Say you plan to double your salesforce from six reps to 12 in the next three years. Can your sales manager handle it? That will depend on certain key factors, among them experience, responsibility, product line, and team maturity.

“A sales manager can handle 12 ... 14 sales reps,” says Ken Wolfbauer, president of Seal Guard Systems, in St. Anthony, Minn., who has 38 years in the home improvement business, 14 of them with Pacesetter Corp. “We tried every configuration to figure out how, even with a backup manager, to manage a larger roster. The maximum was 16, with a sales manager and two assistants.”

RUNS WITH REPS For the manager who runs with reps on calls, helping the salesforce to sell is his primary duty. Load him up with administrative functions and the manageable number of reps plummets. Critical, too, is that the manager wants to see his people succeed.

Arnold Roeland, owner of Roeland Home Improvers and MasterShield NW N.J., Rockaway, N.J., keeps his gutter protection manager focused on his five reps through compensation. Roeland believes a sales manager of a multi-line dealership can effectively manage six reps, double that with an assistant sales manager. If the manager is supervising rookies learning new products, they'll require more attention. But “gutter protection isn't as complicated,” he says, and believes managers can handle 10 salespeople.

Another factor, say sales managers, is how much sales experience is on staff. “The magic numbers are determined by how many seasoned reps you have,” says Jack Rosenquist, sales manager of Texas-based U.S. Home Systems. Depending on the time of year, he manages as many as 18 reps in Woodbridge, Va., with an assistant. His Maryland counterpart handles 22, with help.

Rosenquist runs on 35 calls each month to “keep a toe in the water.” He trains, interviews, and recruits, but does no marketing, installation, or human resources administration. Without an assistant, the magic number for him has been between eight and 10. “Into double digits, and you need an assistant,” he says. “Someone who handles minutia, gets the reporting done, issues leads. If you're talking about a sales manager who oversees marketing — door hangers to trade shows — the numbers drop to more like six, seven.”

Wolfbauer agrees that the sales manager's job is to hire, educate, motivate, and retain. “It takes a special person to manage 12, 14 salespeople. He has to know what makes them tick, and he has to want each guy to produce above peak level. If he has the time, and the heart, he may be able to pull it off.” —Joe Schuler Jr. is a freelance writer in Gaithersburg, Md.