The sales world has its share of excellent managers and high-performing salespeople. Quite often, it’s the latter who get promoted into management, when their supervisors assume that whatever knowledge, talent, and work ethic led them to success as an independent producer will translate into leading others — not an irrational position to take.
In reality, however, not all high-performing salespeople can excel in a leadership role. There’s no shortage of rock stars who get promoted only to discover (much to the surprise of their managers) that they’re no longer ruling the roost, and, by management standards, are actually quite mediocre.
So what explains this disconnect between the ability to close deals and the ability to manage a team? After all, sales is sales, and anyone ambitious and motivated enough can figure out what it takes to get ahead, whether selling or coaching others, right?
Not exactly… great salespeople don’t always make great managers, and, in fact oftentimes do not. Here’s why:
1. The required strengths are different
Someone’s ability to sell a product is a different skill set than their ability to train, manage, and inspire others who sell. To be sure, a former star salesperson is likely to have excellent product knowledge and great insight into the sales process. This, however, is only one piece of the puzzle, as sales leaders need to deal with a myriad of other concerns, from inspiring their sales reps to work hard, to keeping everybody focused, to mundane administrative management tasks. In other words, the things they were good at are only one part of their new role.
2. Their way won’t necessarily work for others
Perhaps the most difficult thing to replicate is somebody’s successful sales process, because so much hinges on personal style. What works for one sales rep won’t necessarily work for another, and vice versa. This creates problems for outstanding sales reps who go into management and find out that trying to get a rep who prefers to improvise to follow a script is a lot more difficult than it might seem. Great sales leaders will tailor their approach to each rep, which isn’t something a talented former sales rep will necessarily be able to do.
3. They have less control
One of the best things about being a salesperson is the control you have over your destiny. When you’re selling, your only concern is closing as many deals as possible; you control your actions and don’t have to worry about anybody except your prospects. When you become a sales manager, however, you no longer have that luxury, and you now become responsible for other people’s success without having the ability to control their behavior. This is why sales managers who know how to wield their influence effectively become so successful. A sales manager can’t make their sales reps do anything, they can only influence them.
4. They try to step in and help instead of teaching
Another difficult adjustment for top-flight sales reps to make is getting into teaching mode and leaving doing mode behind. This can be difficult for high-performers, who are not only used to getting on the phone with a prospect, they usually quite enjoy it. As a manager, however, you have to teach sales reps to produce day in, day out, without the luxury of having you close their deals for them, as tempting as that might be. A football coach doesn’t put on a helmet and pads when their team is on the five yard line, and neither should a sales manager.
5. The motivations aren’t the same
At the end of the day, we’re all at the whim of our motivations, for better or for worse. The motivations for sales reps and managers might seem like they’re the same, but there are some notable differences. High-performing sales reps make a lot of money, but they also get the glory, which can be a huge driving force for the right type of person. Sales managers, on the other hand, aren’t usually the center of attention, though they can make a great living if they’re good at what they do. For a person who’s driven by competition and by the thrill of being the best, sales management usually won’t provide the dose of adrenaline they need, which is perfectly okay. But before a stellar sales rep makes the jump into management, they should ask themselves what it is that drives them, then decide accordingly.
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