Do Not Promote Your Best Salesperson to Sales Manager

by Chris Young

Perhaps you are considering the promotion of your best salesperson to sales manager.

You need to carefully reconsider. 

What do many companies do with a top salesperformer who makes it "rain" consistently?

They promote them to sales management.

Unfortunately, this is usually a poor decision. 

In fact, I strongly recommend that you avoid sentencing your best salesperson to a life of hell and mediocrity by promoting them to sales manager.  You probably mean well and most salespeople want to be promoted but chances are it is a mistake. 

Unfortunately, becoming a sales manager is usually not the reward you think it is.  After six months to a year, it will not be the reward they thought it was either.  While the new title and office are welcome, the duties and problems that come with being a sales manager are not welcome for long. Best Sales to Sales Manager - poor job fit

There are three problems that make the transition from top sales performer to sales manager nearly impossible. 

  • A different Job Benchmark - A good sales manager usually has a different job benchmark than the high-performing salesperson. 
  • Compensation - The compensation of a sales manager is typically less than that of the top sales performer.  
  • Transition from co-worker / friend to boss - The transition from co-worker and friend to boss is difficult.

A different Job Benchmark - The needs of the sales manager job are similar but different than the salesperson. Top salespeople know how to sell and they obviously do so well - they smooze with people - they focus both on "people" and "task".  Top sales managers focus more on "task" than on people.  The problem is most sales people have too much "people orientation" and do not have adequate "task orientation" necessary to hold others accountable.

A sales manager who cannot hold sales team members accountable is a problem.

Compensation - Top sales performers often make more than their manager. Few highly-compensated salespeople are ready for the paycut they will experience as they shift from top performing salesperson to sales manager.  The end result is a formal or informal agreement with management that the sales manager will also "sell on the side".  All those zeros that are available to the sales manager while playing sales professional will be a siren call to them to sell.  The result is the sales manager spends less time managing and more time selling.

The less time a sales manager is coaching and managing means the sales team flounders.

Transition from co-worker / friend to boss - This is a difficult transition and quite often, an "accountability vacuum" results where the new sales manager does not hold their former peers to the standard they must in order to grow profitable sales.  Couple this problem with the prior-described compensation problem, and you soon have a sales team that is supported by the "big hits" the sales manager makes to keep the team and company afloat.

The best sales managers fit the job, are happy with the compensation, and do not have "best friends" on the team.

My best advice is to hire a sales manager from outside the company.  It is often your best option rather than go through the management and headache of dealing with the transition. 

If you insist on promoting an existing high sales performer, there are three things you can do to maximize the potential for transition success. 

  1. Ensure there is true Job Fit for the top performing salesperson to make a good sales manager.
  2. Set sales management time expectations and revisit them frequently to ensure they are being followed.  Make sure your sales manager is spending upwards of 80 plus percent of your time managing and coaching sales performers.
  3. Assist with the transition by creating "accountability systems" to ensure the sales manager is holding former peers accountable for results.  Every sales professional should be on some type of transparent scorecard program.

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