There are a handful of questions that I’m asked regularly by sales leaders. Some examples are “Who should we be coaching — our low, middle, or high performers?” “How do we make our sales training more sustainable?” “How do we drive better adoption of our CRM (customer relationship management) system?” Of course I have opinions (and supporting data) on how to respond to each, but there are complexities, subtleties, and circumstances that determine the right answer for each unique company.
However, there’s one recurring question that I can answer confidently: “Should we promote our best salespeople to become sales managers?”
On the surface, this sounds tricky. As you no doubt already know, the strategy of promoting the best salespeople into a management role is one that has failed again and again. Selling and managing are two profoundly different tasks, and success at one is no guarantee of success at the other. In fact, a recent Vantage Point study showed that 75% of B2B sales managers see less than half of their sellers reach quota. We’d call that failure. Regardless, we can all agree that many great salespeople have been promoted, only to become bad managers.
Furthermore, you could argue that promoting a great salesperson has a doubly devastating effect on sales performance. First, you’ve just removed one of your best salespeople from the field — almost assuredly to be replaced with a less-capable seller. Second and more troubling, odds are you’ve also just created a mediocre manager. Now you’re down one great salesperson and up one bad sales manager — a manager who is now supervising a whole team of salespeople. That doesn’t sound like a good trade.
So how then do I respond with I’m asked the question “Should we promote our best salespeople to become sales managers?” I simply reply “Is there any other choice?”
In reality, you’re never going to promote a bad salesperson into a sales management role. First, to successfully manage and coach salespeople, you must know how to sell successfully yourself. You should never give a bad seller, or even an average seller, the responsibility of directing and developing an entire team of salespeople. You’d be dooming that team to a long-term battle with revenue malaise.
Second, the sellers on that team are likely to reject the idea of being managed and coached by a former peer they don’t really respect. If you promote a mediocre salesperson into a supervisory position, no seller will rush to soak up his or her deal-closing wisdom — because it won’t exist. No, promoting anyone other than an exemplary salesperson into a management role is a losing gambit. Only great salespeople will command the attention and respect that they need to do their jobs effectively as sales managers.
“Selling and managing are two profoundly different tasks, and success at one is no guarantee of success at the other.”