Companies are always on the lookout for their next top sales managers, and grooming new talent for a future in management is a constant preoccupation for sales leaders. After all, great sales managers can do more than just make quota – they can elevate the performance of the people around them and boost sales results from the entire team. However, many times, companies discover that it’s not always easy to tell which salespeople are going to be great sales managers. It’s not always as simple as taking your top-producing salespeople and tapping them to be sales managers. Finding great sales managers requires a more complex approach.
Ted Williams was a Boston Red Sox legend, a Hall of Famer, and one of the greatest baseball players of all time, but when his playing career was done and he tried to transition to a new role as a team manager, he failed – with a losing record in 4 years as a manager. Ted was one of the best hitters of all time, but for whatever reason, whether it was personality or communication style or lack of the right interpersonal skills, he could not translate his individual success to helping an entire team get better.
Ted Williams is a great example of how the skills and talents required to manage other players often are not the same as the skills and talents that it takes to be a great individual player. In the same way, many sales organizations make the mistake of assuming that their top-performing salespeople are automatically going to make the best sales managers. This is often not the case. Sometimes great salespeople aren’t as good at coaching and managing other people – they’re excellent at being individual contributors, they’re great at building relationships with customers and working deals from start to finish, but they lack the patience or coaching ability or intangible interpersonal savvy to be responsible for other people’s performance.
Next time your company is getting ready to promote from within and tap your next sales manager, it’s important to take a broader approach to evaluating future sales managerial talent.
Here are a few ideas to help you make the right decision on who should be your next sales manager:
1. Watch people's coaching skills. Many of the best salespeople love to work alone – they pride themselves on being great individual performers and goal setters who hold themselves accountable for excellent results. However, sales management is not an individual job – it’s all about coaching and communicating and helping other people reach their goals as part of a larger team. As part of your process to evaluate future sales managers, get your sales team to come together for monthly or weekly “coaching sessions” where salespeople can offer peer coaching and mentoring to talk through various sales situations and offer each other feedback and ideas. Not only will this help you identify the best coaches and mentors on your team, but it will also cultivate better teamwork and communication within your sales team.
2. Reward teamwork and teambuilding. It's great to have salespeople who are strong individual performers, but the best sales managers need to be able to make a team that is stronger than the sum of its parts. Consider rewarding your salespeople not only for individual quota targets, but also for collaborating and contributing to their team members’ success – whether that’s partial credit for helping someone else close a sale, or on a more informal level by asking your account managers to publicly recognize the “team player of the month” who has been doing an exceptional job of contributing to the account’s overall success. This is a good way to start keeping tabs on the top team players within your sales team – these team-spirited people might often be the best future sales managers, even if they’re not the top revenue-producing salespeople.
3. Find strategic thinkers. Do you have salespeople on your team who maybe are not the #1 top performers, but who seem to have a knack for big picture strategic thinking? These “big idea” people might be better future managers than the people who make the biggest numbers each quarter. Sales managers have to think ahead and look at the overall landscape affecting their team – not just each immediate sale. Sales managers need to have a clear picture of what they’re hearing from customers and prospects, and have good ideas for how the company should respond. Sales managers need to understand the competitive environment and gauge their solutions’ strengths and weaknesses relative to those of competitors. All of this requires a more nuanced way of thinking about the problems facing your team – and the gung-ho, full-speed-ahead mentality that it takes to be a top sales performer is not always the best fit for the strategic role of a manager.
Great salespeople are rare and wonderful and deserve to be well rewarded – but it’s not fair to them or to your team to assume that every great salesperson is potentially a great sales manager. Often, the best sales managers were not the best salespeople – great managers need to bring a different perspective, skill set and personality to the job. If you choose your managers wisely, you will hopefully find that your sales managers and top sales performers can work together well to elevate the team’s performance to new heights.
Gregg Schwartz is the Director of Sales for Strategic Sales & Marketing, one of the industry-founding lead generation companies servicing the B2B marketplace. Gregg has developed and implemented hundreds of lead generation programs resulting in millions of dollars in revenue for his clients.