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Promoted! Training Sales Managers: The Role of HR

If you’re a sales manager, keep reading! This post will also help you understand what’s reasonable to expect from HR and how you can become more effective by accessing expertise from others. Mostly, though, today’s post is intended for the HR team members who interact with the sales division.

What’s that, you say? In your organization, there aren’t (m)any people in HR who work directly with sales? The ones who do probably report that sales is somewhat resistant… Well, you’re not alone.

Among the reasons why HR and Sales divisions don’t collaborate more effectively and more often:Graphic Showing in Ready to Start Running

  • Sales believes that HR doesn’t understand the unique needs of sellers and sales managers.
  • Sales views HR as being overly restrictive due to compliance and policy focus.
  • HR views Sales as playing “fast and loose” with established norms and policies.
  • HR believes Sales is ego-driven and elitist, getting privileges and latitude that others don’t get.
  • Sales makes exceptions and values creativity. HR does things “by the book.”


It all boils down to perspective. It’s like the classic Indian fable about the blind men and the elephant (here’s a quickie video retelling if you don’t know the story!). Any one perspective is limited. Failing to look at all the perspectives, collectively, is limiting and inaccurate.

When it comes to misunderstandings, disputes, and distance between HR and Sales, it’s usually a matter of failing to elevate to the bigger picture. Both perspectives are essential for a healthy organization. Mutual respect and a sincere desire to understand and work together will improve the collaboration and produce results that no Sales or HR division could drive alone.

Unfortunately, when sales managers attempt to do the work of HR professionals, they can make costly mistakes. They can inadvertently violate employment laws, make ill-informed choices that are easy to misinterpret, or act in ways that are not aligned with company values and/or decisions made in other divisions.

When it comes to people practices – recruiting, hiring, onboarding, vacation and leave time, setting expectations, training/coaching, progressive discipline, promotions, pay raises and incentives/commission pay, termination, etc. – HR employees have superior levels of knowledge and experience. They are privy to information the average sales manager doesn’t have. They are aware of situations, inside the company and in other companies, that could influence people practices. They use different criteria to make decisions because they know and see different aspects of the situation.

Sales managers often feel restricted by HR. They want to hire someone that HR recommends against. They want to terminate an employee before HR advises doing so. They want to increase pay to keep a top seller or offer extra vacation days to recruit a superstar. When HR objects or suggests a different course of action, sales managers often second guess HR and may even proceed in a way that’s contrary to HR’s counsel. Over time, many sales managers avoid interacting with HR because they don’t like the answers they get from HR.

When sales managers avoid asking for or accepting help from HR, they take on more work than is reasonable for them to do. When sales divisions fail to create shared systems with HR, the burden on a sales manager is unfair and, ultimately, takes too much time away from the work sales managers could/should be doing to develop sellers and increase sales.

One of the most important collaborations between HR and Sales is the continued development of sales managers. No organization can survive without strong and sustained sales. Strong sales come with strong sales managers who can simultaneously manage sales AND lead people. Strong sales also come with stability in the sales division with internal promotions and long-term retention of top talent. As sales grow, sales managers should have opportunities to step into next-level roles. Why, then, is the turnover rate of sales managers so high? And why do so many organizations look outside when it’s time to fill senior sales manager roles?

Throughout this series, Promoted! Series for New Sales Managers, we’ve covered the essentials for new sales managers. Over the past 3 months, weekly posts have stimulated regular inquiries from sales managers who are floundering and get no internal support from HR. In some cases, HR isn’t equipped for onboarding new managers in any function. What’s noteworthy, though, is how often we’ve heard about sales managers who are excluded from training offered to managers in other functions. Digging a little deeper, it appears that these barriers are self-inflicted. Sales managers/directors in the past have “liberated” sales managers from training. 

Don’t Let Sales Managers Opt Out of Training 

True or false?

  1. Sales managers are too busy to spend time in training workshops.
  2. Sales managers are too important to take out of the office or field.
  3. Sales managers just need to sell, and they’ve already mastered that skill.
  4. Sales managers should conduct training instead of attending it.
  5. Sales managers aren’t the same as other managers.

All of these statements are false.

In many organizations, though, the rationale for not training sales managers involves some (or all!) of these falsehoods.

Yes, of course, sales managers are busy and important. But who isn’t? It’s ludicrous to suggest that the managers of such an essential function should be exempt from training. On the contrary, is there any one with any job title who needs/deserves training more? Don’t you want your sales managers to be the very best resourced, most capable, highest performing managers possible?

