Welcome to "The Pipeline" — a weekly column from HubSpot, featuring actionable advice and insight from real sales leaders.
One of my first customer visits as a young sales manager was in support of a salesperson — with a client I hadn't met before. Prior to the visit, we had done a lot of technical work for the client's company, substantially improving its product.
However, being a supplier offering significant technical service, our product's price wasn't exactly cheap. As a result, the customer had researched other supply sources — and as we sat down for the meeting, he told us that he could buy the same product for half the price.
My response shortened the meeting to three minutes and left my salesperson and the soon-to-be-former customer speechless — I congratulated him on his new supply source, told him we would not change our price, stood up, and left. And while it wasn't the end of my career, I can reflect on how I handled the situation and know it wasn't the right course.
It taught me some key lessons I still apply today — shedding light on five of the main traps several sales managers fall into. Here, I'll discuss those hitches in detail and what sales managers can do to avoid them.
5 Traps to Avoid as a Sales Manager
1. Not Being Prepared
I thought I was ready for the encounter I just described. I knew the prospect's buying history and the technical support we had provided them. I even knew there was competition knocking on the door. But my salesperson and I hadn't thoroughly discussed the scenarios we might encounter and how to respond to them ahead of time — hence my reaction in the meeting.
It was a valuable lesson on the importance of thorough preparation. Taking a step back and asking yourself how you can best prepare not only allows you to make more progress but also reduces stress. If you can visualize how you are going to achieve something in advance, the task becomes less daunting.
On the other hand, being caught off guard leads to erratic decisions — like the one I made. Even with a lot of experience, nothing beats preparation.
2. Taking Yourself Too Seriously
Feeling the weight of the world on your shoulders is unnecessary. If something feels too big in the moment, you can always ask for time and consult others. As a young, inexperienced, first-time sales manager, I felt powerful — I had decision-making authority and was excited to wield it.
But the moment became very heavy, very quickly. I felt like I had been put between a rock and a hard place, and things came crashing down. In hindsight and with more experience, it seems ridiculous to even have felt that way.
True leadership often seems lonely, but it doesn't have to be that way. Always keep your ego at bay, don’t take yourself so seriously, and ask for help when you need it. Consult and seek input from the many experts around you — even if you're making the ultimate decision and your name is associated with the outcome. That doesn't take away from your authority — it actually does the opposite.
It's the sign of a true leader.
3. Giving Up Too Easily
Walking away from a frustrating situation or seemingly unreasonable client, the way I did, might feel cool at the moment — but in the long run, you always want to keep a door open for more conversation. Remember, Rome wasn't built in a day. There's rarely a need for a decision on the spot.
Persistence is having a plan and working on it even when you don't see immediate results — it's consistent effort maintained on a regular basis. Calvin Coolidge said, "Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent."
Persistence is an under-appreciated attribute when it comes to sales. Too many salespeople look for the next shiny thing — they believe that a newer lead is better than an older one. Instead of showing persistence, most salespeople move on in search of something that is seemingly easier or better.
4. Saying "Never"
I should have ignored my anger, disappointment, and pride in our product and service before just walking out on that client. When I did that, I essentially said "never". And plainly, I shouldn't have said it — because people on both sides of the table can change their minds.
We don’t know what the future holds. People say "never" for a multitude of reasons, and often it makes sense to step back and think about what is actually being said. The word "never" is negative and permanent — and avoiding it often represents a winning attitude, playing hard even when you are losing by a lot.
You need to bear in mind that the world isn't black or white, and that principle applies to sales. Sales managers often think of deal-or-no-deal situations in that context, when in reality, the process of getting to that point comes in all shades of gray — characterized by negotiation and compromise.
Compromise is always an option when there is a fixed pie to be divided up, and whatever one side gets, the other side loses. For example, we could have cut back on our technical support for the client in conjunction with or in exchange for a reduced price.
Also, a sales process is not a one-size-fits-all. Each prospect's buying is different, defined by interest in different products and services — along with different personal motivators.
Adopting a sales process that changes in real-time with the nature of an opportunity lets you identify the real needs of the buyer, allowing you to guide the prospect in the right direction toward the purchase decision.
5. Falling Into the "Time Trap"
I took the client relationship from my salesperson when I walked out on that negotiation. Today, I understand how detrimental that was for them and their relationships in the marketplace. Back then, I felt it was an easier and faster way to handle the situation — I fell into the "time trap."
It can happen to a manager in the same way it does to a parent, an older sibling, or a more experienced team member. It seems like a quick fix, and it might feel like you're doing it to advance a situation or resolve a problem. But the "time trap" tends to have some very real long-term consequences. As a sales manager, saying "I’ll just quickly do it for you" undermines a salesperson's authority, prohibits their growth and learning, and can leave them demoralized.
More than two decades later, I still think about that incident, and to this day, it remains a great learning experience. And though the lessons it taught me didn't fully stick immediately (I've repeated many of those mistakes here and there since then) it did create an awareness to recognize and better avoid those traps — making me a more effective, adaptable sales manager.