Sales Management – Should You Promote a Top Sales Performer to Sales Management?

A question I hear frequently is, “Should I promote my top sales performer to a sales management role?”

To answer this question, I suggest you consider the following three questions:

Does the individual have the TALENTS required to succeed as a sales manager?

WHY are they interested in being promoted?

What sales management TRAINING will they receive?
Let’s examine each of these questions in some detail.

1. Does the individual have the TALENTS required to succeed as a sales manager?

During the past nine years I have examined sales assessment test results for thousands of salespeople and sales managers. My conclusion? Top sales performers and top-performing sales managers share many of the same talents. However, there are a handful of characteristics where top-performing sales managers differ from top-performing salespeople. For example:

Top-performing sales managers have slightly higher scores for Verbal Skill, Verbal Reasoning and Numeric Reasoning.

Top-performing sales managers are slightly more Assertive, but they are also slightly more Manageable, have a slightly more positive Attitude and are slightly less Independent.
But, probably most significant difference is that Financial/Administrative (which indicates the individual’s interest process, procedure, administration and financial tasks) is one of the top three interests for top-performing sales managers, whereas 80% of top sales performers have very little interest in these activities. I feel this is a key differentiator because the sales management methodology I teach requires a manager to be willing to:

Hold salespeople accountable for following a predictable, repeatable sales process

Frequently and consistently inspect the quantity and quality of their salespeople’s activities (especially for new salespeople and those who are not performing up to standard)

Analyze sales opportunity pipeline reports, profit and loss statements and other data and reports
If managers are willing to do these things, they can create a predictable and repeatable sales culture that can be scaled rapidly. If they are NOT willing to do these things, they are likely to suffer 80/20 sales team performance, where a small fraction of the salespeople produce most of the sales results and successes are hard to replicate.

2. WHY are they interested in being promoted?

My opinion is that the desire to be promoted is often implanted in us by our parents, other adults and educational institutions. This makes perfect sense, as in many (if not most) career paths the only way to make more money and enjoy more perks is to earn promotions. However, in sales this is usually NOT the case!

If you are a top-performing salesperson, often you will take a pay CUT if you accept a promotion to management. That is certainly what happened to me when I was promoted to sales management in 1991. I walked away from a $6 million pipeline that would have paid me hundreds of thousands of dollars a year for the next several years. While I still earned a six-figure income as a manager, my income was a fraction of what it would have been had I remained a salesperson.

When a salesperson is considering a promotion to management, I advise that they make a very sincere effort to identify the reasons why the idea of being promoted is attractive to them. I also suggest that they give some thought to the following realities:

Money: Unless you eventually make it all the way to executive management, chance are you will earn LESS as a manager than you would earn by remaining a top-performing salesperson

Attention: As a manager you no longer get to be the star. Instead, you need to shift your focus to helping the members of your sales team succeed.

Administration: As we saw in the first section of this article, a key component of being a successful sales manager is frequently and consistently inspecting the quantity and quality of your salespeople’s activities. How do you feel about doing this kind of work…over and over again?

Training/Coaching: How much interest do you have in training, coaching and mentoring others? How do you feel about participating in repetitive role plays, which is a critical component of changing your salespeople’s behaviors?
Sometimes I hear salespeople say they would like to move to management because they are tired of the day-to-day grind of prospecting and managing sales cycles, or they are tired of the ups and downs in income, or they really enjoy coaching and mentoring others, or they would like to eventually have an opportunity to contribute in other areas of the company. These are all perfectly valid reasons, and there are many more.

All I ask is that you take the time to verify that you (or your salesperson) are pursuing a promotion to management for the RIGHT reasons and that you (or your salesperson) are ready to deal with the realities of being a sales manager.

3. What sales management TRAINING will they receive?

Just because someone is an effective salesperson does NOT mean they will automatically be an effective manager. There are specific skills and concepts that a new sales manager needs to learn if they are going to be successful. These include:

Sales Recruiting

Sales Compensation

Sales Training and Coaching

Sales Activity Inspection
What is your plan for teaching your new sales manager how to perform these critical activities?


Sometimes it DOES make sense to promote a top sales performer to a sales management role. However, before you promote, please be sure to give careful thought to the following questions:

Does the individual have the TALENTS required to succeed?

WHY are they interested in being promoted?

What TRAINING will they receive?
If you are not confident in your answers to these three questions, you may be on the verge of making a very expensive mistake. Not only will you lose the promoted salesperson’s individual production; if they fail as a manager they are likely to leave your company and go sell for someone else!

On the other hand, if a salesperson has the talents required to succeed, if he or she is pursuing promotion for the right reasons, and if he or she will receive training in critical sales management skills and concepts, the stars are aligned for a successful…and profitable…promotion!

©2011 Alan Rigg

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Sales Management Part 3 – Mentoring Salespeople

Salespeople are most often associated with being coached to improve their selling competence but mentoring is seldom discussed or implemented for them. The question is why not? Is it because we have been conditioned to believe that mentoring is only for up and coming young executives or for those in non-selling roles?

