Newton's 3rd Law & Micromanaging Sales

Newtons_Third_Law_of_MotionI'd like to open by getting something off my chest; I despise, detest and disrespect micromanagement (MM). There, I said it, but I won't feel better until I share with you why. MM is especially prevalent in small companies as you may expect, but is also common in big corporations. There are many reasons why employers or manager engage in this unproductive behavior, but from my experience the root cause is simple; Micro-managers are not suited to manage or lead. Those who exhibit this behavior most likely found themselves in a "controlling" position to which they are not skilled or suited. Key characteristics of micro-managers:

  1. No management or leadership training
  2. Got the position not due to merit but "politics" or "tenure"
  3. Are incredibly insecure
  4. Unable or unwilling to make a decision or take a risk
  5. Always blame everyone else and never look inwardly for solutions.
  6. Tend to "shove" goals down salesperson's throats rather than engage in a collaborative and open process

Here's another bold statement: If you are micro-managing your sales team, you are getting less than 50% production from them, regardless of the "numbers" they produce. Micro-management breeds behaviors that help workers cope with an incredibly uncomfortable work environment.

"Who are you seeing today", "who did you see yesterday", "did you get the order", "why?", "what you should tell him..", "I'd like a daily report of your activities by the hour". Other instances of this behavior can include calling a rep at 4 pm to see "if he's home because he should be on the road". I am sure we can open a discussion about everyone's experiences and have an endless thread.

Years ago, I traveled with one of our direct sales reps. His average sales call took 3 minutes. The time he took to write his report "10 minutes". If you want sales people to be trained to become Pulitzer prize winners, keep micro-managing them and hope that they thank you in their acceptance speech.

So why is micromanagement so unproductive when it comes to sales and what should you do about it?

There are two types of micro-managers: Those who engage in this behavior because they are insecure and naturally distrusting. The other type are those that lack any skills in managing sales and..their own manager micro-manages them. If you work for someone that has both types, run and never look back.

What micro-managers fail to understand is the "science" that employees develop to counteract feelings of mistrust or unworthiness. Newton's 3rd law of motion: " to every action there is always an equal and opposite reaction" works every time: For each micro-management behavior, employees develop a way to either "get around it" or "artificially satisfy it". Either way, you're kidding yourself if you think your staff can't wait to get to work everyday, energetic, motivated and looking to set new productivity records.

Here's a real example: Years ago, I hired one of the best salesman I have come across. Bruce, in 3 months was able to triple sales in his territory. My employer's father approached me one day and asked "How's that new sales guy doing". "Well, you see the numbers, he's doing great". "Let me ask you something: It's 3:30 right now, he lives in MA (we're in New York), how do you know he's working right now"? "Frankly Walter, I hope he's in his pool right now, he deserves it".  I might as well punched him the gut because this created hours of conversations about my philosophy about management. By the way, the company grew consistently over the next 10 years and was sold for x 1.5 earnings.

You see, if you train your team well, provide an environment that encourages risk taking, accountability and empowerment and...then lead by example with integrity, you'll never have to worry about what your salespersons are doing. Salespersons need an environment that makes them feel worthy because they spend their day being "rejected".

Instead of asking "where have you been" or "why aren't you meeting your numbers" ask:

"What can I do to help you" "Would it help if I worked with you in the field so I can experience what it's like out there" "Hey, I know it's tough out there. Keep it up and let me know if you need anything" "Let's put our heads together and figure this out" "I saw your email about the pricing challenge with the customer. Let's stay after work and come up with something that'll help you close the deal".

I am not naive to suggest that if you adopt the above approach you're not going to get "burnt". That's why hiring and training of salespersons requires fine-tuned skills.

At the end of the day, it's about the psychology of motivation. If you hire the right salesperson and give him/her the support I outlined above, they will 'set the world on fire" reciprocating for your trust. They will prove themselves to you on their own, rather than have to justify their existence as a result of micromanagement.


  1. Do you have the right skills and training to manage a team? If you experience lackluster performance or high turnover, get help and get trained.
  2. Eliminate micromanagement practices from your company but especially with your sales team. You will see performance metrics that will amaze you.
  3. Make sure you have the right team in place. Not everyone works well on their own. If your salesperson needs to be "scripted" and micromanaged, replaced him/her.
  4. Before you hand the reins of control to your sales team, make sure you've given them the training, tools and support to keep them at the top of their game.
  5. Checking-in with your team is different than micromanaging them. Check-in by asking "how's it going? and can I do anything to help" not "what are you doing" and "why"?
  6. Do you have a sales plan with realistic and measurable goals? Was your sales team involved in setting those goals or did you force them? If your goals as a sales manager are not in-tune and in-sync with your team, you're going to find yourself micromanaging them. Setting the bar high is fine but excluding your team's input and field knowledge is setting them to fail and you to spend unproductive time trying to figure something out that if flawed from the get go.