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?

Conclusion

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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