Why good salespeople often turn into mediocre sales managers


We’ve all done it: promoted a good salesperson, often our best, to sales manager. My files are full of cases where the results were below expectations for everyone involved. Principals and CSOs are often disappointed in the lack of results, and the sales managers are confused and frustrated with the lack of achievement of their teams.

A variation on this theme usually produces even more angst. A good salesperson, without any real management experience, is hired from outside the company to fill a sales manager position. When these decisions go bad, the hurt feelings, negative attitudes and difficult situations that result can be ugly.

Not that this is always the case. Many CSOs and executives rose through the ranks in just this fashion, contributing exceptionally at every stage. But these cases are generally the exception, not the rule.

The rule is that few good salespeople make good sales managers. Why is that?

Consider the unique blend of strengths and aptitudes that often mark the character of an exceptional salesperson. Exceptional salespeople often have very high standards for themselves and everyone around them. They are highly focused on the customer, often to the determent of their relationships with their colleagues. It’s not unusual for your star salesperson to irritate and frustrate the people in the operational side of the business, with a brusque and demanding attitude. After all, they think, I’m extending myself to take care of my customers, why shouldn’t I expect everyone else to do so also?

When they become sales managers, they expect all their salespeople to be just as hard driving and achievement oriented as they were. Unfortunately, the reality is that most of their salespeople don’t share the same degree of drive and perfectionism that they had. If they did, they would have been promoted to sales manager.

That means the sales manager often is frustrated with the performance and attitudes of his charges and confused as to how to change them.

The exceptional salesperson is often an independent character who thrives in a climate where he can make his own decisions, determine his own call patterns and spend time by himself.

Alas, he loses almost all of that when he is promoted to sales manager. He’s expected to work a consistent, well-defined work week, to spend a certain number of hours in the office and to fulfill certain administrative functions. The freedom to make his own decisions, to determine his own days, is gone. So, he often struggles with how to adjust to this new work environment and still be productive.

Whereas before he was clearly and independently responsible for his results, now he must achieve his results through other people. Too often, he defaults to a view of his job wherein he becomes the “super salesperson,” taking over accounts, projects and sales calls from his less talented charges. This creates frustration on all parts.

The exceptional salesperson has the ability and propensity to see every situation optimistically, overlooking all the obstacles and concentrating on the potential in every account. That is a necessary element to the sales personality. Without it, he couldn’t weather all the rejection and frustration inherent in the sales job.

That personality strength that serves him well as a salesperson is, however, a major obstacle to his success as a sales manager. When it comes to hiring a new salesperson, he finds himself viewing every candidate through those same optimistic eyes.

The moral of the story?

While you may think your best salesperson can make a great sales manager, the chances of success are small. Find a sales manager and leave your salesperson to do what he or she does well.

Grand Rapids-based Dave Kahle is one of the world’s leading sales authorities. He’s written 12 books, presented in 47 states and 11 countries, and has helped enrich tens of thousands of salespeople and transform hundreds of sales organizations. Sign up for his free weekly Ezine. His book, “How to Sell Anything to Anyone Anytime,” has been recognized by three international entities as “one of the five best English language business books.” Check out his latest book, “The Good Book on Business.” This article originally appeared at davekahle.com.

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