Tuesday, June 25, 2013

From Salesperson to Sales Manager - The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

As salespeople, we've all heard the expression, "great salespeople do not always make great sales managers."  When you ponder over this commonly uttered phrase, it seems pretty straightforward.  Of course the statement is true because the two jobs are very different.  Nonetheless, it's still a common practice across the world to promote great salespeople into management.  Sometimes is works out, and other times the plan doesn't go so well.

With a bit of analysis, let's explore the top five relevant issues in regards to this practice:

  1. Salespeople have a wide variety of personalities, habits and methods.  Some are more social.  Others are more analytical.  Some salespeople flourish in very strategic selling environments, while others bloom in a more transactional world.  Some are great communicators.  Others, not so much.  It is a combination of theses traits (and more) that lead salespeople to be successful.  There is no one-way of becoming successful at sales.  There are methodologies, common sense, and experience; however, I've witnessed success a hundred different ways with different people that have combinations of different traits.  Identifying these traits is the first clue as to whether a great salesperson may make a great manager.
  2. Successful Trait #1:  Much of sales management is removing sales obstacles from your salespeople.  This empowers them to sell more and builds trust in the relationship.  Sales management is not about micromanaging salespeople.  Great salespeople that must be in control at all times, usually make poor sales managers.  Salespeople don't want to be controlled.  They want to be empowered.
  3. Successful Trait #2:  Careful listening and collaborative decision-making.  Sales management requires listening to many different sides of a conflict.  Socratic methodologies and collaborating with others creates trust and is at the heart of leadership.  Salespeople who succeed by pushing their way past others, involve as few people as possible in their deals, and sell things to customers by persuasion rather than through real consultation/collaboration, usually make poor sales managers.  
  4. Successful Trait #3:  Sales management is also about inheriting the problems, joys, challenges and situations of eight or more people (rather than just worrying about your own issues).  This trait is about  a scientific concept called "non-reciprocal altruism."  The concept stipulates that people do things for other people without necessarily expecting anything in return.  Great sales managers need to practice this trait with their successful and rookie salespeople.  Note: For under-performing salespeople, the great sales manager shifts to a "give/get" strategy.  In other words, the sales manager cannot want the rep to be more successful than the rep themselves wants to be.  This leads to either a behavioral shift or the termination of the salesperson.
  5. Successful Trait #4:  Sales Managers typically make less money than great salespeople.  This may seem like a funny or obscure statement, but it is usually true.  With this said, great sales managers must have at least an equal level of motivation to advance their career (and/or) help others, as they do for earnings.  In a perfect world, if the whole team excels, the sales manager is fairly compensated, but it is almost never equalized.  The sales manager gets a much smaller portion of the deal than the salesperson.  Therefore, if money is the primary motivator over almost everything else, this typically sets up a Sales Manager to fail.
It takes a very special combination of traits to be an excellent sales manager.  Anyone can compile reports, scream and yell for more sales, and keep the ship from falling apart.  It's interesting to ask a seasoned salesperson who is successful to describe the best sales manager they've ever had.  Most will tell you that they've never experienced a sales manager who really contributed to their success and taught them something.  This is truly unfortunate and a big reason why sales management is such an important role.  If you find a salesperson who can identify a sales manager that truly changed their career - you've found one of the few gems in your industry.  Hang on to that person, follow-them, and learn from them.  A sales manager can either be a bothersome disturbance, or a game-changer.

Happy Selling.

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