Article by Ben Klopfer

Deep Dive: Should You Promote Your Top Salesperson to Management?

In a competitive business landscape, it is common for companies to promote their top-performing sales representatives to sales management positions. However, research and experience show that this approach often fails to produce the desired outcomes. In fact, more than 75% of sales representatives promoted to sales manager roles do not last two years in the position and return to a sales role. Let’s take a deep dive into the reasons why promoting a top salesperson to a sales management position might not be the best course of action for a company.

Different Roles Require Different Skill Sets

A sales role typically involves seeking new opportunities, building and nurturing relationships, listening and understanding customer needs, negotiating, and ultimately closing deals. A top salesperson excels in these areas and has a proven track record of achieving results.

On the other hand, a sales management position entails activities such as interviewing, hiring, developing, training, motivating, managing, firing, tracking, forecasting, analyzing, and planning. While an understanding of both roles can contribute to a person’s success in either position, the day-to-day responsibilities and skill sets required for each role are vastly different.

Managing People Is More Complex Than Selling

Great salespeople often have a system for dealing with a finite number of sales situations. They know how to navigate various scenarios, adapt their approach, and ultimately close deals.

Managing a team, however, requires employing an infinite number of mechanisms to hold each individual accountable. These mechanisms can change from day to day, depending on the person and the circumstances. This adds a layer of complexity that top salespeople may not be prepared for or suited to handle.

Sales DNA and Management DNA Are Not the Same

Top sales representatives typically possess attributes such as drive, competitiveness, perseverance, optimism, and flexibility. These traits contribute to their success in closing deals and achieving their sales targets.

While some of these traits can be beneficial for sales managers, the focus required for management is entirely different and often cannot be fixed through training alone. Successful sales managers need patience, flexibility, tolerance, and strong communication skills. Top salespeople who enjoy the thrill of closing deals may find it difficult to transition to a role focused on helping others achieve success.

Top Salespeople Operate at Their Own Speed

Top sales representatives are action-oriented and accustomed to driving results through their own direct efforts. They work at a fast pace and are constantly seeking new opportunities and closing deals.

When promoted to a sales management position, these individuals must learn to adjust their approach and work with a team where, on average, 50% of the sales representatives are below targets. This requires the ability to gear up or down to the level of the lowest-performing team member, which can be challenging for top salespeople who are used to operating at their own speed.

Sales Representatives and Sales Managers Have Different Priorities

Sales representatives are primarily focused on hunting new business opportunities, closing deals, and ensuring client satisfaction. They are driven by the desire to achieve their sales targets and generate revenue for the company.

In contrast, great sales managers prioritize implementing training programs, conducting in-depth sales meetings and pipeline reviews, and meticulously documenting opportunities. These activities may not be as appealing or satisfying to top salespeople who are more interested in closing deals and achieving their own personal success.

The Cost of Promoting a Top Salesperson Can Be Massive

Promoting a top salesperson to a sales management position can result in the loss of a valuable asset to the company. With their focus shifted to managing a team, the individual’s contribution to generating revenue through sales can be significantly reduced.

Poor leadership and the loss of a great sales representative can have severe consequences for a company. These include lost present and future customers, a damaged market reputation, and a decline in sales team morale.

The Tricky Transition from Salesperson to Sales Manager

When a top salesperson is promoted to a sales manager role, they must quickly adapt to a new set of responsibilities. These include finding and selecting good team members, teaching them skills, keeping them motivated, creating goals, analyzing their performance, and holding them accountable.

The transition from salesperson to sales manager can be fraught with difficulties, as the individual must learn to let go of their previous role and adopt a new skill set. Failure to do so may result in poor team performance, a tarnished reputation, and even the individual’s departure from the company.

While promoting a top salesperson to a sales management position may seem like a logical move, it is not always the best course of action. The skills required for success in sales and sales management are different, and not all top salespeople are suited for managerial roles. Companies should carefully assess outside candidates for sales management positions, considering factors beyond sales performance and offering alternative career paths for those who excel as individual contributors.

Fractional Sales Management is also a great option, of course. You can get proven expertise and success with less risk and more reward