mainly through catalogues and prospectuses. Some felt that they had received no support from their former company or did not agree on the impersonal type of support the company had given.

What typical problems are there in the partnership? Half of those asked said that the main conflict point is turnover difficulties, followed by corporate policy. A quarter of those asked said that co-operation with their former partner floundered primarily because of information and communication problems, but only a very few of those asked saw management as a problem.

Sales turnover difficulties are based, on the one hand, on declining turnover and, on the other, arguments about commission payments.

The majority of sales managers thought that salespeople were lacking in commitment.

Problems relating to corporate strategy arise from differences in the company’s payment strategy, the procedure that complaints are dealt with and in delivery capacity. In addition, some salespeople thought that positive opportunities were being denied. The problems of communication are based predominantly on a deficit of information feedback, which was complained about by many sales managers.

A typical management problem surfaced in the following salesperson’s statement: “I was called up almost every day (by the sales manager) to see whether I had done any business” The salespeople often felt that they were being controlled and therefore that their free time was being infringed.

Whereas sales managers continually bemoan on management training courses that salespeople contribute not enough feedback about what is happening in the market, salespeople disapprove of the instructive or even demanding attitude of their sales managers. Salespeople emphasise their autonomy, whereas sales managers demand that their requirement to control is fulfilled

Which decisive experience is as a rule the motive to split? The sales managers saw the most prominent pretext for breaking up the firm relationship as being a declining turnover or inefficient work quality on the interest of their salespeople, which led to impaired services and/or client complaints.

Sales people, for their side, attributed the causes of declining turnover figures to the company’s poor sales method or to market changes.

How does the break up take place? The break up itself was viewed by most as completely unspectacular. Sales people who had a valid contract were sacked in accordance with the rules. A lot of companies have, in spite of that, tried to fill the leaving persons place before the expiry of the notice term.

Most of those asked said that the break left them feeling discontented by their former employee/employer, mainly immediately after.

Business-wise the break led to turnover losses both for the salesperson asked and for the company. Whereas sales managers or their companies had to find a suitable replacement, the salesperson had to find a new position in order to compensate for the income gap.

Most “partners” reveal subtle differences in the relationship from an early stage. It is critical for both sides to act upon possible signals of disagreement. The study showed that innumerable managers do not present enough work into caring for salespeople.

The differences in perceptions of goals and the variety of issues that in the long run led to the break revealed that managers take too little notice in their sales people and their view of things. Techniques for successfully implementing these prominent points are covered on appropriate management training courses.


Richard Stone (richard.) is a Director for Spearhead Training Limited that specialises in running management training courses to improve business performance.