Success in a sales force requires having strong talent up and down the organization.

A weak salesperson will weaken a sales territory, a bad sales manager will damage their team and a poor sales leader will eventually ruin the entire sales force, says authors Andris A. Zoltners, PK Sinha and Sally E. Lorimer for an article on It can be difficult to recognize the signs of a poor sales leader and the possible damage the person can do — especially when they appear to do some good early on.

The authors believe the reasons sales leaders fail fall into 4 categories:

  • Direction: Poor understanding of the business leads to errors in vision and strategy.
  • Talent: Inability to pick and keep the right people for the team.
  • Execution: Poor processes serve customers and manage people badly.
  • Culture: Inappropriate values damage the very core of the organization.

When such failures are coupled with a leader’s egotism or lack of self-awareness, it’s unlikely that the leader can lean on others to overcome their own deficiencies.

Yet, ineffective leaders can do some good in sales organizations. They can bring about needed change quickly because leaders who lack sensitivity have an easier time eliminating poor performers. Intimidating leaders can use their muscle to implement difficult changes that past leaders avoided.

But unless a poor leader can overcome or compensate for his deficiencies, eventually the bad will overpower any temporary good. They may fix some things in the short term but create other problems at the same time. For every gain, there are likely to be multiple missteps with the sales force’s vision, team, execution and culture. A visible marker of ongoing or impending trouble is when talented people on the leader’s team become frustrated and depart the company.

It can take years to repair the damage done by an ineffective sales leader. Here are 3 things that occur throughout the process and take time:

  1.  Replacing the leader and reconstructing the sales team: It could take 3 years or longer to rebuild a team and recover from the initial error of putting the wrong person in charge.
  2. Reversing the questionable decisions:  It takes time; especially decisions the ineffective leader made that affected sales force structure or compensation.
  3. Rebuilding the culture: A poor leader who creates an unhealthy culture can lead to salespeople losing confidence in their leaders, and it can take a while to establish trust.

The following process can help transform the sales force during the long-term changes:

  1. Create a fresh vision: Reflect a culture in which salespeople trust their leaders and where all salespeople are held accountable for results.
  2. Communicate the vision: Use every opportunity to voice your message.
  3. Rebuild the team: Start with a new vice president of sales who has integrity and judgment and is willing to replace anyone on the sales team who is unable to adapt to the new culture.
  4. Realign sales support systems and rewards: Overhaul the systems for recognizing and rewarding performance and creating accountability.