Do the best sales people make the best sales managers?

Sales Management

Ask this question to a group of senior sales managers and almost unanimously you’ll get the same answer – “Not Necessarily.” Yet, when companies review their sales force and identify those with high potential the assumed next step is first-line sales management.

Some successful sales people become great sales managers – but too often they don’t. Why? These “super” sales people tend to fall into traps.  Let’s look at four:

  • Can’t let go of the sales rep role. This happens for several reasons.  The new sales manager is good at selling and feels they can do a better job than the sales rep assigned to the account.  Or, the new sales manager doesn’t believe an alternative account strategy introduced by the sales rep will be successful because it’s not the way they would pursue the account, or perhaps it is just that the new sales manager really loves selling. Whether a question of a lack of trust, belief in their own approach or the search for positive experiences, new sales managers often have trouble letting go of their sales rep role.
  • Fall behind on administrative responsibilities. With a sales management role comes a new set of administrative responsibilities which too often new sales managers are not trained to execute. Whether it’s putting out fires, filling out CRM screens, or other administrative responsibilities, they must spend an enormous amount of time navigating through an administrative maze where their previous skill sets are of little use.
  • Provide questionable coaching and feedback. It is easy to fall into the trap – if I know it, I can coach it.  This formulation dismisses the fact that sales coaching is a separate and difficult skill set. New sales managers often tend to provide their sales team with questionable feedback because while they know the right stuff,  they don’t know how to help others learn it.
  • Don’t cultivate a new set of “friends.” New sales managers, especially when they’re promoted internally, often have a hard time shifting their allegiance from the sales reps they’ve worked with to sales management whose ranks they’ve joined. They end up never developing the perspective needed as a manager.

So, what’s the good news? Some have cracked the code.

For example, Boston Scientific, a medical device company, has a formalized corporate program for selecting and developing internal candidates for sales manager positions. They seek candidates from the sales ranks who have demonstrated excellence not only by generating strong sales results, but also who have demonstrated success in teaching others by acting as a mentor to new salespeople, or who have demonstrated success in managing through leadership opportunities such as a field training role or participation on a sales advisory board.

The program provides many opportunities for both the candidate and the company to evaluate fit with the sales manager job.

Regardless of whether a company takes the extra step and has a sales manager selection program in place, transitioning from a sales rep to a sales manager role is tough – but definitely doable. To take a look at three best practices for making this transition, click here.

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©2012 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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1 Response to Do the best sales people make the best sales managers?

  1. Fred says:

    Thanks for a great perspective.

    My experience in Sales & Marketing Consulting (30+ years) is that internal promotion is usuaaly a disaster. The company loses one of their best salespeople, plus a few who thught they deserved the promotion, and then some who can’t adapt to the change.

    Most companies fail to train advise and coach the new manager on how to change their perspective and manage sales and salepersons (a difficult task: kind of getting cats to march in line).

    In one sad case, the promotion got to the manager’s head, and a radical personality change resulted in people leaving Sales, Support Staff, Programming, CS, and even Production — as well as a few customers. They had to let him go after 9 months.

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