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When Selecting a Sales Manager, Good Is Better Than Best
It has been accepted practice for decades that the best performing sales representatives are most likely to be promoted to sales management positions.
Incidentally, if you ask sales executives to evaluate this practice, most will surely answer that two things happen — neither of them good!
First and foremost, a high-performing sales person is taken out of the game, so the team loses a great salesperson.
Second, the former high-performing sales person usually turns out to be an average or mediocre manager, so the team loses out again. Sometimes a company loses money because many times a former high performer, now a below average manager, will find employment elsewhere.
Part of the reason for this result is that companies spend a lot of time and money on technical and product training for sales representatives, but little or no time and money on leadership and management training. Leadership and management skills and leadership ability should be qualifying actions and requirements before any sales representative is promoted to manager.
In all business enterprises in the United States, the practice of promoting high performers continues. The practice is based on two assumptions. It is assumed that promoting a high performer is the right thing to do as a reward for success. And highly successful sales reps will be good leaders.
The former may have some merit, but the latter is clearly not a sensible or logical conclusion. As suggested in the opening paragraphs, a high performing sales record does not guarantee leadership ability. There is a lot of evidence to support this statement.
Professional sports teams are good examples. Many former professionals became baseball, basketball and football players or are now head coaches or team managers. Only a few of them were top performers. Some were great performers, and many others were just solid players. After all, anyone who’s on a professional team is head and shoulders above the average person, but not all are extraordinary super-stars. Elites are elites within elites.
Generally, superstars who become coaches or managers are usually not great managers or coaches. There are exceptions. Bill Russell comes to mind as a great example of a superstar who was a highly successful coach. His teammate Casey Jones was a very good player who was perhaps an even better manager.
Former players who became successful head coaches and team managers were often good players, but not superstars.
Phil Jackson is an example. Who would have thought that the “Human Coat Hanger” for the Knicks would become a “Zen Master” as an off-the-bench player and a highly successful head coach for both the Bulls and Lakers, winning multiple national championships for both teams.
Another example is Tony LaRussa. He retired after winning another World Series with the Cardinals and will go into the Baseball Hall of Fame as a manager, not as a player in the major leagues.
Many former professional football players who have gone on to become successful head coaches were not superstars. On the other hand, many professional football superstars have not become successful head coaches.
How does this apply to selecting a sales manager? Here’s how.
Sales reps are very competitive and often have huge egos. ok They are attributes that are beneficial to the execution of their artwork. Top performers like superstar players have high expectations not only of themselves, but also of everyone else on the team.
Professional athletes who are less than superstars know that everyone on the team has a contribution, so they don’t expect everyone to be a superstar, but rather that everyone contribute to the team as expected.
This is the single most important reason why non-superstars make good coaches and managers. Although the fact is that everyone on a professional sports team is part of an elite group, within the elite there are people who are even more elite. The latter group often does not get along well with the former.
And that’s why a top salesperson is often not a good sales manager or leader. Expectations of top performers are likely to be very high. A top performer expects everyone else on the team to share his drive, his discipline, his methods and his enthusiasm. That expectation is unrealistic.
It’s not unusual for a previously high-performing sales person, now promoted to manager, to affect what I call the Clark Kent syndrome. The syndrome usually engages when a superstar manager meets with a customer with a territory sales representative. When a former top gun salesperson perceives a territory sales rep to be fumbling or slipping in front of a customer, the new manager won’t hesitate to push the territory rep aside and take over the situation in the same way that Clark Kent damaged him. A shirt and tie revealing a large Superman S.
This action may “save the day”, but once again at least two things happen which are both bad. The customer starts losing trust in the sales representative and in case of further problems the customer will contact the sales manager instead of the sales representative.
On the other hand, a manager who becomes a good performer is more likely to understand the importance of supporting the local sales person than being Superman.
I instructed the sales managers who reported to me not to give the customer a business card, just to stay in the background. I asked the sales manager to make any excuses to the customer for not having a business card, but to assure the customer that a local representative would be in touch if needed. We don’t want to give the customer any way to discourage the local sales person as this happens sometimes.
Good performers, who are promoted to sales managers, often understand team dynamics and the contributions of individual team members. A manager who becomes a good performer usually knows how to inspire and motivate everyone on the team to build strength and contribute because maybe someone has treated them that way or they know they can’t do it all by themselves like the superstars think. Today’s manager’s expectations for good performance are likely to be based and directed towards achieving team goals and objectives rather than individual goals. And perhaps the most beneficial characteristic of a high performing, now manager is that the competitive nature of their team members will be directed toward competitors rather than among or among fellow team members.
Leadership is an essential element. Leadership manifests itself in many ways. A manager should expect to be a leader, but not all team leaders are managers. Top performers are expected to be role models and lead by example. Be it habits, discipline, planning, organization, appearance or temperament, top performers must be role models.
Sales managers should be more than role models. They should be leaders.
Sales managers should be visible and not hidden behind a desk. At the same time, a sales manager is not someone riding a white horse and leading the charge. Good leaders are those who work with their team and who let each team member know the value of the role each plays as part of the team.
Leaders are not just “pretty faces” or “fast talkers”. Charisma is not leadership. Many charismatic personalities have the ability to draw people to them, but often have nowhere else to draw.
Leaders understand that front-line sales staff are not “cannon fodder” or some other expendable tool. In contrast, front-line sales teams are indispensable to achieving an organization’s business goals.
Leaders are not just bosses who tell team members what to do. Bosses leverage power that leads to limited success and generally leads to disgruntled, lifeless and frustrated team members. Leaders encourage team members to play their part in the overall scheme of the company’s goals.
And perhaps most importantly, leaders don’t view kindness and praise as weak or beneath them. Leaders know that positive reinforcement can be the most powerful leadership tool. Leaders recognize the value of telling team members they’ve done a good job or thanking them for what they’ve done.
And we all know that no matter who we are or where we are, we cannot say to someone: “Good job!” or “Thank you!” too many times Leaders do this. Bosses don’t.
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