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Five reasons why excellent salespeople make terrible sales managers!

THE most common practice in filling sales manager roles is to promote a sales executive (often from within the team) to become the sales manager.  On surface this practice of ‘promoting from within’ seems like a great idea, right?  The logic usually goes something like this: ‘He/she already knows the job well, knows our customers, products, colleagues and the company.  So, that means faster ramp up, lower cost and very little downside’.  So, it’s a no-brainer, right?

However, data suggests otherwise!  Often times promoting one of your sales reps into a sales management may result in poorly managed sales teams along with over-worked, frustrated and demotivated sales managers that eventually result in poor results.

There are several reasons why and how this happens. But Fundamentally the key reason why the practice of promoting from within often yields such poor outcome is that THE ROLE OF A SALES EXECUTIVE HAS LITTLE IN COMMON WITH THE ROLE OF THE SALES MANAGER. In case you don’t believe me take a sheet of paper or go to your nearest whiteboard and make two columns.  Under one of the columns list all the traits & skills that are shared among your top sales reps.  Under the other column list all the traits and skills that makes someone a great sales manager.  Once you are done compare the two and see how many traits are shared among both columns.  I assure you that in fact, many of the characteristics, personal traits & activities that make someone very effective at selling will make that person ineffective in a sales management role.

Below I point out five specific factors to support my argument:

  1. It’s all about me: One of the common traits you find in top sales reps is that they are usually very selfish about their time, focus and energy. This is a great asset to have when winning deals, beating the competition or colleagues to be the top dog. But this trait is quite harmful when you become a manager.  As a sales manager you need to put the interest, success and happiness of your sales executives (often ex-colleagues) ahead of your own and work tirelessly to support them.
  2. Being the hero vs. making heroes: as the sales executive you always want to be the hero of every story, every engagement and every forecast call. But as a sales manager your primary job is to make others the heroes of their engagements and opportunities.  Letting go of that ‘hero’ mentality is very hard for sales executives.  The bigger the ego, the harder it is for ex-sales executives to let their sales reps to take the spotlight. One of the biggest issues I have seen in recently promoted sales executives to management roles is that they want to play the hero in every key deal that their sales reps are driving. That is why they often take over and close many deals.
  3. Playing NICE: Some of the best sales executives I have seen were not very diplomatic and hated to play ‘politics. They often did whatever it took to win the deal, which often meant making life difficult for some people in support, ops, contracts, legal, or other departments.  You could often get away with it as the top sales rep.  But as a sales manager you learn very quickly that you have to play nice with others if you want to get your work done or move higher in the ranks & file. You have to care about what other department heads and staff care about and work with them to ensure a more balanced relationship.
  4. Becoming a Coach: One of the most important responsibilities of a sales manager is coaching his/her team along their personal and professional growth paths.  The most effective sales managers are big believers in coaching and often enjoy and thrive on the responsibility of helping others reach their potentials.Every salesperson I have met has a unique selling style and approach.  Of course, this is natural as each one of us are different and carry with us into our deals our unique personal traits.  When the sales executives are given the task of helping other sales reps (without relevant training on how to coach) often their instinct is to fall back on their own selling style and try unsuccessfully to get others to copy their style.In addition, sales executives often hesitate and avoid their coaching hat because they see it (wrongly) as micromanagement, something that I have never found a sales person to be keen on.
  5. Up the creek without a paddle: this one is not about the individual, but it is about the organization itself. It’s ironic that organizations accept the premise that salespeople and other employees in general should be provided with training that is relevant to their role in order to increase productivity and chance of success.  However, when it comes to helping newly promoted sales executives to sales managers organizations often provide almost no structured, or deliberate training on how to be an effective manager.  As discussed before there is little in common in skills, traits and activities between the two roles.  So why is it that organizations feel that a qualified sales executive has already mastered all the skills, tools and traits needed to be successful as a totally different role?

In conclusion I want to add that there are plenty of good reasons to promote the ‘right’ sales person to become the sales manager. However, without the necessary enablement, tools and support it is very unlikely to see many of the benefits you may have wished for.

We have been helping organizations across Asia dramatically improve productivity, sales performance and customer experience through building and managing sales & customer success organizations.  We like to hear from you and have a conversation about your business when you are ready to grow & transform your business.


Mark Ghaderi is an author, sales coach, mentor, entrepreneur and social selling evangelist with twenty five years of driving business results across the globe.

Vital Strategies Pte Ltd. Provides Revenue Growth Services to companies across the APAC region, helping organizations to grow their top line through digital transformation and improving sales and customer success execution.

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