Making the most dangerous leap in sales: salesperson to sales manager

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Published: September 5,2005

Question: What are your thoughts on taking our best and senior salesperson and making him/her a sales manager? What are the benefits and downfalls of doing this?

Answer: This is a great idea if you want to gain a bad manager AND lose your best salesperson. The most difficult jump in business, for two basic reasons, is from sales PERSON to sales MANAGER. The first reason is companies don’t train managers BEFORE allowing them to take the position. And second, the company doesn’t beef up the sales force to absorb the loss.

Almost all the companies I’ve worked with have elevated someone from “great salesperson” to “unprepared sales manager.”

The following scenario almost always occurs:

1. The “great salesperson” stops daily selling.

2. The “great salesperson” has had or is provided little or no sales-management training.

3. The “unprepared sales manager” is placed in the awkward position of going from friend to boss. Petty, jealous employees begin to resent him or her and create morale defections — if not job defections.

4. Untrained, unqualified, “unprepared sales manager” is now responsible for all squabbles, and will tend to play favorites based on preexisting friendships.

5. “Unprepared sales manager” is now responsible to train and develop all of his personnel.
He tends to use his own techniques for selling, when in fact, they’re not universally applicable.

5.5 “Unprepared sales manager” has a total lack of understanding that he must be a coach, a leader and a teacher — not just a manager.

So, let’s review: I give up my best salesperson. I create a manager who is somewhere between resented and abandoned. I have an untrained manager. I have a poor trainer. I have a person who doesn’t know whether to be a friend or a boss. I have instantly lowered my sales productivity, and I stand an excellent chance of losing the person either through morale, rumor, poor performance or utter frustration. So far, this doesn’t sound like a real good idea.

Enough of the dark side. Let’s have some sunshine here.
If you’re thinking about elevating a great salesperson to a manager, why don’t you insert the word “great” in front of manager BEFORE you give the promotion?

SECRET: In order for that to occur, you need six months between the time you offer the position and gain acceptance — and actually have the great salesperson take over the job. During that six-month period, there’s a transition for learning.

Here’s what needs to happen:

1. The prospective sales manager begins taking courses so he can learn leadership qualities and coaching skills BEFORE assuming the position.

2. Present employees are brought into a meeting to talk about how they will cooperate with and work harder for their new boss.

3. Keep the manager as a part-time player. In other words, make the manager a working coach. This may be temporary, but it’s important that the new manager stay in touch with what his salespeople are doing in the field by remaining an active salesperson.

4. Set specific achievement benchmarks — both in personal learning skills and expected sales numbers for the new manager and his team. When people set goals together, there’s a greater likelihood that the goal will be achieved than if an arbitrary quota is issued.

IMPORTANT NOTE: The spirit of the team is the highest reason for its success. If there’s no team spirit, the new manager is doomed before he or she begins. This means no resentment, no petty backbiting and no quick measuring of the new manager’s capabilities or success/failure quotient. (In other words, give the new person time to learn and earn the position.)

5. The new manager must meet with each team member, individually and mutually, to agree on a game plan for their success. The salesperson must also agree on some form of accountability. The sales manager must convey the fact that he will be closely watching progress.

5.5 The new manager must harness the power of encouragement. The new manager will do irreparable harm if he tries to immediately exert newfound authority. The new manager will fail if he tries to be a “tough boss.” By becoming an encouraging boss, the new manager will automatically be seen as one who helps people succeed-not threaten them with a quota.

Sales management has very little to do with “managing” and everything to do with leading, teaching and coaching. If you’re a great salesperson looking to grow a career or be promoted into that management position — let me offer you the advice that has been given to every Boy Scout for the last 100 years: Be Prepared.

GitBit: If you’d like 4.5 ideas on how to grow into management, go to www.gitomer.com — register if you’re a first time user, and enter GROW MANAGER in the GitBit box.

Jeffrey Gitomer, author of “The Sales Bible,” and “Customer Satisfaction is Worthless, Customer Loyalty is Priceless,” is president of Charlotte-based Buy Gitomer. He gives seminars, runs annual sales meetings and conducts training programs on selling and customer service. He can be reached at (704) 333-1112 or e-mail
salesman@gitomer.com.

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