Who are the best sales managers?


Yael Warman, Content Manager at Leverate, takes an interesting look at why great sales people don’t always make great sales managers, and what can be done about it.

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Undoubtedly we’ve all seen this before.

Yael Warman, Leverate
Yael Warman, Leverate

A talented sales rep on the ground floor has this great knack for selling and is swiftly breaking through existing sales records. Due to his success, the executives decide to promote this rep to sales manager. After all, perhaps others in the team can learn something from his ability to close a sale and retain valuable clients. Unfortunately, though this sounds good in theory, in practice it rarely seems to work out.

The underlying reason is that the skills required to be an excellent sales person have little in common, and in fact are more likely to be contrary, to the skills required to manage and lead an effective sales team.

We take this phenomenon to the experts to understand why this circumstance is so prevalent and to get some useful tips for becoming an effective sales manager.

1. The benefits of having learned the hard way

HR consulting President and CEO David Lewis remarks that:

The sales reps who make the best managers are often the least successful at sales execution.

He explains that the best candidate for filling a sales management role is that person who knows how failure feels. By having experienced difficulties in getting a sale through to completion, they have had to develop a conscious understanding of how the game works. The benefit of having learned sales techniques the hard way means they have a unique, hard won skill that they can teach, to help others overcome challenges and achieve through persistence.

In contrast, those with a natural knack for selling find it difficult to understand the difficulties that others in the team may be encountering. Instead of being patient and identifying the skills necessary to work through a sale, they will tend to step in and take over so that the sale won’t be lost.

2. Perceive success as a group effort, rather than an individual achievement

According to Jim Keenan from the popular blog ‘A Sales Guy’,

top sales reps will shine on their own, but your next sales manager should have the qualities that will help others shine.

This is a matter of mentality, whereby a good choice for a sales manager would be that person who conceptually aligns themselves with the company and its values, while individually assisting clients in the best possible way. Therefore when assessing who in the team would make the best candidate, consider the person who helps promote a positive team spirit, has a knack for turning potential arguments into productive conversations and perhaps, most importantly, is a good listener. Whether with clients or with colleagues, this potential candidate will naturally spend the fair part of a conversation listening, rather than talking.

3. They’ve been hanging around for a while

It makes sense that when promoting a sales person into a management role, you should choose the person who has been working with the company for a considerable period of time. Ideally this should be done whenever possible, as this candidate will bring with them a strong understanding of the company, the organizational strategy, who its customers are and its mission. Furthermore, by recruiting someone new into the role, you risk the likelihood of creating an environment of peer envy and service dysfunction, both of which will contribute towards an inability to effectively lead the team.

4. Time givers not time hoarders

A strong indication that you have an excellent sales rep in your team is when you see a person who is exceptionally selfless with their time. Mike Weinberg from The New Sales Coach comments that quality sales reps tend to be focused on achieving their goals and are persistent at working through them – naturally they are time hoarders who are resistant to being distracted by others. In contrast, as a sales manager your time is not your own and you are only likely to succeed by investing time into your sales team to see results.

The value of time can become a significant challenge when transitioning from sales rep to sales manager. It now requires an entirely different perspective, from time hoarder to time giver.

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