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6 Traps that Catch New Sales Managers

Why the transition from sales star to sales manager so often fails

Great salespeople eat, breathe and sleep the art of selling. They’re masters at building relationships and solving problems. Why, then, do so many selling superstars have lackluster performances when they become managers?

The simple answer is that for most salespeople, their previous skill sets and mindsets don’t translate well to supervisory roles. For a refresher, a skill set is an observation action, whereas a mindset is a belief or value that guides those actions. Both are tough to change — especially when they’ve worked for years and years.

Take the case of a sales professional who reaches the management level. Her skill set might be, “If I don’t know how to do something, I always figure it out on my own.” To correspond, her mind-set would look something like this: “If I do things independently and authoritatively, the people around me will respect me.” These approaches helped her become a successful salesperson. Yet they end up being quicksand for her when she takes a leadership position because managing is different than selling. Sure, it helps that she understands what her sales team does from a practical, hands-on perspective. But her presence isn’t helpful if she doesn’t embrace her responsibility to guide, coach, mentor, and develop other people.

How widespread is this phenomenon of fantastic salesperson/ineffective sales manager? It’s common enough that most ineffectual sales leaders can be lumped into one of six descriptors:

The Super Rep

This is the sales manager who eagerly jumps in to lead every sales opportunity. Need a closer? No problem. The issue, of course, is that this approach isn’t scalable. It can also lead sales agents to decline in performance because they know the super rep will always swoop in to save the day.

The Performance Manager

Who cares about coaching? Not the performance manager. This sales leader feels representatives should “get it.” Instead of empowering employees by helping them improve their skills, the performance manager expects accountability without offering any advice.

The Friend Manager

It’s appropriate and frequently helpful for sales managers to have camaraderie and rapport with their people. However, the friend manager puts being liked above all else. As a result, sales teams feel less compelled to deliver or grow because they don’t feel like they’re expected to change.

The ‘This Is What Worked for Me’ Manager

Part of being a leader is understanding that every seller brings unique traits, strengths, and needs to the table. By assuming that “what worked for me will work for you,” a sales manager ignores the individuality of team members.

The Administrator

Data. Reporting. Tasks. The administrator persona will handle everything in an effort to free up reps’ time. Over time, those reps never learn how to be smart time managers; they just learn to put all their paperwork and other duties onto the administrator.

The Ready-Fire-Aim Manager

What’s most essential to a ready-fire-aim manager? Speed of action and agility. This type of sales leader puts a premium on moving fast, ostensibly to stay ahead of the competition. Although speediness can be an asset, it can also cause people to move ahead without taking the necessary breathers to update their skills and knowledge.

In general, these six personas come from a place of good intention. After all, sales leaders typically don’t set out to fail. Nevertheless, these tendencies can cause a company to lose traction and momentum. That’s why every sales manager needs to remain open to reflection and change.

Replacing Ineffective Sales Manager Habits

Breaking out of poor sales manager instincts starts with introspection. That is, sales leaders must be willing to acknowledge that what they’ve been doing isn’t working. After introspection, they must be able to talk with the people they report to and those who report to them. Getting a 360-degree understanding of what they’re doing well and where they’re stumbling offers an opportunity to embrace change.

Again, change can be hard for anyone – and particularly a sales leader unaccustomed to underperforming. However, shifting to a “my success comes through the success of others” mindset can help sellers representing any of the six aforementioned seller personas make significant improvements. It can also help with personal development and transformation, thus fueling adaptability, self-awareness, attentiveness, conscious (and conscientious) decision-making, and empathy.

All leaders, including sales managers, are under a microscope. From the attitudes they project to the moves they make, their choices inform and influence their teams. By moving from a “me” to “we” ideology, any sales leader can promote better group outcomes and a stronger, more cohesive culture.


  • Jason Davis is the senior director of the sales and marketing practice at BTS, a consulting company that works with coaches and leaders to help businesses across the globe.

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Jason Davis
Jason Davishttps://bts.com/company/
Jason Davis is the senior director of the sales and marketing practice at BTS, a consulting company that works with coaches and leaders to help businesses across the globe.

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