Sales person to sales manager – making the transition

Sales people often are promoted into sales manager positions – primarily based on their sales success. While congratulations certainly are in order, success in these situations raises some unique challenges.

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Just because a sales people excelled at face-to-face selling doesn’t mean they will excel as a sales manager.  Sales managers responsibilities extend far beyond face-to-face selling. Yet, new sales managers often are promoted without receiving a lot of help in building the relationships and skills required to be an effective sales manager.   So, what happens?  They often end up doing one of two things: (1) spending time in front of the customer helping their sales people sale – sometimes that’s can be a good idea, sometimes not so much and/or (2) using sales managers they’ve had in the past as a model – again that’s a “sometimes” good idea.

So, let’s look at this from a relationship perspective and examine how a sales person can make the transition from sales person to sales manager. One common situation is worth noting as a backdrop for exploring the issue. Often the promotion occurs within the current sales team or from another team in the same organization.  In either case, it’s very common for members of the sales team to know the sales manager before the promotion – resulting in some unique issues these new sales managers must address.

Let’s look at some of the relationship best practices for making this transition.

First, re-write the ground rules with your new and prior sales team. While it’s okay to gossip, gripe, and even poke fun at each other when peers, after a promotion that changes. The new sales manager now is responsible for setting direction for the sales team, structuring territories, holding people to deadlines, allocating resources, and assessing performance. Staying friendly is important, but developing some new rules for the road is also critical if the new sales manager is to be effective. Building on an HBR blog post, the new sales manager needs to re-contract the relationship rules with the team as a whole and with each member of the team.

Second, new sales managers must cultivate relationships with their new sales manager peers. Other sales managers and managers in other groups such as sales support and marketing can provide the insight and support needed for the new sales manager to succeed.  There is little question that the sales manager is the “pivotal job” for building a great sales team.  But, there is a lot more to it than just being good at selling.  So, leveraging the insights of other managers is a must do for getting a good start in making the transition from sales person to sales manager.

Last, new sales managers report to a Regional Director or VP of Sales, and must learn the written set of new responsibilities and an unwritten collection of expectation form the leadership team. Understanding both is important.  Building a viable communication process and style with the members of the leadership team is a critical step in the transition process – yet too often it is postponed too long.

It is easy to argue that the transition from being a sales person to being a sales manager is one of the more difficult transitions in the world-of-work.  This is due to the high profile and quantifiable nature of sales and to the criticality of the sales manger role.  Not only is the transition difficult; it is also one that needs to be executed expeditiously.  Building, managing, and leveraging relationship is an important first step in the journey.

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©2011 Sales Horizons, LLC

About Janet Spirer

For more than 30 years Dr. Richard Ruff and Dr. Janet Spirer - the founders of Sales Horizons - have worked with the Fortune 1000 - such as UPS, Canon USA, Smith & Nephew, Boston Scientific, Owens & Minor, Textron - to design and develop sales training programs. Janet has followed two different, yet complimentary paths. First, as a B-School Professor she taught marketing, sales, and business strategy courses. She also managed a consulting practice focusing on sales productivity and marketing – working with a variety of clients ranging from Xerox to IBM. She translated those experiences into a book – “Parlez-Vous Business” – that helps sales people develop the business savvy to sell successfully. Since co-founding Sales Momentum® in 2000 with Richard Dr. Spirer received her Ph.D. from The Ohio State University, an M.P.A. from The University of Texas at Austin, and a B.A. in Economics from Brooklyn College. She holds the appointment of Professor Emeritus at Marymount University.
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2 Responses to Sales person to sales manager – making the transition

  1. Very good article. I have seen sales people fall all-too-often into the “promoted sales person” trap. There is a massive difference between being an excellent salesperson and an excellent sales manager. Often personalities just do not suit the managerial role expected of a sales manager, as you have highlighted in your 3rd point. Misery, loneliness and pressure can drive these potential managers back into the safety of what they knew – being a salesperson. Sometimes that is best, however, it’s sad if that person could have succeeded if they had been given the right guidance and training on promotion.

    • Janet says:


      Thanks for talking the time to comment on the blog. We find this is a real problem in part due to the importance of getting the Sales Manager job right and also the consequences if the sales person does not make the transition. if they don’t get it right it can be tough to go back and they can’t go forward either. Our sense is, in most cases, the right training could up the odds of an effective transition significantly.


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