Top Salespeople Often Make Bad Sales Managers—Here’s How to Avoid This

by Steve Milano

You’ve worked hard to be a top salesperson in your organization. Now you want to make the move to the sales manager or director. The bad news is, based on your successful track record in sales, you’ll probably get the job. This is especially true if you work at a small- or medium-sized business.

Why can a promotion be a bad thing for successful sales reps? Because many new leaders soon find out that being able to sell a product isn’t the same thing as training others how to sell. Nor does it qualify you to make informed decisions about the distribution, pricing, or marketing responsibilities that are part of a director’s job.

If you’re gunning for the top sales position at your company, here’s how you can prepare to land the role and excel once you’ve been promoted.

6 Tips for Getting Promoted Into a Sales Leadership Position

1. Check out job listings.

It might seem counterintuitive after getting a promotion, but it’s helpful to do a little research on what’s typically expected with a job title. Take a look at the skills other companies want to see in sales managers and directors. Read job descriptions and identify experiences and competencies that are repeated across job postings. Larger companies are more sophisticated in their hiring process, so look at the job descriptions for sales managers at Fortune 500 companies to see what they require. Then, use this information to build benchmarks for measuring your performance.

2. Brush up on the 4 Ps: price, product, place, and promotion.

Much of what a sales leader does focuses on pre-sale activities and post-sales follow-up and analysis. As a successful sales manager, you’ll need to know as much as possible about your company’s product or service.

Ask yourself the following:

  • Who is our target customer and why?
  • Why do we offer our current features—and why did we leave others out?
  • Who is our competition and what is our unique selling differential?
  • What is our pricing rationale?
  • Where do we sell and why?
  • What advertising, public relations, promotions, social media channels, and trade shows do we use? Why?
  • Are customers happy with their purchase, and why do they keep coming back?

As a sales leader, your company will ask you to provide customer feedback and marketplace insight to help with product design, pricing strategies, distribution channel selection, and promotions. By preparing with these questions ahead of time, you can provide thoughtful contributions.


3. Learn data analysis.

An important method for increasing sales is data analysis. You’ll need to be able to drill down when you get sales reports. For example, in addition to knowing which products are selling best, you’ll need to know which distribution channels are providing revenue and profit. You’ll need to understand which customer types are buying specific products and where they are buying them. You’ll be asked to identify where your leads are coming from, what your website traffic analytics tell you, and why certain products are being returned. Customer surveys and focus groups are also important for gathering helpful sales data.

4. Hone your people skills.

As a sales leader, you need to direct people through training and incentives. You’ll have to settle territory and account disputes, set realistic sales goals, and make data-driven decisions about the career trajectories of your direct reports.

Improve your communication skills so you can explain, persuade, negotiate, arbitrate, teach, and motivate the people you work with.

“As a sales manager, you’ll have to remember that your sales people are people too,” says Steve Jabon, owner of Media Advantage, a sales company based in Atlanta, Georgia. “Your people are going to drop the ball occasionally or disappoint you in some way.  Make sure you communicate with them on a regular basis and be patient when needed.”

5. Set performance metrics.

As a sales manager, you’ll provide monthly and annual sales estimates. This means you’ll need to set quotas for individual sales reps or outsourced sales companies you use. You’ll need to be able to project sales for different channels, such as online stores, retailers, direct mail, direct response, trade shows, and cold calling.

To meet these goals, you can’t rely on historical data alone. Keep on top of industry trends, disruptive technology, new competitors, and the overall state of the economy. Critically analyze your sales quotas as a rep and try to determine how your company set them. Look at the tools and training you’ve been given to meet your goals, and then think about what you can do to improve this process.

Part of setting sales estimates includes factoring in training, contests, bonuses, commissions, and other motivational tools. Be prepared to set department goals and outline which methods you’ll use to achieve them.

6. Be proactive, not reactive.

Many sales departments have in-house training sessions, but those are often designed by sales managers using their own theories and ideas.

“Always be responsible for your own sales training,” advises Jabon, who has worked as both an in-house sales rep, contractor, and sales manager. “Go and seek out online courses, books, or local seminars.”

Whether you’ve already received an offer or are trying to earn a promotion, it pays to be proactive when it comes to developing your skills. The sooner you start making improvements, the sooner you’ll be ready to move up the ladder into a leadership position.


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