60% of new sales managers fail in the first 24 months (CEB). That number is shocking, but it’s not surprising. Without management training, new sales managers think their primary responsibility is to keep selling. They impair sales by interfering in them. They don’t do the work of managing, so their direct reports feel unsupported and are likely to underperform, leave the organization, and/or experience low morale.

Managing sales is only half the job. The other half – leading people – is not something that comes automatically. Granting a promotion and management title doesn’t magically produce the know-how required to effectively manage or lead. All managers need training. Sales managers are no exception.

The only difference between sales managers and other managers is this: in most divisions of most companies, other managers are encouraged to pursue continuing education and credentials while sales manages are discouraged from doing anything that takes them out of the field.

Many senior managers in sales have not had much management training either. They endorse the idea that sales managers don’t need to be trained. Even when training is schedule, they don’t seem to fully support it. They call sales managers out of training to work on forecasts or attend other meetings or cover sales territories (if sellers are also in training). They don’t hold sales managers accountable for mastery of management fundamentals. By devaluing training, they rob sales managers of opportunities to grow, develop, and perform at higher levels (even in their current role).

Sales managers are largely left to fend for themselves. In organizations where they are not trained, they sometimes get promoted and perpetuate the lack of training. No matter how accomplished senior managers are, functionally, there are still problems that basic management training would have prevented. The indicators of this situation include sales managers carrying accounts or working as mercenary closers because sellers are not fully autonomous in selling, extreme sales pressure each period and an inability to stabilize sales and more easily reach goals, and high turnover on the sales team.

In healthy organizations, sales managers get management training soon after they are promoted. They regularly receive opportunities for additional training in soft skills and leadership development, too. Sales managers don’t dodge training. In fact, they look forward to it and embrace the challenge and chance to grow. Senior sales management attends training, too, and models the importance of continual learning. They hold sales managers accountable for learning how to be managers and leaders. They set expectations for effective management, and they partner with HR to coach and develop sales managers.     

Start with the Basics When Training Sales Managers 

When HR shies away from training people in the sales department, it’s usually because they buy into the myth that “sales is different.”

Providing basic management training doesn’t require an understanding of the functional roles of people being trained. A sales manager, like any manager, needs management training. That has absolutely nothing at all to do with selling. Management is management.

HR need not modify management training to suit sales managers, at least not at first. The fundamentals of management are the appropriate place to start. Before sales managers need to learn about setting goals, marketplace analysis, forecasting trends, analyzing comp plans, etc., they first need to know how to set expectations, give feedback, conduct effective meetings, document performance, and so forth.

Leaving out any training on management basics is unfair to sales managers and to the sellers who report to them.  

The fundamentals should be commonly understood and executed across an entire organization. Policies should be administered in the same ways across all divisions. Organizational culture is reinforced by bringing managers together to commonly understand corporate values and how they are to be expressed. Protections for the organization come with basic training on workplace safety, harassment, and other non-negotiables that all managers should understand well enough to oversee and enforce.

When sales managers understand the rationale for policies, they are more likely to be supporters who don’t “bend the rules” or make exceptions. Providing insights elevates the role of any manager and helps them see their own role differently.

What’s more, bringing all new managers together for training is a bonding experience. It’s good for sales managers to have connections with other new sales managers across the organization. All too often, the sales function is isolated and seems elitist and demanding. Training new managers together can help break down some of these barriers.

When functionally specific training is needed, HR can help source providers. Sales management training stretches beyond the basics. This is where “sales is different” comes into play. Building on a core set of fundamental management skills, someone with expertise in sales management training can help sales managers learn how to:

  • Manage their time in order to provide adequate support for sellers’ development
  • Coach sellers (vs. mentoring) for peak performance
  • Maintain high levels of motivation for sellers
  • Create a performance sales culture
  • Diagnose and address gaps in sales performance
  • Identify and seize marketplace opportunities
  • Analyze sales productivity drivers and leverage them to increase sales
  • Understand sales forecasting and market analysis
  • Choose and use sales enablement tools efficiently and effectively
  • Build soft skills plus leadership and senior management skills in preparation for next-level jobs

Throughout a sales manager’s career, HR can also help identify when sales managers are struggling. Every individual has blind spots and individual coaching and mentoring is needed at times. When HR is approachable and inviting for sales managers, they can be a welcome resource. Too often, sales managers feel that they can’t show any vulnerability. Therefore, they mask their struggles and fail to address the underlying causes. When people are stalled in their career progression, help them see the barriers and blind spots. This webinar, Common Career Roadblocks, is a good starting point.

