It sounds strange hearing that it could be something wrong promoting the best performer. For instance, do you know any good mechanics or engineers who were promoted to a managerial position, and the company lost a good technician and got a not too good manager? Please, don’t misunderstand me. There are many mechanics or engineers with the right managerial skills but having technical skills, does not guarantee good managerial skills.

From the Kindergarten, we have been taught that people with better score are the best. Therefore, we can find many Small and Medium Business (SMB) that follow the assumption that the best salesperson should be promoted to the position of sales manager. Even in the  subsidiaries of global corporations are in place the same assumption because the hiring responsibility of the sales manager position depend on the country manager in order to have full accountability.

We have been taught that all of us we should be leaders and the proof of our success will be achieving a managerial positions. However, this is not exactly true. No everybody is or will be prepared to be an effective leader or manager. However, that does not mean that the person failed. It just means that those people are more suitable for other positions that can be of high value for the firm and very well-paid too. Anyway, I prevent you that this article could be very challenging for the current mindset of many salespeople and sales manager.

Why the best salesperson wouldn’t probably be  the best suitable person for the sales management responsibility?

First, as Mike Weinberg point out “the successful individual sales producer wins by being as selfish as possible with her time… The seller who best blocks out the rest of the world, who maintains obsessive control of her calendar, who masters focusing solely on her own highest-value revenue-producing activities, who isn’t known for being a team player, and who is not interested in playing good corporate citizen or helping everyone around her, is typically a highly effective seller… The successful sales manager doesn´t win on her own; she wins thorough her people by helping them succeed.” It is relevant to stress the difference between selling on her own and selling thorough her people. An evidence of the misunderstanding of selling through other is that with almost the exception of IT industry, no other industry is using Partner Channel Management as a powerful sales channel that could provide around 60% of total company sales. Anyway, you could find a top salesperson who is suitable to be a sales manager but is quite improbable. I am explaining why in the next paragraph.

What is the profile of Top Salespeople and Sales Managers

Second, the skills and responsibilities of a salesperson and a sales manager are different. Let list some of the skills of a sales manager: building a sales culture; leading a team; team motivation; hiring; retaining top performers; conflict management; coaching; feedback delivery; challenging data, false assumptions, wrong attitude, and self-complacency; create the area budget and forecasts; etc. Are those the skills of sellers? The answer is NO!

Third, as Mark Roberge highlight sales top performers used to base their success in a specific selling skill (relationship building, or consultative selling, etc.) Nevertheless, the sales managers need “a well-rounded grasp of the entire sales methodology. Sales leaders with balanced abilities would be able to diagnose a specific issue and be qualified to customize a coaching plan to address the issue.” So, sales top performers with unbalanced skills are not likely able to coach a team on any skills that they have poorly developed. Now, we must clarify that a sales manager must have a good performance selling in order to know the process of selling well but he is not usually a top sales performer.

Fourth, we should remember that “what distinguishes great leaders from merely good ones? It isn’t IQ or technical skills, says Daniel Goleman. It’s emotional intelligence.” Many people with high technical skills are promoted without some training on management and leadership. Other times, firms think that managers could be built with just a few days of leadership training (for instance the “famous company talent programs.”) The good performance of top sales producers does not guarantee that they will be great leaders for sales teams, and a few days of training on leadership neither. In fact, as Mark Roberge says: “Sometimes really good salespeople are selfish, egotistical, and competitive by nature. Those traits do not translate well into management.”

I would like to say that the rule should be “don’t promote your best salespeople to sales management.” Nevertheless, as any rule there are exceptions but remember that exceptions are very few cases.

Be careful if you are using a multitasking approach: Part-time salesperson and part-time sales manager

This used to be a very seductive approach for small business and even large corporation subsidiaries. Getting two roles for the price of one. I have to say “good try but this shortcut is not working at all.”

