We hear this question all the time among companies we advise.
A salesforce is growing and it is time to hire a sales manager to pull the entire process together.
Or, a sales manager leaves and the company has to decide whether to hire a new manager or perhaps promote someone from the existing sales team.
Emotionally, it can be most satisfying to promote from within, both for the person doing the promoting and the salesperson receiving the promotion.
Unfortunately, very often, it does not work out well and can cause the company a tremendous amount of time and money to repair the mistake.
A Great Player Does Not Always Equal a Great Coach
The skills and traits it takes to be a great salesperson do not necessarily match the skills and traits it takes to be a great sales manager. And, in fact, they can actually, in the worst case, be in conflict.
Let’s take a great example from the world of sports.
Magic Johnson was one of the NBA’s greatest point guards. He was the master at directing the flow of a game and was often called “a coach on the floor.”
Eventually he was named coach of his team, the Lakers. The outcome was a disaster.
Magic could not understand why all his players were not as good as he had been. He was not a natural teacher or counselor. He had little patience for planning or administration.
He wanted to be a player, not a coach.
We have seen this repeated over and over with superstar players like Michael Jordan or Joe Montana. You would think that the greatest players could naturally become the greatest coaches but a direct correlation is not always there.
Finding the Right Position
The next time you go to a game, try to take your eyes off the superstar players for a moment and look at the bench. Keep looking further down the bench to the guys who are intently watching the action but do not get into the games much. Who will you find sitting there?
Often times you will find people like Rick Pitino, a famous college coach, or Greg Popovich, a successful pro coach. These are players who are passionate about the game but not necessarily great at playing it. So they study and learn, and they take their knowledge, if not their athletic skills, into the coaching ranks where they will be rewarded for different types of skills altogether.
Another interesting analogy is the military. Some generals are great field commanders like George S. Patton. Some people are great planners and logistics managers like Dwight D. Eisenhower. While other military personnel are best deployed in Washington, where their strategic and, perhaps, political skills can best serve the mission.
Each member of your sales team is built for a certain role.
To maximize the performance of your team consider administering a sales personality assessment. This will allow you to identify each team member’s specific personality traits and opportunities for development and training. By pairing a sales assessment with mentoring you can develop your sales team to reach its full potential. Identifying those salespeople who have the potential to grow into a sales manager will help you make a more informed decision when promoting.
Personality Traits Differ
Great salespeople share the same innate characteristics we constantly talk about: Need for Achievement, Competitiveness and Optimism.
These are not necessarily the same innate characteristics needed in a manager, or at least perhaps not to the same degree. It is not that a manager does not have these characteristics . . . some may; but they probably have to be tempered with or combined with other traits such as empathy or the ability to think strategically instead of just tactically (i.e. one sale at a time).
Understanding the Role
If a superstar salesperson sees becoming a manager as being a promotion and/or reward for her sales prowess, both her Need for Achievement and Competitiveness will kick in, and she will want the job in a vacuum.
However, if the salesperson does not see the position as a manager position with all of its strategic and administrative details, but as simply a more lucrative sales position in which she will simply extend her salesmanship, and expand her personal revenue, by having a team report to her, it can be disastrous.
That is more of a classic “player coach,” which may be a decent solution when the company and resources are scarce, but usually inhibits growth at some point for reasons stated above.
Furthermore, you may be afraid of offending a top-producer by not offering her the position. But one thing you have in common for sure is that you both want to succeed, so it takes some real planning, assessing, and candor to make this critical decision together.
If you want to promote internally and hire a dedicated sales manager, a top salesperson should be assessed on her potential as a manager, not on her performance as a salesperson. There are times when everything lines up and it is the right decision, but by no means is it a perfect correlation. Deeper assessment, discussion and analysis will help you make a better hiring decision.