Newsletter Archive - Sales / Marketing
Do Great Salespeople Make Good Sales Managers?
12/21/2006 - The topic is one of the hottest you could have in this sales driven industry – can top performing sales people become good sales managers.
Unfortunately, there's not much in the way of formal research that helps in the discussion on the results of top producing sales reps that have been promoted to managers. But there also isn’t much on those who were moderately successful sales reps that were promoted or those that had no prior sales experience before their promotion. Common logic would suggest that the behavioral profiles of those who succeed in these two very different roles are dramatically different, meaning that those who succeed as sales managers are not the same as those who succeed in direct selling. I think everyone would agree that the roles, requirements, and job skills for being a top notch sales person are vastly different than those required to be a good sales manager. But if that was the case, how can the industry keep up with its growing need for high quality sales managers AND top performing sales people?
One outside industry hiring expert feels that sales people usually come in one flavor: "doers." Sales managers, on the other hand, come in three: 1) doers, 2) coaches, and, 3) part-doer, part-coach. Here’s the link to his thoughts on this topic: Click here.
We also canvassed managers in the industry on their views and got back some interesting comments. Here are three that best reflected the comments we received:
In my prior efforts, I have always made it a point to promote from within and ensure that we had the bench strength to do so. But it is rare to find anyone who knows how to sell, ranks at the top of their sales peer group and who can also effectively transfer into a position as an effective leader or manager.
Personally I’ve found that for a host of reasons those who can do it day in and day out have little tolerance for those individuals who are not wired in the same way. That may be why very bright people don’t often make good teachers either. I’ve also found that top performing sales people are unable to transfer that knowledge effectively to others, and in some cases, don’t want to share their techniques.
As it relates to bench strength and promoting from within, I do however firmly believe in that philosophy. When I’m looking for a candidate to take over a manager’s role, I obviously consider their sales performance and their manager recommendation in the mix. But it is not the only skill/talent I’m looking for since meeting targets, teamwork, attention to detail, preparation, self-development, work ethic, leadership qualities, superb verbal and written communication skills, tenacity and perseverance and career mindedness are also very important. I may find someone who achieves his/her sales targets, but does not blow past them like our high performers do. Meeting objectives is important, but exceeding them by large percentages is not the only recipe for management success. So I can find a high quality and talented manager candidate who is not necessarily my top performer but who wants to achieve more than just sales numbers.
I read Dr. William's article, and while I agree on some of the points -there are points where I couldn't disagree more. First, the general message of the article could almost be that if you excel at your job as a sales rep and want a management position, you may have to be somewhat apologetic for your past performance. The thought that we should scour the ranks of the mediocre to find our next great manager is ridiculous in my opinion, as much so as eliminating good candidates because they haven't been ranked #1 for 5 years running.
I believe a much more fruitful rule would be that past performance does not guarantee success in a managerial role -- period.It goes too far to say that the skills needed for success in one job are incongruent with the other. As a former top producer in sales, I don't believe that my past achievements were a hindrance in my subsequent 5 promotions in the management ranks. There are certainly examples of prim-donna sales reps who are far too self serving to give enough of themselves to their teams, but it is just as true that many mediocre reps are that way because they are mediocre performers in any position.
The one thing that a top performing rep demonstrates by their daily actions is a desire to win, and that they have created a habit of winning. It is very difficult for someone like that to perform poorly. Likewise, itcan befar easier for someone without a consistent track record of winning to justify and rationalize missing goals. The same skills of persuasiveness, persistence, creative thinking, and problem solving are needed at the sales rep and manager level. In fact, most of us in this period of change in our industry are struggling to find people who aren't afraid to change the "standard operating procedure", as opposed to rule followers who can only recite the ways we "have done" things in the past.
My conclusion, past sales performance doesn't punch your ticket, but mediocre sales performance is something you have to explain.Youcannot get stuck in the trap that because you were a great rep, you can't be a good team player or coach, any more than you can say that because you have been just so-so as a rep, it must be because you were just too ethical or too much of a team player. Frankly, it perpetuates the adage that those who can't do- teach.
There is no absolute practice when it comes to top sales reps and their progression to top sales managers. All individuals have different timeframes for evolving from one area to the other. I have experienced many top sales reps becoming outstanding sales managers because their personal career aspirations changed, or their mentor created a sense of change, or they simply wanted a change. This is much more about identifying the characteristics required for leadership and creating an understanding with the potential leader. It is about the relationship between rep and mentor. If the top rep does not show the "right leadership stuff" as a rep, then they should not be considered for leadership. This will be identified via the relationship and mentoring that takes place.
Clearly opinions run very strong on this issue. What to do you think? Drop me a note at ken@YPTalk.com and let me know your experiences. The name/company of any comments provided will be keep confidential. Thanks.