Who to Promote to Sales Management

Who to Promote to Sales Management

Your company is growing. Sales are up and it’s time to expand the sales department. But before you do, you need to find a new sales manager to support the additional sales reps. Peter was your first business development rep hired in the sales department. He was promoted to sales development and currently, he is the senior SDR on the team. Logic is telling you that Peter is the right candidate for the role. 

Before you promote Peter to the new sales manager position, there is a concept in business management you may want to consider. It is called the Peter Principle and it was developed by Laurance J. Peter and it states:

“A person who is competent at their job will earn a promotion to a position that requires different skills. If the promoted person lacks the skills required for the new role, they will be incompetent at the new level, and will not be promoted again. If the person is competent in the new role, they will be promoted again and will continue to be promoted until reaching a level at which they are incompetent. Being incompetent, the individual will not qualify for promotion again, and so will remain stuck at this “Final Placement.”

The Peter Principle is real and can be costly for a growing sales organization. We all agree that growth is a good position to be in. However, selecting the wrong sales manager is a decision that can have costly ramifications if you make the incorrect choice. Why do companies promote the wrong person to sales management? That’s the question we will review in this blog post. 

Why Do Companies Promote the Wrong Person to Sales Management?

One obvious cause of promoting the wrong person to sales management is the company did not have a leadership development program in place in the first place. Far too often sales reps are promoted to management without the proper development. In fact, yesterday they were a sales rep, focused on achieving their individual sales goals, and today they show up to work and are responsible for managing a team. For many, this can be a stressful and overwhelming experience. 

Being successful at sales management requires different skills than a sales rep. A sales manager is responsible for achieving the overall sales goals, which requires coaching, motivating, and managing people. A high-achieving sales rep may be personally motivated and disciplined but may become frustrated and lack the tolerance to coach others.

For example, Barry Bonds, arguably one of the best hitters in baseball history, became the batting coach for the Miami Marlins. Former Marlins President David Samson called the decision, “a complete disaster.”  Bonds did not have the patience to communicate with the other players, he assumed everyone looked at hitting the way he did and he was unable to teach what came naturally to him.

Promoting high-performing sales reps to management without leadership development can lead to failure. A leadership development program can provide a path for the company to identify future leaders and and deliver the training to allow them to be successful in the new role. Great players do not make great coaches—just ask Magic Johnson or Wayne Gretzky.

A second cause for promoting a bad candidate into sales management is not clearly communicating the job description. In other words, you promoted someone who had no idea what the role required. 

The fact is, high performing sales reps are high income earners. It can be a difficult transition for a high performer to coaching a team when their compensation is directly tied to team performance. This creates the tendency of the new sales manager to close accounts for the weaker sales reps. In this scenario, the sales manager is doing more selling than coaching. When the sales manager’s time is monopolized by selling or jumping on calls to “save the sale,” this will eventually weaken the entire team. The team is not developing their sales skills through coaching and instead become dependent on the sales manager to close their deal. As a result, the entire organization suffers.

What is the Solution?

It’s not all bad news about promoting a sales rep to sales manager. But you have to have a plan to give your new sales manager the best chance for success.

Step 1: Create Options and Expand the Candidate Pool

The first thing to do is not to feel like you have no choice but to promote your top salesperson.  That is flawed thinking from the beginning. The fact is that the salesperson you have in mind may not even want the position. However, they could feel uncomfortable communicating that to management and end up feeling subtle pressure to accept the promotion. In our experience working with sales managers, not all where the top sales rep at their position. Top sales managers can be developed from B players who have a team first and “want-to-help” attitude.

Step 2: Clear Communication and Expectations

The second step is to ask who on your team is interested in the new role. Clearly communicate the job function. See who on the team is interested in the position and then take the time to discuss the role with each candidate one-on-one. This ensures there is a desire to manage. Be sure the candidate understands what the role encompasses and not just the day-to-day job description. This includes:

You have likely noticed these characteristics from some members on your team. They are the ones who always share the credit and say things like “we” and “team” not “I” and ”me.” They are also the ones showing up early or staying late to help others. These are tell-tale signs of a sales leader in the making, because natural helpers make good sales managers.

Step 3: Provide Support

From our experience as a sales performance training company, we see most companies invest a great deal of time and effort to train their sales reps, but very little in their sales managers. Hiring, training, managing, and motivating others are not skills that are developed by selling.

Sales management is a science, you must follow an engineered process or blueprint that produces sales behaviors that work. Through our research, we have identified several key areas in which high-performing sales leaders must excel to help their teams maximize their potential. They are:

  • Understanding sales coaching and its importance to sales performance
  • Using data to effectively lead others
  • Possessing the qualities of high-performing sales leaders

To review a detailed white paper on How to be a High-Performing Sales Leader in Today’s Marketplace click here.

Once you have identified the potential candidate, you can start preparing them for the role with support and skills training. This could be an internal mentor or external coach. In today’s selling environment, the key to success is continuous learning. Giving the candidate support to acquire the new skills and knowledge can provide a high return on your investment. 

There are a variety of reasons your team will need a new sales manager in the near future. The most common reasons we see with our clients include:

  • Company Growth
  • Employee Turnover
  • Employee Retirement

Selecting your next sales manager from your current sales team can be a smart decision.  Everyone likes the option of career advancement. Having a plan in place and creating a structure where your next sales leader can be developed internally makes good business sense.  However, picking your top sales performer and throwing them in a sales leadership role can be a disaster, just remember Peter. Apply the steps above to help you avoid making a major mistake when selecting who to promote to your next sales manager.