Sales Management: What is a Higher Priority, Good Sales Managers or Good Sales Reps?

If you could only choose one for your company, would you hire the a) top sales management or b) top salespeople?

This questions puzzles a lot of folks.  And the answer I hear most often is that having better sales reps is of a higher value to a company than having better sales management. After all, salespeople are the ones actually selling, right?

In the real world, it’s actually the opposite.   You should prioritize “Good sales management  >  Good sales reps”. Especially in B2B SaaS.

See this research from ZS Associates who are experts on sales management: “How a Vigorous Sales Management Team Helps You Win in the Marketplace” by Zoltners, Sinha and Lorimer, 2012. They are professors who teach one of the best Sales Management course at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management and have done a lot of research.

Here is what they say:

“…over time, excellent salespeople who work for an average manager are likely either to disengage from their jobs…or to set their own priorities for what selling activities to focus on (possibly diverging from what may be most important for customers or the company).  …Average managers rarely surround themselves with excellent salespeople, as they may be unable to recognize talent… It is often said that ‘first class hires first class; second class hires third class.’ In the long run, average managers bring all of the salespeople that they manage down to their level. On the other hand, excellent managers bring excellence to all their territories. Great managers may inherit average salespeople, but in the long run they counsel, coach, motivate, or replace salespeople until their entire team is excellent.”


What else? What are your thoughts on first prioritizing getting Good Sales Managers over Good Salespeople?