A sales rep on your team does a good job—let’s say very good. The bosses want to reward her, so they promote her to the sales manager. Sounds logical, right? But behold the huge problem here: Having the qualities that make an excellent salesperson does not necessarily mean a person knows how to be a good sales manager and lead a team to success.
77% of the time, management makes a mistake by promoting a sales rep into a sales manager, according to in-house research conducted by Drew Stevens Ph.D., a business development consultant to the medical industry and the author of Split Second Selling. The people they promote have no idea how to be a good sales manager. Just because they sell well as an individual contributor doesn’t mean they’ll become a good sales coach; performance as an individual contributor does not forecast performance as a sales manager.
Whether you’re a sales executive who wants to help folks successfully navigate the transition, or trying to make the climb yourself, the question is this: How can anyone determine which reps are cut out for the management track?
Drawing from expert conversations, we uncovered four key qualities that separate solo A-players from management material.
1. They know how to spin straw into gold
“The sales reps who make the best managers are often the least successful at sales execution,” says David Lewis, President, and CEO of OperationsInc, a human resources outsourcing and consulting firm. Closing on a cold call, for example, “They cannot as easily execute. But they understand the game. They can plan. They can organize. They can strategize.”
Leading-edge candidates may know the taste of failure. But they also know how to learn from it and teach through it, Lewis says—spinning straw into gold. Good sales managers have an aptitude for helping others overcome obstacles and win through persistence.
By contrast, “The best salespeople usually make the worst managers, given they cannot be patient in letting a ‘student’ learn through failure,” he says. “Instead, they’re always stepping in to take over so as not to lose the sale.”
2. They’re more motivated by “we” than “me”
“The best sales managers are the ones who align themselves strategically with the organization’s mission and values while servicing the clients in the best manner possible,” Stevens says.
Here Stevens makes an important distinction between high sellers and managers with stellar potential. Stars shine on their own. But knowing how to be a good sales manager means you understand the importance of helping others shine—and align.
So in seeking the best manager to-be, target the sales rep who:
- Promotes team spirit
- Has a gift for turning cacophony into harmony
- Knows and applies the “80-20” of listening four times as much as they talk
“Look for employees who can guide workflow, train team members, clearly communicate goals and keep everyone on track,” says Robyn Melhuish, Communications Manager at MedReps.com, a medical and pharmaceutical sales job board. “They have to be organized and ready to negotiate problems.”
3. The greater their tenure, the more likely they know how to be a good sales manager
Wherever possible, seek someone who’s had at least several years at your company, Stevens says. That way, chances are greater that they’ll understand how to be a good sales manager. Tenured employees are intimate with “the organization strategy, its customers and its mission. Making a quick transition will create obstacles with peer envy, customer dysfunction and an inability to lead correctly.”
And in terms of stacking the odds of success, why not take the advice of someone who successfully jumped from salesman to sales manager himself? Chuck Gumbert, the founder of the Tomcat Group, has worked more than 35 years in the aerospace business, rising from the shop floor to the CEO’s perch in the process.
“I’ve always looked for someone who’s done a great job performing his or her role,” Gumbert says, “but more importantly, someone I felt was ready for the next step in his or her career. I never wanted to put someone in a position where they would fail.”
4. They can bridge the departmental divide
Gumbert advises seeking out those who lead by example—who “walk the walk” and relate easily not just with colleagues, but also those in adjacent departments. Tap those who show assertiveness on two fronts, he adds: “You need someone willing to push the envelope and not just maintain the status quo, someone with a backbone who won’t let people run over them.”
In the end, a sales rep’s peers might be the best source to predict whether they know how to be a good sales manager.
While taking care to tune out the backbiting or jealousy that may come when a peer rises up, don’t turn a deaf ear to voices of reason, either. Listen to those you trust when it comes to gauging how your choice has worked out.
When someone points out a potential management superstar on your floor, listen. When they tell you that person has let their new power go their head and can back it up calmly, listen. When you ask them for guidance on how to help that new manager succeed, listen.
Always, always listen. Imagine a sales universe where sales professionals didn’t listen to clients. As much as you want to sell clients on a product or service, you also want to sell your sales force on the person you’ve picked to manage them. Wherever you want and need that buy-in, listening is key.