So what is mentoring and its value to a business, a salesperson and a sales manager to become a mentor?

Mentoring is the term used to describe a relationship between an older and more experienced individual who is known as a mentor. Their role is to support and guide a less experienced individual, the protg.

A mentor fosters the personal and professional growth in their protg by sharing knowledge, skills, experience and insights that have been learnt over many years. A mentor’s background can vary greatly from the same profession and same position as their protg’s through to a completely different industry.

Mentoring creates an exceptional opportunity for cooperation, goal achievement and personal development. An effective sales manager mentor can establish rapport, respect and trust between them and the salesperson

Mentoring a salesperson can provide:

• Purposeful learning

When the sales manager also becomes the mentor their role is to encourage and advance the growth of the salesperson though planned learning. This includes their sharing learning experiences as and when the experiences relate to the salesperson’s need to learn. The experiences are communicated through anecdotes, scenarios and situational examples.

Both successes and failures are discussed in an open and truthful manner. These insights are often memorable for the salesperson and provide valuable learning

• Cooperative responsibility

This means sharing the responsibility for the learning outcomes. This can be formalized in a written agreement between the salesperson and the sales manager and designed to achieve the business’ specific mentoring objectives. The other type of mentoring is informal in that it operates by chance and for the most part is unrecognized by the business. Whatever method is used the salesperson’s growth is the focus

• Allocating time

Effective mentoring requires regular interaction between the sales manager and the salesperson and is not done intermittently. A schedule needs to be developed with dates, activities, planned experiences, demonstrations, case studies, and time set aside for reflective analyses. This adds motivation and direction for both parties.

For the business mentoring a salesperson can:

• Cultivate loyalty

• Boost morale and motivation

• Strengthen shared values and goals

• Uncover Talent

• Improve productivity

• Set new standards of professionalism

• Increase the years of service to a business

• Be an effective career management tool

• Enhance leadership skills of the sales manager

• Identify any barriers in the business

• Attract quality salespeople from other companies

For the salesperson mentoring can:

• Fast track their development

• Complement other structured learning or training

• Be tailored to suit the salesperson’s needs in terms of content and time frame

• Create an open and trusting relationship that provides encouragement and support

• Develop and explore their natural talents

• Expand current thinking and embrace new perspectives

• Reinvigorate their selling career

• Challenge the salesperson with new skills and ideas

For the sales manager mentoring can:

• Be the vehicle to share knowledge and expertise

• Develop skills in a more personal manner

• Build active listening, communication and modeling skills

• Develop a trusting and unique relationship with the salesperson

• Expand their understanding on what else is happening in other parts of the business

• Uplift their level of self-worth

• Receive professional recognition for their role

• Expand their expectations of self

Qualities of an effective mentor

Not every sales manager has the attributes to become a mentor. This can be because of their background or their lack of interest in this type of work. A senior salesperson with the right attitude and skill set may be better suited for the role? Often the driving force is a need to give back to others who will benefit from their experiences.

The following qualities however are common in all effective sales manager mentors:

• A successful track record

The sales manager may come from a different industry or profession but their level of expertise and experience is evidence of an individual who has ‘been there and done that.’ They can have a good reputation for developing others and possess a humble approach to their abilities. They have much to offer others

• The desire and commitment

The desire to be a mentor is a yearning from within that propels them into action and is underpinned by a feeling of excitement and the thought of the doing something extraordinary. The commitment is the sales manager’s pledge to continue working with the salesperson on the mutually agreed plan

• The ability to model

With this carries much responsibility because the sales manager needs to be an individual with a good moral reputation and is respected and admired by others. This is the reason why their behaviour is often copied by the salespeople. The mentor remains calm when the salesperson expresses frustration or anger. They show that they genuinely care about the success of the salesperson as much as the salesperson does.

• A positive attitude

Often a sales manager was the past recipient of formal or informal mentoring so they know what it feels like and the benefits of being mentored. One of the many things they learnt as a salesperson was the importance of being positive particularly when things don’t go according to plan. These are the times when they need their sales manager to give them encouragement with a positive attitude

• An active learner

Sales managers keep up to date with current technology, the latest in business and personal development, knowledge and skills in their field of expertise. They research and discuss areas the salesperson may need to further their development

• Time and boundaries

An agenda and the required time is allocated for each session. It is usually a mixture of meetings in and out of normal business hours. Additional time is needed for the sales manager to prepare for each session and complete post meeting notes of the outcome. The boundaries of the relationship are discussed so both parties know the limitation of their engagement. For example marriage difficulties won’t be discussed

• Compatible

Not every sales manager and salesperson relationship is compatible for a number of reasons including a lack of openness on the part of one party and if one isn’t ‘sold’ on the other. What works is:

– When both the sales manager and salesperson have similar goals

– They genuinely like and believe in each other

– They have an open and honest relationship

– When expectations such as what can and cannot be realistically achieved are discussed up front.


Mentoring isn’t for everyone. It may not be in your natural make up to be a mentor in which case actively look for someone who would be. It can be hard work and require your time and commitment. However, mentoring can also be a most intrinsically rewarding experience.

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