Top salespeople may not be best sales managers


The frontline sales manager has the toughest job in all of management.

In no other position is accountability measured more by the results produced.

The numbers tell all: The sales organization, the territories or the individual salespeople either meet quota, or they don't. There's no in-between.

The position can be thankless with regard to public acknowledgment or appreciation, and is similar to the coaching profession in most major sports. With a few notable exceptions, most coaches in the professional ranks receive either none of the credit for success, or all of the blame for failure.

Much is the same in sales management.

When a company sets sales records, the usual acknowledgment is of the phenomenal production of a few "superstar" salespeople. When the organization isn't meeting quota, however, the manager's inability to elicit results from her people is the reason cited. And termination is soon to follow.


Similar to the coaching example, companies can't fire all of their salespeople.
The sales manager must generate results.

My experience ranges from selling life insurance door-to-door in the beginning of my career, to leading large sales organizations in many states with hundreds of sales representatives. Additionally, we've consulted with more than 3,000 companies in 200-plus different industries, with many of the hands-on trainees being frontline sales managers.

One of the biggest mistakes we've identified is the tendency by companies to promote great salespeople to management positions, assuming that success in one predicts success in the other.

While some superstar salespeople become superstar sales managers, this assumption is fundamentally false. Both positions require unique attributes that usually aren't the same.

For example, research has shown that the following characteristics are common to most high-producing salespeople:


  • A. Ego drive.

    A high sense of self-worth, along with the external recognition they receive for their accomplishments, drive many top producers. In short, they enjoy looking good.

    B. Strong personality.

    Rather than the "don't take 'no' for an answer" label slapped on many salespeople, top producers are very assertive in hidden way. Their persistence and confidence is usually undetectable by the buyer because it occurs throughout conversations in the forms of artful questions, thoughtful follow-ups and all activities that keep the sales cycle progressing. It's the salesperson's knowledge, skills, expertise and confidence that reveal strong personality.

    C. Entrepreneurial.

    Rather than wait for corporate mandates or strategy sessions, top producers rely upon themselves to get results. While others "talk," they "do."

    D. Independence.

    Inherent in their entrepreneurial trait is a strong independent nature. While many can function well within a team because of their varied skill sets, most can generate the same results working alone.

    E. Results through personal effort.

    The net result of the listed traits are the salesperson's ability -- and desire -- to generate results through her own efforts, and no one else's. This is critically important to the success of most companies because while most employees are paid for time exerted, top salespeople are paid for value created.

Research also identifies these following characteristics common to the most effective sales managers:

A. Teaching and mentoring.

Top sales managers understand that the results that can be produced by their people through proper coaching, training and mentoring are exponentially higher than the results they can achieve on their own. Thus they see the tree in the acorn and invest their time heavily in support of their people to harvest rewards months and years into the future.

B. Patience.

Much like a wise farmer, effective managers understand that they can't simply plant seeds today and harvest a crop tomorrow. They must continually nourish their people, help them to grow and bring them along to the point of harvest.

C. Ego drive.

Like top salespeople, top managers also have a high ego drive, but in a different format. The top manager's ego is in the background and is satisfied through the accomplishments of the team.

D. Selflessness.

To nourish and harvest a bountiful crop, the sales manager must be selflessness much of the time. For what's in his individual best interest routinely isn't in the best interest of his people or organization. The successful managers are those that forsake the short-term personal gain for the long-term benefit of their people and company.

E. Results through people.

Lastly, unlike the effective salesperson who's individualism is inherent within achieving established quotas in his role, the top manager is measured by the results generated by her people.

    Do you see many similarities between these two lists of traits?

    While many top sales people and top sales managers share similar traits, neither of these lists of traits are inherently transferable to the other role. So to assume that success in one role necessarily predicts success in the other is incorrect.

    Why do companies continue to make this misjudgment?

    Our consulting experiences reveal a common point when evaluating sales organizations: most companies simply do not understand the value of a top sales manager.

    A Harvard study conducted several years ago proved just that in revealing:

    • Above-average salespeople were two times as likely to be as successful with an above-average sales manager.
    • Average salespeople, contrarily, were five times as likely to be as successful with an above-average sales manager.

    The failure by most companies to understand the significance the effective sales manager can play doesn't make it less valuable.

    It only makes them more susceptible to underwhelming results.



    Roy Chitwood is an author, trainer and consultant in sales and sales management and is president of Max Sacks International, Seattle.