Where Spans of Control Need to Go

When working with new clients, it’s common for us to see wholesalers with sales rep-to-supervisor ratios of 4 or 5 to 1. We also see sales managers with only 3 or 4 direct reports. THIS IS A COSTLY BUT FIXABLE PROBLEM.

Factors that Impact # of Direct Reports Supervisors Can Have 

  • Geography
  • Skill set of supervisor & direct reports
  • Turnover
  • Assigned responsibilities (i.e. ride-withs, covering relief, implementing resets, calling on key accounts, etc.)
  • Channel or portfolio specialization above the sales rep level

Issues Caused by Low Spans of Control 

  • Overpaying for Work – Supervisors end up working one or two levels down and become expensive helpers and relief. (We call it “Paying $40/hr for $20/hr work”)
  • Can’t Afford Support – Wholesalers can’t afford to add the necessary support positions because their payroll is tied up across too many supervisors.
  • Low Job Attraction – The best, most highly skilled supervisors don’t find this “glorified helper” role very attractive. They often feel boxed in with no vision of a way out of the cycle.
  • Low Interest in Promotion – Sales reps don’t want to be promoted to a supervisor position. They don’t want to do the type of work and have all the pressure current supervisors have for a slight pay increase.

The Long-Term Solution?


These managers need to be highly skilled and be able to oversee more direct reports effectively.


To accomplish this, the company needs to:

  1. Invest in adequate support. Provide adequate relief, merchandising, and reset support to insulate the highly skilled managers and supervisors so they can spend more time actively managing their direct reports.
  2. Be prepared to pay more for the higher quality managers and supervisors. This is okay because there are fewer of them & their pay is spread out over more direct reports.