Great Salespeople Do Not (necessarily) Make Great Sales Managers

It is often seen as a natural career progression for a high performance salesperson to move into sales management. That was certainly my experience as a young, successful salesperson when, early in my career, I was quickly ‘promoted’ into management.

However, those offering me this ‘great opportunity’ gave little consideration to the differences in the roles. It was simply assumed that as I could sell, and sell well, I would get similar results from a team of salespeople. There was little review done to determine whether I had the attributes required to be a good sales manager. In fact, in those days I expect there was little understanding of what these attributes were.

77% of the time businesses make mistakes promoting sales reps into sales management.

Drew Stevens, a business strategist and the author of ‘Split Second Selling’ discovered through his research that “77% of the time businesses make mistakes promoting sales reps into sales management. This is because many business managers believe that those who sell the most make the best sales managers.”

Drew’s findings confirm what I have experienced through my corporate and consulting life. Most high performance salespeople are not automatically high performance sales managers. In fact, the skills and personality that makes a great salesperson may work against them as a sales manager.

My introduction to sales management was a real eye-opener. No longer the high-performer of the company, I quickly learned that the skills that had made me a successful salesperson did not prepare me for managing a team with different strengths, weaknesses, aspirations, problems and emotions – a team of individuals who, surprise, surprise, did not see the world of sales through the same eyes as me.

What I discovered almost immediately on getting my ‘promotion’ was that knowing what to do to personally deliver great sales results was distinctly different from knowing what to do to get others to sell successfully.

So what did I learn from my shaky introduction into the world of management? Here are some of the key lessons.

  • Think ‘we’, not ‘me’. As a sales person my responsibility was to develop opportunities and my client base – to manage relationships and grow revenue. As a sales manager my responsibility was to have my team deliver these results. To achieve this I had to help and develop people – my sales team. I had to stop thinking ‘me’ and start thinking ‘we’. As a new sales manager I needed to understand my success no longer depended on my own ability to sell (frustrating as that was), but on getting the best from my team and helping them become the best they could be.
  • I had to let go. As much as I enjoyed direct selling I now needed to allow my team to do more of the face-to-face work in the sales process. Like many salespeople who are promoted to the role of sales manager, when the results were not forthcoming, I fell back into the role of sales person by attending appointments with my team and ‘doing the selling’ to get the business. This did little to help develop my team or build confidence in my capability as manager. It was now up to me to coach my team to develop their skills to make them better salespeople. Letting go was one of the most difficult things to achieve.
  • I had to know my place in the team. Some of my team were experienced, successful salespeople who needed little assistance. Others were new to the game and required more guidance and development. I had to understand that each individual needed something different from me and would need different styles of management. Further, at times my role in the sales process was to help sell at or gain entry to different levels, but in doing this I needed to let the sales person be seen as the ‘relationship manager’.
  • I needed to interpret my company’s vision and strategic initiatives into the sales strategy that my team would implement on a day-to-day, opportunity-to-opportunity basis – something I had only ever considered with respect to how I presented the company to my clients and how it helped me develop a level of trust and confidence with them.
  • I needed to think like a manager who recognised the relationship between the growth and development of my company and the growth and development of the people that make up that organisation – especially my sales team. This did not come natural to someone who had enjoyed a successful role in sales. Salespeople are often quite happy to be, and are often seen as ‘loners’ – working by them self, for them self. As the manager I needed to be more a team player and coach and less of a loner. This was one of the biggest challenges I faced.
  • I learned that it was not my past experience nor my position of ‘authority’ that determined if I would be successful, but my behaviour, attitude and value I could deliver to the individuals and my team that would earn their respect and support (sounds a bit like selling doesn’t it?).
  • My central responsibility was to develop people and help to make them successful, both as individuals and as a team – that was how I would achieve my new goals.
  • That to achieve real success I need to find the alignment of organisational and personal goals for each team member
  • ‘Watch more, say less’. It should be obvious to any good salesperson that it is more important to listen than to speak. This was especially so in my new role where I was managing those who had been my peers. I needed to observe situations and individuals from a different perspective to understand how they operated and where I could add the most value.
  • It was essential to develop relationships with my new management peers, especially those that would help me become a better manager and also those that would benefit my team.

Most importantly, I learned to look for help when needed. I was fortunate to have a manager who saw the difficulty I was having making the transition. He acted as my mentor, not just my manager. I also sought the help of others who had gone through similar experiences and became a ‘student of management’, reading as much as I could on what made a good sales manager.

Sales management isn’t for everyone. Fortunately it is no longer seen as the natural progression for high-calibre sales people. Sales is seen as a career in its own right and becoming a manager is not the measure of success. It takes a different mindset to be a successful manager. But for those who choose to pursue this path in their career, it provides fantastic opportunities to develop your capacities to direct, coach, counsel, inspire and encourage others to deliver the expected results. The process of learning how to lead is a personal journey that demands high levels of honest self-reflection and accurate self-assessment. It will also challenge you to be flexible and adaptive, as you quickly learn that there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution when it comes to guiding members and fronting your team.

More often than not, effective sales management is something that is learned, not earned. It is something that needs to be practiced. That was certainly my experience.

This article by Wayne Moloney was originally posted on Linked In