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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.

So the question of whether to promote great salespeople is not really relevant. You have to do it. The real question is how do you to promote great salespeople and make them successful managers?   

We believe the primary reason 75% of sales managers fail to excel in their role is because their companies don’t sufficiently prepare them to succeed. High-performing salespeople are promoted with the assumption that they are inherently capable of passing along their exceptional skills to others. Consequently, the training and development effort they receive is meager by design. The assumption is if they can do it, then they should be able to teach it.  Wrong, wrong, wrong.

Just because a salesperson has closed a bunch of deals, that doesn’t mean he can necessarily teach people how to close. Just because a salesperson has created a sales forecast, that doesn’t mean she can manage the forecasting function. And just because a salesperson has entered data into a CRM system, that doesn’t mean he can use CRM data to manage and coach a team. Selling and managing represent two different perspectives and two different skill sets. It’s similar to the difference between riding in a plane and being the pilot.

Therefore, we believe new sales managers should be met with an onboarding process, no different than new salespeople in your company might receive. Assume that your new sales managers know nothing about being an effective sales manager and coach — because it’s quite possible they don’t. You should take the task of training and developing new sales managers as seriously as you take the task of training new sellers. But instead of teaching them how to sell, teach them how to manage. Teach them to forecast and to manage a sales pipeline. Teach them to analyze CRM data and to help their reps plan for success. Teach them all they need to know.

We need to stop expecting our great salespeople to magically become great managers, because it’s proven to be a losing strategy. We need to stop turning our best sellers into our worst managers, because it’s doubly devastating to performance. We need to stop asking the wrong question, because we’re always going to promote our best salespeople. Then we can start asking the right question: “How do we prepare our sales managers to succeed in their new role?”

Selling and managing are two profoundly different tasks, and success at one is no guarantee of success at the other.”

Jason Jordan | Partner, Vantage Point Performance
Learn from the best. Sell like the best.