As we have mentioned before it is quite improbable that you find the right person for both different positions. However, if you are lucky to find someone who fits with booth positions, you will have some important challenges mixing those responsibilities:

  • This salesperson will probably pick the best leads for himself with the excuse that the top performer must manage those important leads in order to increase the probability of win the customer. This could create mistrust on the sales team.
  • How much time will he commit to each person if part-time means 2.5 working days per week? He could spend just very few hours on each salesperson what could be not enough to develop the sales team.

How can you motivate and retain your top sales performer without promoting her to sales manager?

The answer is building a Career Growth Plan with a few sales titles that link performance with the sales compensation model. Thus, higher sales performance means higher position and total salary.

So, what should be your first recruit priority? A top salesperson or a sales manager?

For a new sales organization with no more than a couple of people on sales, hiring a top salesperson could be a good first step. Indeed, I know some success examples of this approach. Although there are three considerations regarding hiring a top salesperson:

1. Industry experience used to be overrated: I remember the best salesperson that I have ever met that told me once: “Today, I am selling logistics but the important thing is that I master the selling technique. So, I could sell to any B2B almost any product or service.” This is true but there are still some fear for hiring people from other industries.

2. Industry connections used to be overrated: We must highlight that “customers belong to companies not to salespeople.” Salespeople could bring small accounts that have very low risk trying a new supplier. However, for large B2B sales account the reality is different:

  • for large purchasing amounts used to have medium or long-term contracts in place that prevent to move the account;
  • the relationship between buyer and seller used to be built around many people in different levels of the organization, not just the salesperson;
  • the buyer justified internally the decision to work with the current supplier, trying to move to another supplier would mean that the decision was wrong which could be put in danger the job of the decision maker;
  • move from one supplier to another just because the salesperson moved to other firm does not have any sense from the risk associated with large contracts
  • Etc.

So, do you really think that a salesperson would be bring her last sales accounts to your firm? I don’t think so. If this is happen, it will take at least 2-3 years to move large complex accounts.

3. Is this person able to success in an unstructured environment? My experience is that top sales performers used to be hired from larger and better organized corporations with more sophisticated sales and ops process, customer based, marketing support and lead generation capabilities. Small firms used to have the temptation to solve their sales problems hiring a top sales performer from one of the largest competitor. This used to be “a big mistake.” First, as we have explained before is quite unlikely that the salespeople are moving their last sales to your firm. Second, small unstructured firms require of “evangelistic sales” in order to communicate their “not well-structured value proposition” and building the company brand. That necessary education skill is quite unusual on top sales performers from large firms because large firms are well-known and customers do not question their capabilities. Salespeople working for large firms no need to educate the customer regarding their company rather than developing a different skill, quickly building customer solutions. So, what is the probability that she replicates her past success selling with your small unstructured firm? Honestly speaking, very low!

If we are thinking not just in one or two salespeople rather than building a sales organization, it should be more suitable to hire a sales manager before thinking about recruiting a top sales producer. Be aware that a sales manager should increase the chance to hire the right top salesperson. Additionally, the sales manager would implement a sales leadership and culture that could be exponentially deployed around salespeople and branches.

For new sales organizations, Mark Roberge suggests hiring a quite uncommon profile rather than a sales manager or a top salesperson, the entrepreneur. He pointed out “the entrepreneur is most likely to accelerate the company toward the right product/market fit…She will dig in with prospective customers to learn about their challenges, opportunities, perspectives, and priorities.” I am personally think that he is right. Recruiting a sales manager for a consolidated and organized firm has sense, but for a new company or sales organization the first thing is to learn about customers in orders to build the “customized sales weapons” (communication plan, firm positioning, etc.) that will guarantee the success foundation for a fast growing sales organization.


If you are a…

  • Sales manager: Are you in the right position or should you go back to be a top sales performer?
  • Salesperson: What do you think that is more suitable for you career path to remain as a salesperson or to move on sales manager?
  • CEO and your sales area is underperforming: Do you have the right person to growth your company revenue?

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