This guest post from Andrew Quinn, VP at Hubspot, offers practical considerations for building a high-performing sales leadership team by promoting top sales reps. The key takeaway is to remember that not all rock star performers will be terrific sales leaders.
Is Success Transferable?
A common mistake sales leaders make is assuming that top performers will be top sales managers. Sales in many ways is governed by who’s leading the pack, so the conventional wisdom in most sales organizations is to reward quota-crushing reps with a promotion to management.
But is the transition from rep to manager really a promotion? In general, top reps have greater earning capacity than managers, so it could actually be a step down in terms of compensation. Not to mention the skills that make a successful rep aren’t the same as those that make a successful manager. So the manager position isn’t really an outgrowth of the rep role – it’s a totally separate job that requires unique strengths.
Nonetheless, a bump to management is considered an important step in a sales career. What’s unfortunate is that extraordinary reps have a tendency to end up being lackluster managers. Consider the star seller who relies on charisma or other highly personal tactics to produce results instead of a deep understanding of customers’ problems. As a new manager, our former star seller will often try to drive direct reports to adopt her tried and true process and approach. In a sense, our new manager is trying to get her reps to be a mirror image of what made her a star rep.
The problem is a customer can quickly detect when a rep is parroting unnatural lines – it’s fake, and both parties know it. What our new manager hasn’t developed is the skill to teach and align her sales technique and understanding of the market with each individual’s particular sales strengths to allow them to succeed on their terms just like our star seller did when she had the job.
Instead of simply doling out management positions to the best reps, I think leadership teams should shift the way sales management is perceived – from a prestigious promotion to a totally separate role – and reconsider their promotion processes accordingly.
Three Key Skills of Successful Sales Managers
First, determine what sort of sales management you want at your organization. Do you want a sales manager who will be directly involved in the deal with the sales rep? Or do you prefer to have them take on a more coaching-intensive role, managing the deal flow from a distance? This will help you zero in on which people would be the best candidates.
In terms of skills, I suggest looking for people who possess the following three qualities:
- Domain Expertise. They should know the product or service inside and out while also having keen
insights into target customers and markets.
- Leadership Ability. Look for people who are naturally viewed as leaders on their team.
- Coaching Chops. Identify individuals on your team that people naturally gravitate to for guidance and
advice. Look for how well they balance the demand of helping others with hitting their sales targets.
In addition, reps right for management will have the ability to think both strategically and tactically. While they are concerned with the deals coming in right now, they also look out to the horizon thinking about the broader impact of their pipeline and the effect it has on the business.
How long does it take to determine whether a rep has the right makeup to be a sales manager? It varies, but in general, it takes time. I’d recommend at least one and a half to two years of observable performance to make sure the individual possesses all the necessary traits and can deliver results consistently. This timeframe might be shorter if the rep has prior management experience.
What I would encourage you to keep in mind when looking for your next sales manager is that the A+ rep might not be your best candidate. If you change your point of view you might surprise yourself. Your frontrunner to become a truly great sales manager might actually be your A- or B+ player.
I’m willing to bet you’ve got a person on your team that has produced a solid and consistent history of results, has rock solid domain expertise, and has demonstrated leadership ability and coaching chops. That’s your new sales manager. If you’re worried about what to do about the star player that’s not getting the promotion, I’ll address that in another post.
What process do you use to determine if a rep will make a good sales manager?
About the author
Andrew is a Vice President, Sales Productivity and Enablement at HubSpot. He focuses on ensuring HubSpot Sellers and Sales Leaders have everything they need to be as effective and productive as possible. He loves helping people to succeed. Areas of expertise: Sales, Leadership, Learning and Development, Performance Coaching.
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