7 Reasons Promoting Top Reps into Sales Managers Rarely Succeeds

May 24, 2016

In most companies, it would seem natural to reward a top-performing sales rep with a promotion into a sales management position. They consistently drive profitable revenue, close the largest accounts, and have the shortest sales cycles. Who  better to take on more responsibility and mentor the rest of the sales team than someone who consistently achieves his or her number?

Research, however, indicates that more than 75% of sales reps promoted into a management role will return to a sales position within two years. In fact, data from the Sales Management Association’s Hiring Top Sales Managers Research Report indicated that, although 96% of firms rely on internal promotions to staff sales management positions, less than 50% of firms consider themselves proficient at it.

As the CEO of Peak Sales Recruiting, I have worked with many world-class companies over three decades, and we often see a lack of success when it comes to promoting top sales reps into management positions.

Here are 7 reasons why this fails more often than it succeeds:

1) They are vastly different roles that require different skills: A typical B2B sales role involves hunting for opportunities, qualifying and/or developing relationships, communicating, negotiating, and closing. On the other hand, sales management positions involve activities such as interviewing, hiring, developing, training, coaching, managing, firing, tracking, forecasting, analyzing, and planning.

While 96% of firms promoted internal candidates into sales management roles, only 31% reported having a well-defined process for identifying promotable sales people, and only 34% have internal candidate assessment tools, according to the Sales Management Association’s Hiring Top Sales Managers Research Report. This alarming statistic suggests that 65% of sales reps promoted to management are done so without proper evaluation of whether or not they have the skill sets needed to successfully fill the role. As a result, there is a higher risk of failure.

 2) You lose your MVP–Most Valuable Producer: When you take your best player off the field, the team may not win as many games. Many companies mistakenly think that a top salesperson will be able to mentor other reps and show them how to make as many sales as they did. It simply does not usually work that way. Instead, you lose your top salesperson, the revenue that person was driving, and put that person in a position he or she might be less successful in.

 3) Many aspects of managing people are more complex than selling: While sales reps face difficult situations in a given day, month, or year, it is a finite number which they can handle using a systematic approach. However, when managing a team, sales managers have to use an infinite number of mechanisms to coach, train, and lead each individual. This will change from day to day, depending on the person and circumstance. Understanding how to successfully manage a group of diverse individuals can be much more complex than handling sales situations.

 4) They may miss the thrill of the kill: Top reps who love the feeling of closing new business, also referred to as “the thrill of the kill,” will miss that aspect of their job if the majority of their time is spent on helping others close business. They will miss time in the field and may get complacent spending most of their time inside overseeing a team. Great reps have that killer instinct, and, if it is not tended to, the fire may go out.

 5) The best sales reps fly at their own speed: The best sales reps are action oriented and used to driving results through their own direct efforts. Since a sales management position often means overseeing a team where there are reps missing quota, managers need to be able to gear up or down to the lowest common denominator, as the case may be. When the rest of the team isn’t meeting their quotas, top reps turned “managers” may tend to feel a huge temptation to step in, take over opportunities, and close business for reps on the team–rather than help the reps become better closers through coaching.

 6) Great players sometimes make terrible coaches: Michael Jordan, arguably the best NBA player of all time, was reportedly a nightmare to play for, according to the book The Jordan Rules. Air Jordan expected everyone to play at his level. In order to effectively run a team, top sales leaders implement training programs, conduct in-depth sales meetings and pipeline reviews, and scrupulously document opportunities. Too often, when a top sales rep is promoted to a managerial role, he or she can’t let go of his old role. Instead of managing and teaching, they just want to close deals, undermining salespeople’s motivation and confidence and weakening their relationships with customers.

 7) Incorrectly promoting top sales reps comes with a massive price: A poor sales manager and a loss of a top-performing sales rep can cost an organization hundreds of thousands of dollars in terms of lost present and future customers, a damaged market reputation, and a drop in sales team morale.

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About The Author

Eliot Burdett is an author, sales recruiting expert, and the co-founder and CEO of Peak Sales Recruiting, a leading B2B sales recruiting company launched in 2006. Under his direction, the company leads the industry with a success rate 50% higher than the industry average, working with a wide range of clients including boutique, mid-size, and world-class companies such as P&G, Gartner, Deloitte, Merck, and Western Union. Eliot has more than 30 years of success in building companies and recruiting and managing high-performance sales teams. He is a Top 40 Under 40 winner. He has been widely featured in top publications including the New York Times, Fortune, Forbes, Inc., Entrepreneur, Reuters, Yahoo!, Chief Executive, and CIO.

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