Why Your Dog Stopped Barking (A Note to the Sales Manager)

I am the proud of father of twin girls. Being part of a big family, I wanted to keep the twins together in school, so they could look after each other, like my brothers and sisters and I did when we were children.

My plan was working well (or so I thought), until I went to their kindergarten parent’s day. During parent’s day, the kids all show off all that they have learned. Their teachers ask questions, and the children proudly blurt out the answers. But in the case of my twins, something went horribly wrong.

The older twin, to whom every task comes easy, was responding with the right answers to every question. But when the younger twin, who had not yet come out of her shell (a shell I have failed to squeeze her back into), was asked a question, she looked to her sister and waited for her sister to give her the answer.

It was clear that she was so used to her older sister answering the questions for her, that he she had come to rely completely upon her. We separated them immediately.

The Sales Manager’s Role

In sales management, we say: “Don’t buy a dog and bark yourself.” It isn’t a derogatory remark about the role of the salesperson. The reason?

If you do all the barking, your dog will never bark when it needs to.

The role of the sales manager is to achieve results through your sales force. It is not to be the super-closer. Even though the sales manager’s role includes accompanying their salespeople on sales calls, in all but a few exceptional cases, the sales manager is not there make the sales call.

It is extraordinarily difficult to learn to not take over the sales call, especially when you have just moved from sales to sales management.

You know what needs to be done. You were good at it (damn good at it!). You can make the sale. You need the win. Your sales rep needs the win. The client needs you to win.

But if you take over every sales call, your long-term potential for success will suffer. You will never see how your salespeople perform, and, because this is true, you will never know how best to coach your salespeople and on what. You will not have any reliable way to gauge their effectiveness at achieving the outcomes that you need them to achieve and that are captured in your sales process.

Over time, if you make enough calls with your salespeople, they will come to depend on you to make the difficult sales calls, and you will come to depend on them for the opportunity to feel as if you are making a contribution. But this isn’t the contribution you were hired to make.

If you buy a dog and bark yourself, your dog will never bark.

There Are Exceptions to the Rule

If you have a must win dream client opportunity, you may need to lead or participate on the sales call. If it is a particularly difficult sales call to make, and one for which your salespeople are unprepared, you may need to participate or lead the call. If it is a huge prospective dream client and you are in the boardroom with a well-defined role that you will be limited to playing, you may need to participate in the sales call.

If you believe these things to be true more often than it isn’t, you are doing a lot of barking.

Exceptions are not the rule; they’re exceptions.

Learn Together

If you want your salespeople to learn, then you have to let them make mistakes. If you want to learn what they do during sales calls when you are not present, you need to watch them do it. If you want to see what they do when you aren’t there to do it for them—and you won’t always be there to do it for them—then you have to let them run their own sales call.

Doing something for someone isn’t coaching. Can you imagine a professional athlete watching while their coach runs the plays for them again and again and again? Of course you can’t. The coach is the observer. It is his job to know and understand what he is observing so that he can coach and train his player, improving their individual performance and his team’s performance.

Now you know why your dog stopped barking. And you know what to do about it.


  1. Are you doing all of the barking?

  2. What is the role of the sales manager? What part does a sales manager need to play on a sales call?

  3. How do you separate the outcomes that you need to achieve when you accompany your salespeople on sales call? How do you ensure that you get to evaluate and assess their performance on sales calls so that you can coach, train, and develop your salespeople? How do you contribute on must-win sales calls?

  4. What do great coaches do for their players? How do they do what they do for their players?

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  • http://nanopositioning.wordpress.com Santosh Joseph


    Great points and very valid.

    “If it is a particularly difficult sales call to make, and one for which your salespeople are unprepared, you may need to participate or lead the call”

    This is where the sales manager comes in. Why are your sales people unprepared? Why is it a difficult call? Yes sales manager might need to participate based on the hierarchy of people attending from customer’s side though it must be the sales person leading the discussions. By all means jump in if a wild card is thrown out for which the sales person is not prepared for. But then shame on you for nor preparing your sales person for such an important meeting. You call yourself a manger? Manging what?

    Good post.

    Best Regards


    • http://www.santhonyiannarino.com S. Anthony Iannarino

      Thanks for the comments, Santosh.

      When I wrote that line, I had in my mind a new salesperson who may not have yet been developed enough to tackle complex business issues because they lack the situational knowledge, or salespeople who were aggressive enough to bite off more than they could chew. You had something similar in mind when you wrote “might need to participate based on the hierarchy of people attending from the customer’s side.”

      These should be exceptions to the rule; the sales manager’s role is to prepare her people to sell well, and that means coaching them, not competing for them.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  • Steve

    Great insights! I have worked with super sales guys who struggled as sales managers for the very reasons you’ve described.

    Great coaches bring out the best in their players. Just look at the SF Giants for an example of a team of mid-level players reaching great heights because their coaches put them in situations where they could be successful then got out of the way!

  • http://talkingmediasales.com Mike

    Anthony… nice post… The one mistake often with sales managers is that they are often promoted ‘up” and often that does not work, causing them to be the ‘best seller’ like they were.
    Your best player does not make your best coach…


  • DJ

    Good points and I have seen this quite a bit. I would have to add that this can often be an outcome of sales managers being promoted purely because of their track record as superior individual contributors. Evaluate what makes a top-performer … excellent control of the sales process & their business, typically a type A personality, someone who traditionally ‘takes the reins’ during problems deals. This all has to change and is often counter intuitive when they move into management.

    The common problem you mention during this post could be avoided if organizations created a second path outside of management for their top people. Instead of pushing a top performer into a role that they traditionally do not have strength in, organizations should create more rungs on the latter within an individual contributor function. This would prevent the person from feeling stagnate in their role, give them something to strive for, and play on their strengths

  • http://www.pareto.co.uk Paul Drew

    I like it, reminds me of another barking story I heard years ago:

    Here it is (from memory):

    Tom meets Bill who owns a greyhound, and Bill tells Tom that his greyhound “Rep” is the best hunting dog Tom will ever set eyes on. So they go out hunting and sure enough within the hour, Rep has caught four rabbits.

    “Wow… I’ve gotta say… I’m really impressed… without a doubt, Rep’s the best hunting dog I’ve ever laid eyes on… he’s everything
    you said he was and more!” exclaims Tom. Tom thanks Bill for the privilege of being able to see “Rep” in action and they part their ways.
    A year passes, and one day by chance, their paths cross again…
    “Hey… aren’t you…” Tom says, recognising Bill…”Yeah aren’t you… Well I’ll be damned… how the devil are you Tom?”
    Bill replies. “I’m great Bill… hey… isn’t this a different hunting dog… what happened to what’s-his-name… REP! Yeah “Rep” where’s he, and how comes he’s not with you?”
    Tom asks.”Bah! Don’t ask… waste of time!” Bill sighs…
    “What do you mean waste of time? “Rep” was the best hunting dog I’ve ever laid eyes on? What happened?” Tom enquired
    “We changed his name to “Sales Manager” Bill said shaking his head…
    “And?” Tom asked, “How did that affect anything?”
    Bill shook his head… “Well… Now, all he does is sits on his arse and barks all day…”

    Hope it made you laugh as much as it did me, when I first heard the story many moons ago!

    Paul Drew