Beyond Training Sales Managers: 5 More Ways HR Can Help 

Training is only the starting point! There’s so much more that HR can do to help sales managers focus their time on developing sellers and growing revenue. When trust and mutual respect have been established, Sales and HR can work together to significantly impact the organization.

Here are five ways HR can help sales managers. Note to sales managers: you have to let HR help you or their efforts will be in vain!

  1. Defining The Job Role of a Sales Manager: One of the biggest challenges sales managers encounter is that their jobs are poorly defined. They try to do way too much and allow scope creep from every direction. The standard job description for a sales manager includes vague phrases like “meet company revenue targets” and “enable optimum performance” and “design and implement sales plans.” Any one of these phrases has infinite tangential tasks and duties, and sales managers frequently fall into the trap of trying to do all and be all in service of those responsibilities.

In this article, we define what is (and what is not) the role of a sales manager. In 10+ years of posting 2-3 blogs per week, this is our most popular and most re-published post. Sales managers need relief so they can prioritize and focus on the right activities. You can help them by crafting clear, specific job descriptions and coaching senior sales management so they won’t inadvertently demand more than is reasonable for a sales manager to do.

  1. Selecting, Hiring & Onboarding New Sales Talent: In some organizations with high turnover, sales managers spend more than half their time pursuing, interviewing, courting, hiring, and onboarding new sellers. That leaves precious little time for meeting the needs of sellers already on the team. (Which is a big contributor to the high turnover!)

Sales managers may feel that they can’t rely on HR to help with recruitment, pre-screening, background checks, references, and onboarding. They report that HR doesn’t understand sales and recommends the “wrong” candidates or that HR is too busy to help in a timely manner. Typically, the real problem is that no one has ever taken the time to define the desired sales competencies and/or to create a hiring process that can be shared.

HR’s skills, expertise, systems, and tools are invaluable aids in the hiring process. There’s no reason any sales manager should operate without HR when it comes to sales selection. Taking the time to educate each other and devise a collaborative approach is something every organization should do ASAP.  

  1. Setting and Upholding Performance Expectations: New managers may not know what’s realistic, what’s effective, or what’s legal when it comes mot setting performance expectations and holding people accountable to them.

At the same time, Gallup research tells us that a lack of clarity about expectations is the #1 reason that employees leave managers. It would be irresponsible to allow sales managers to flounder and fail when it comes to crafting and conveying clear expectations.

Here again, HR has a superior level of experience and knowledge. Advise sales managers any time there is a change in expectations or any time they believe someone is not meeting expectations. This will improve retention and performance. It will also prevent headaches that can come from unfair or unclear expectations. 

  1. Handling Sensitive Employee Matters, including Under-Performance: Sales managers get immense pressure from every direction. It’s all about the numbers and keeping customers and employee happy. That pressure may, at times, affect a sales manager’s reaction to difficult situations. They may respond quickly or emotionally. Neither is the best way to respond in a highly-charged or sensitive matter.

Ideally,  sales managers would have HR partners to turn to. Senior sales managers are also under immense pressure for revenue performance, so they may not be as objective as a neutral party in HR. And, of course, no one in the sales function has the same level of expertise in employment law, conflict resolution, handling performance issues, etc. You can be a real resource (and comfort) here!

  1. Training Other Members of the Team: Sales managers don’t have a lot of time to spend on training. When it’s implied that they’re the ones who should do it, they usually don’t. That’s because they aren’t trained as trainers, don’t have training materials, and feel that the company would furnish training if it was really important.

HR may not be the best choice for providing sales training. But they can help find competent, proven sales trainers who fit your culture and can adapt to your sales cycles and needs.

HR can also provide a variety of other training that sellers might need. Onboarding includes training in company policies and practices, and HR is the best option for this and any other company-wide messaging. HR may also offer soft skills and other types of training that cross division lines. Making sure that Sales is invited and welcomes into this training will increase their interest in it. Like all people, sales people want to feel that the company is investing in them long-term and willing to help them develop.

At a minimum, HR can help Sales by staying connected to them. In organizations where sales operates like a separate entity, there is low trust that results in higher costs and longer time frames to get things done. Even the strongest sales managers can benefit from HR’s expertise, insights, and partnership.

The CONNECT2Sell Blog has been discontinued as our focus has shifted to leadership at every level. Research with buyers demonstrates that buyers respond favorably when sellers show up as leaders. If you'd like to step into your full potential as a leader (and boost sales!), take a look at our free and affordable courses on