This subject is challenging in many organizations. It is complicated and full of traps and pitfalls. Do you transition your best sales rep into a manager? What does this cost the organization in lost sales? What if a great sales rep is a terrible manager? Are you hoping a good sales rep can teach other sales reps how to be successful? What if the sales rep makes less money as a manager? Is this a promotion? There are some revealing statistics regarding this topic at the end!
In recent years, I have watched successful sales reps fail to become sales managers. No matter the reason, the issue has me curious. This article may very well be the beginning of a journey toward a new book or training product to help organizations successfully lead the function of sales. The first point to consider is, do you need a sales manager?
According to Anthony Iannarino, the sales manager is responsible for three outcomes:
If your sales team is small, this role can confuse business owners. Does one need to be the manager if you have three sales representatives? The short answer is probably not. Taking a third of your sales team out of the sales function (even part-time) may be a terrible idea. The counter-argument is they can be both sales contributors and managers simultaneously. Depending on the type of sales function, this may range from marginally successful to catastrophic for the team.
Can someone manage their book (of business) while helping others grow their books? I see this in the insurance and financial services sectors most often. They become a part-time sales maker and a part-time manager, with both efforts suffering to some extent.
There are eight sales manager responsibilities, according to Iannarino:
If some of these responsibilities are not essential for your team to remain successful, you probably do not need a manager. Preparing budgets, analyzing statistics, creating projections, and sales interactions with marketing are sophisticated skills most sales representatives do not have in their toolkits.
However, if the business has a robust sales strategy and someone needs to be accountable for executing that strategy, you likely need a sales manager. When small, the owner or CEO is often responsible for strategic execution. However, when the business has outgrown the current leadership team's competencies (skills and knowledge), you likely need a sales manager to lead the effort. Think execution and accountability as opposed to function; you are likely to make the best decision regarding a sales manager.
The fallacy of the best sales rep as the next sales manager is ubiquitous. Team objectives are quite different from individual objectives, and just because someone is effective in a sales role does not mean they will be effective in leading a team toward success. However, if you have a sales maker doing analytics on her own and ideating strategy without prompting, you may have a candidate for a sales manager. If she is coaching others when they struggle and finding solutions to help the team, ponder the possibility.
Look for process-oriented people rather than outcome-oriented individuals. Sales in any business should be a process rather than an outcome. Successful sales makers follow a logical process that becomes repeated over time with fine-tuned adjustments. Getting a team to follow a defined process is a challenging job. The expensive CRM platform you purchased and implemented is an excellent example of a process. Examples include CRM maintenance, creating all the necessary documents on time that aids the sale, and using all the tools required to complete the sales task effectively. Look for someone who can identify gaps in existing processes and build new processes and structures that streamline the sales cycle, thereby enabling your sales reps to sell better and faster.
A sales manager is needed when the business owner can no longer help the sales team. The sales manager's role is to assist others in finding solutions like negotiating a stuck deal or growing a stagnant account. They discover gaps in the current process or bring in new tools that the entire team can leverage for a much smoother sales process.
Consider a sales manager when the sales team must interact with other functional groups in the business. If the interaction between sales, operations, product development, engineering, customer service, and marketing becomes complicated, you likely need someone to represent the sales process as a manager.
If someone has already stepped up as the leader of the sales team and has the support of others, consider them for the sales manager role. According to HubSpot, a manager is more than a sales rep who crushed their numbers quarter after quarter -- they're coaches responsible for guiding a team with diverse selling styles and levels of experience to be the best they can be. Suppose they have positioned themselves as a leader, attended leadership development courses, and already taken on managerial duties such as onboarding new reps or training. In that case, they might be an excellent manager candidate.
Understanding different selling styles and sales models are essential. Otherwise, a newly promoted sales manager will likely lead one sales approach alone – their own. There is no one best way to sell. But often, reps who become managers early in their careers instinctively adhere to one familiar style and coach their team on that selling technique. This tendency is a trap. The most effective managers understand that their job is to bring out the best of each rep's skill set and strengths, not force them into a sales approach unsuited to their talents.
Finally, a sales manager must have sales credibility to lead a team. Sales reps are different people from everyone else on the business payroll. Like athletes, they know who can deliver and who cannot. If someone has not earned the respect of others on the team, they will not be successful in leading them.
Sales managers are not just successful sales makers with promotions. Hiring or promoting someone to sale manager is a complex task for any team. Many sales makers lack the competencies (skills and knowledge) and are hired based on interview personality and a resume with sales experience. Some learn to survive, while others fail and move on to other opportunities. Hiring or promoting someone to manager is a daunting task amidst a population with limited sales talent.
Give yourself some grace if you have previously failed at hiring or promoting a sales manager. According to Peake Sales Recruiting, over 75% of sales makers who get promoted to sales managers will fail at the job and get removed within two years. In other words, only 25% of sales reps can last more than 24 months as a manager. As already discussed, many factors contribute to the collective failure of sales makers who become managers. Promoting that successful sales rep will likely cost you significantly. Is it worth the risk?