Veteran industry sales trainer Phil Rea puts it this way: Home improvement company sales managers “should not sell if there are enough salespeople to handle the leads.”

It's true that managers can generate extra sales revenue, but, Rea points out, having the manager run appointments may lead the reps to believe he is selecting the best leads for himself. Selling should be part of the way he manages.

EAR TO THE WALL If there is a reason for sales managers to run appointments — and vice president of sales for Premier Window & Building, in Baltimore, Jake Jacobson says there are many — that would be to know by experience what's actually happening in the house.

“If the sales manager sells,” Jacob-son says, “he understands the current selling climate.” One advantage in that, says company owner and one-time salesperson Rick Edwards, is that the selling sales manager “can't get fooled” when salespeople tell him the company's prices are too high or the leads are a problem. Running leads also allows him to “prove himself on a regular basis” to a salesforce that may at some point question his ability to do what he's asking them to do.

And apart from actually generating income for the company, the sales manager running an appointment creates a great training opportunity. “He's not training in a room,” Jacobson says. “He's training in a customer's home.”

Enhancing reps' skills should take precedent. Rea says that he recently worked with a new salesperson who had never seen anyone sell the company's products, prompting Rea to ask the rep, “How do you know how to make [a sale] if you don't know what one looks like?”

NO IVORY TOWER Sales managers often feel that their job is to get more sales from the people who report to them. But the danger, Rea points out, is that the company ends up with a sales manager who “sits in an ivory tower running numbers.”

The reality is, Jacobson says, that the sales manager “has to be able to get the best he can from each guy.” Doing that involves regular ride-alongs. “You've got to train 'em and you've got to manage 'em,” he says.

Edwards' method for managing the manager is to have that manager continuously working one-on-one with sales-people, moving the lowest closer up. Sales managers, he says, should also be “taking a regular dose of rehash — finding out why people didn't buy and seeing if [the sales manager] can recover that business.”