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Should I Promote My Top Salesperson to Sales Manager? Four Key Questions to Prevent Losing a Top Salesperson and Gaining a Bad Manager

By Ray Makela

questions before promoting top sales rep to sales manager

The transition from Sales Professional to Sales Manager is often a difficult one and a topic that has been discussed in our previous blogs here and here.  Why is it that a large percentage of these promoted stars fail within six months?  Perhaps organizations are promoting reps based on their “performance against quota” and not for the attributes and characteristics that are needed to perform the new job as a manager. 

Promoting your best sales rep to management can be costly.  Not only do you lose your best performing rep, but it may take six months or more to determine that the new manager isn’t a fit, while the team suffers and fails to produce the desired results.  This is not to say that great sales reps cannot make good managers – in fact most great sales managers did start out in sales, but some reps are much more suited for sales management than others.  The decision on who to promote is a difficult one. 

Here are four questions to consider before promoting your top sales rep to sales manager:

#1 Are they a fit for management?

While many of the skills and attributes that make a rep a sales star do cross over to management, some of them might not be as applicable and might even be in conflict.  While characteristics such as good listening skills, perseverance and self-confidence are critical to both roles, others are not as relevant.  Here is a list of management characteristics to consider:

  • Are they able to delegate and let others perform the work?

  • Is the person truly a team player, or would they prefer to work alone and deliver results based on their own talents? Do they tend to give credit to others, or do they like the limelight all to themselves?

  • Do they have the organization skills to take on more responsibility as well as to manage others, or are they tapped out managing their own schedule and activities?

  • Do they have some appreciation and competency for performing administrative work, or do they abhor all forms of expense reports, timesheets and weekly status updates?  If they can’t do it themselves, how do you expect them to manage others to produce these results?

  • Do they support the vision of the organization even if they might not agree with it, or are they marching to their own drummer?  You may be willing to give them some latitude as a sales rep if they’re producing great results, but how will this work when you need them to support an unpopular decision or change in organizational direction?

#2 Can you afford to lose them as a sales rep?

Another key consideration regarding promoting that star sales rep is whether your organization can afford to lose that high-performing sales professional. A quick look at their performance as a sales professional versus their potential as a sales manager may help answer this question. 

If they are a star performer, how much more are they producing over the average rep?  Some star reps in mature territories may produce 2-3 times the average performer’s sales results, and depending on the size of the organization and number of reps, your annual targets may be dependent on the star’s ability to deliver these stellar results. 

How long will it take to ramp up a new rep into this territory and produce this amount of revenue?  Will you need two reps (and incur substantial additional expense) just to fill this territory?

In order to really determine the return on investment of promoting the sales rep to sales manager, you should consider their potential contribution as a sales manager. Has the team been underperforming for months/years and you believe a good manager can get significantly more sales out of the same number of reps?  Maybe the rise in performance from the team will more than offset the loss in revenue from the newly promoted rep, but this is speculative at best and will be based on your understanding of your market and your gut feel as too how they will perform.

Regardless of your assessment, you should factor some loss in sales revenue into your projections for several quarters following the promotion and be realistic about what is possible for the team to deliver without the contribution of a star performer.

#3 Do they have aspirations to move up in the organization?

In contrast to losing the sales contribution from the star rep, you should also consider whether you can afford not to promote the star sales rep to manager.  If the person is truly a “hard-charger” and driven to succeed, they may not be inclined to stay in an individual contributor role forever, regardless of how successful they are as a rep or even how much money they may be making on commission. 

Having a discussion about their career aspirations and long term goals can enlighten you as to where they want to be and how motivated they are to move into a management position.  If they are inspired to move up in the organization and take on more responsibility, then keeping them in a sales position for too long may become demotivating or result in them seeking opportunities outside the organization. 

Only the rep and their actions can tell you their true intentions, and the best way to understand their motivations is to ask them.  It may be painful to lose them as a sales rep, but for their professional development and the overall good of the organization you may need to give them an opportunity to take on more responsibility and develop into a sales manager.

#4 Are you able to support them effectively?

Regardless of your decision as to who you should promote to sales manager, you need to consider how you will train and support that new manager once they are in their new position. Do you have appropriate Sales Management and Sales Coaching  programs in place to develop the new manager? 

The typical rep will require both training and mentoring in order to learn the new position, and we suggest you commit a significant portion of your time to coaching the new manager during this transition period.  It’s not enough to train them and turn them loose, you need to ensure the new manager has the safety net to be able to make some mistakes, recover and learn from their efforts.  It’s a long term commitment but one that is invaluable to the overall health of the organization. 

Written By: Ray Makela

Ray Makela oversees all client engagements for Sales Readiness Group (SRG) as well as serves as a senior facilitator on sales management, coaching, negotiation and sales training workshops. Ray has over 20 years of management, consulting, and sales experience and writes frequently on best practices for coaching and developing sales teams.

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