Case Study: What Does a Sales Manager to Do?

Sales managers in multi-million dollar commercial printing businesses usually don’t. Don’t what? They usually don’t manage sales activities. At least, it appears that way to me. Should they? Well, one would think so, but many are nothing more than senior salespeople concerned about their own accounts. Real sales management could make a big difference. Here’s how.

To begin with, a sales manager needs to be a professional salesperson first. Their skill begins with product knowledge in order to properly advise customers. When should you use a bleed? What’s the advantage of full color? What’s the optical center of a piece? If this sounds a lot like what a designer knows, it’s because a professional salesperson is the first “designer” to touch a project.

Additionally, a professional, by definition, knows more than the customer and helps guide the customer to informed decisions. The salesperson helps convert customer needs into product specifications so a project can be completed. Being a professional salesperson is the first step in sales management.

What Sales Managers Should Do

The overriding theme of sales management is to create demand for existing capacity. It’s not to create demand for capacity the shop doesn’t have, which trips up a lot of owners when they hire their first salesperson. I’m not against brokering jobs, but the first job of the salesperson is to sell jobs that can be produced in house. The sales manager’s job is to see that salespeople do this.

The sales manager does this through planning, implementing, and controlling selling and marketing activities necessary to achieve the sales, sales growth, and profit objective of the company. In order to do that, there must be what most called a sales funnel.

A sales funnel starts with suspects, as Dave Fellman calls them. Where are the people who buy what you do? (Companies don’t buy printing, people do.) It can be thought of as a mailing list or database. Absent a specific production focus (tags, forms, newsletters, or whatever), it is a list of businesses within a given area. Here the principle that it’s easier to sell where you are, not where you’re not comes into play.

If there are 2,000 businesses in a 10 mile radius of your shop, it doesn’t make sense to spend a lot of time and effort selling in a market that’s 50 miles away. It increases your cost and decreases your competitive advantage.

A printer in Los Angeles told me she served the whole market. Upon further review, there were 30,000 businesses in that area. Her top 25 real accounts accounted for 95 percent of her total sales, and they were located within five miles of her shop. We have to focus on our real market area.

If you do have a product niche, then get a list of all suspects for that niche close to you. An Ohio printer I worked with had a unique product, yet hired a salesman to sell trinket printing to local customers and was disappointed with the results. No wonder. The printer wasn’t competitive in the trinket market because he was producing on a nearly $1 million press when the competition was doing the same thing on $20,000 presses. He was overlooking his distinct advantage. By focusing on the 900 manufacturers with 20 or more employees within a 450 miles radius of his front door, he could focus his efforts on suspects where he had the most potential.

Another printer in Maryland focused on association work and found his suspects among the 1,500-plus associations/groups that met his criteria in the state. The same can be done with any focus. Once this focus is known, then the salesperson and sales manager have something to work with.

How do you approach them? It’s not always possible, but the tried and true way is to visit them at some point and assess their potential. Absent that, as well as in addition to that, direct mail is still the baseline of selling activities. Mail the suspects and give them a reason to call you.

The Work of Management

In any professional selling organization, the sales manager is highly paid to manage the sales force. At least they’re paid more than the typical salesperson. So what do they do that the salesperson doesn’t?

First, they help the salesperson manage their time. This means the sales manager is primarily responsible for assigning and removing accounts or territories from the salesperson. They decide where the salesperson sells.

They also help the salesperson with account issues, such as penetrating an existing account or resolving disputes. They often determine the salesperson’s quota or goals. In other words, they help set expectations for each salesperson’s performance.

They also train the salesperson in sales techniques. These aren’t manipulative moves, rather they are ways to help the customer arrive at a decision, from ensuring the decision maker gets the proper information to advancing the project through completion.

Overall, the sales manager guides the business development process (sales funnel) and assigns salespeople specific activities. They primarily ensure that the salespeople are making the calls necessary to achieve the goals.

They make certain that salespeople adhere to company policies involving price, production times, and delivery. They also help the owner develop compensation plans (different salespeople can have different purposes, thus different plans).

They are the secondary contact (along with the owner, if the owner is not the salesperson) on all accounts—especially significant ones.

So what is it that I don’t see sales managers doing? Managing the sales force is what. How? By doing all those things listed above. Say you don’t have a salesperson let alone a sales manager? Well, do these things yourself and your business will grow to the point that you soon will need them.

Tom Crouser is chairman of CPrint International, teacher of business courses at CPrint University, and principal of Crouser & Associates, Inc., 235 Dutch Road, Charleston, WV 25302, (, 304-965-7100. Contact him at 304-541-3714 or Connect on Facebook and LinkedIn and follow his tweets at Read his blog at