Great sales professionals don't necessarily make great managers
Sports make for great sales analogies, given some strong similarities in the success factors. One specific is the fact that great players do not make the best coaches, and some of the best coaches were either no name players, or never played in the premier leagues. The difference is that in sports they have come to accept this, but in sales it is another matter.
Many sales organizations still cling to the notion that good sales people make good sales managers, even though empirical data continues to show otherwise. As a result, they continue to make the fatal mistake of taking their best rep, giving them an “attaboy“, and making them manager. And with that expectation, the new managers are usually left to their own device to figure out how they should manage a sales team. It is fatal because on the one hand you have a territory which has experienced good client coverage, steady growth, all the things a top-notch reps brings; to now being vacant for some time while you hire a new rep, who may or may not be as good as the one you promoted. At the same time, you have a former rep who is now out of their element as a manager, getting frustrated, and at best misguiding their team, at worst alienating them and negatively impacting their output. .
The new managers are out of their element because most characteristics and skills that make one a strong coach and leader, are different from the attributes that make for a “rock star” sales rep. At the risk of over simplifying things, the main role of a sales manager is to:
- Ensure that reps understand and accept their role
- Reps have the requisite skills to deliver on the above expectations
- Monitor, mentor and evolve their reps
Core to this is the company’s sales process, as it allows both the manager and reps to focus on the same page, and same common goal. That process is the standardized approach to the way the team sells, while coaching in a way that recognizing the individuals involved. By basing their coaching around what it takes to successfully execute the process, a manger is able to take subjectivity out the discussion, and focus on what steps need to be taken to successfully execute the sale process. Less about what the rep is doing wrong, and all about what needs to get done to win sales.
The process-based approach also allows for better evaluation of the team; to have a standard, while avoiding being cookie cutter. It then allows managers to make better decisions around who their A, B, and C players are, and act accordingly. I firmly believe that managers spend too much time trying to salvage the unsalvageable C players, and not enough on the A players, the players who benefit most and deliver the greatest returns on mentoring.
Mentoring is usually the most overlooked of the three attributes of the role. Senior leaders promote the rep to sales manager with the wrong premise. Their basic thought being “Julie is a great rep, we’ll make her a manager, and she can get her team to sell like her.” Julie, thinks, “hey they made me a manager because I know what I am doing, so I’ll just get everyone to sell the way I did”. That unfortunately is not mentoring, leading or coaching.
As an alternative, companies need to do two things. If they have more than a few sales people, they should identify potential future managers as early as possible, and take steps to groom them long before they have to assume the role. Second, have ongoing training and development specifically geared at making sales manages better. Starting with the basics, and evolving from there, a continuous process, much like sales training for reps. And if you are asking “what happens if I train them and the leave?”, let me leave you with a different question: what happens if you don’t train them and they stay?