The Cautionary Tale of James and Kim
The call came in. It was like so many calls I had received before. Kim* was fed up because James,* the star salesperson her organization promoted, wasn’t making it as a sales manager. James had been killing it at sales. It was clear he knew the industry and how to convert leads into sales. When James’ supervisor left he made it clear he wanted to move up in the organization and Kim and the other members of management thought it was clearly the right thing to do.
And James showed even some initial signs of success. But then people on the sales team started leaving. James’ sales numbers slowed dramatically as he was spending more and more time with the team. And finally, a big account left at renew time as the sales team struggled to come together.
The moral? There is an allure to promoting someone from within, from your own sales team, to manager. But, as with James, it can prove to be a grave mistake.
I’ve spent most of my career as an outside advisor to companies. Prior to building my companies all I did was help other companies with their issues – first as a corporate attorney as some of the largest law firms in the United States and my own law firm (still going strong) then as a business strategist.
Calls like this come in all the time. So how do you avoid falling for the top performers trap? When is a top performer really going to make a great manager, and when are they going to bomb?
The good news is there are 5 clear signs to know that a sales star might make a bad sales manager. Here they are below:
The 5 Signs A Sales Star will Be a Management Dud
1) Caught up on approval more than getting the job done
Many great salespeople provide exceptional results because they are approval -oriented. They want to make a customer happy, so they sense what the customer needs and goes the extra mile. Maybe it’s a call on the weekend to meet with client’s schedule, or fighting to get an extra discount to close the deal or showing up for an installation to make a client just a little more comfortable with their purchase decision.
This can lead to extraordinary results as a salesperson. However, in a sales manager role, where you can never make everyone happy, this need for everyone’s approval can lead to stress, anger and overwhelm for the star salesperson turned manager.
Sometimes one employee will have to work up to a holiday weekend to close a sale and won’t be happy with that decision, sometimes there will have a bonus pool to allocate and the sales manager will have to pick winners and losers, and sometimes as sales manager you can’t attend every sales call your team wants you to attend.
2) Too intense on giving up control
Many great sales people control the sales process. They know just where the customer is in the buying process, what they need, and when they need it. And, of course, they know how to close.
Controlling a sales process is a great skill. But a sales manager doesn’t have the time or attention span to control everything with every customer. As a manager, you have to be able to delegate, let go, and trust that others can play a role in getting the job done.
The salesperson that lives – and thrives – on controlling the sales process usually struggles with the lack of ability to control the sales process as a manager, or worse, tries to control their sales reps and their processes to a frustrating extent.
3) Lacking external motivation (outside of employer/pay) to succeed
There are many reasons people sell. Some sell to get approval of customers. Some sell to get the approval of their team back at the company. Some even sell for money (go figure!)
We find that salespeople that are in it solely for the money often can do great in the salesperson role. However, in the sales manager role, where compensation and rewards are more long-term, it takes a deeper motivation to success.
An external motivation for being successful, such as a love of the company’s products, a career dream to advance, or family motivation, is often key for the sales manager. Star salespeople that are missing this motivation often fail as a manager.
4) Always getting things done at the last second
Great salespeople often love stress. The thrill of the hunt. Making that deadline. Living off that last-second adrenaline rush often is the difference between a so-so salesperson and a star.
But in the world of a sales manager, procrastination becomes less of a sexy motivator and more of a career-ender. You have to be on the ball and planning at all times. There are myriad schedules and priorities to manage.
Waiting for the last second when you have multiple people reporting to you is a recipe for disaster: unsurprisingly all of your team will be struggling with issues to close sales at the end of the quarter (and you can’t help all of them), the company’s accounting department will still want expense reports and filings, and more than a few sales managers have complained to me that they feel like they are always chasing the next deadline, just to name a few of the issues we see regularly.
5) Failing to plant seeds for their future
Let’s face it: in modern sales teams and organizations we rarely have to plant seeds for the future. Salespeople live in a 30-day cycle. The key is to close sales and make quota.
Many star sales people are very good at bringing in the harvest of sales. However, in a sales manager role, not only does the company need to harvest, they need to plant seeds. Investments in the future are key: that newbie salesperson needs training, schedules need to be adjusted for employees on leave, new systems need to be implement and the list goes on…
A salesperson that doesn’t plant seeds for the future is often going to struggle to plant seeds to build a nurture a team as a sales manager – a role where painting a bold picture of the future and fulfilling it is so much more important.
Do’s and Don’ts for Promoting the Right Salespeople
The 5 signs above give you some key things to look for in deciding whether your star salesperson will be a good or bad sales manager. To help you along, here are some Do’s and Don’ts for the promotion process.
Do: Look at why the star salesperson is successful
Why is this person making it? What do you think is causing their success? What do they think is causing their success?
Sometimes the success is in the hustle or in personal communication skills. While these can make a star at salesperson, they may not make a star manager
Do: Look at transferable skills
While some skills don’t transfer, there definitely are a common set of characteristics held by both great sales reps and great sales managers. Sales reps who exhibit traits like discipline, long-term focus, and communication skills may indeed become amazing sales managers. Another example of a transferable skill is great time management: sales reps who manage their time well will be able to adhere to the disciplined schedule a sales manager must follow to be successful.
RELATED: What Qualities Make for a Good SDR?
Do: Focus on the needs of the Sales Manager role
The sales manager role is about the future of the sales team and the company. It’s not about a reward for being great at sales. Focus your attention on what is needed in a sales manager.
Take inventory of what skills will make a great sales manager in your company (this will vary by industry and company culture). Does the star show these skills?
Don’t: Look at success in the salesperson role alone.
Many company equate success at the salesperson role with success at future levels. And it is true that some people will be successful at most anything they try. But success alone is not enough to ensure future success in a very different job.
Don’t: Be afraid to promote a non-star with the right skills
Sometimes the person with the right mix of skills to be a great sales manager is a mid-performer that has well-rounded skills – not the star that is great at one thing. You might have a great sales manager in the making on your team and not even realize it because you are focused on the star seller.
Look at the overall skills of everyone your are considering for sales manager – not just their history of sales.
*Names and details have been changed to protect confidentiality
Also published on Medium.