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Should you promote your top salesperson to sales manager?

by JoAndrews

Being good at sales does not mean you can lead a group of people to do the same, promoting your best salesperson and making them the sales manager could be a costly mistake.

It is often the conundrum of a sales organisation .. where do you find your next sales manager. The clear temptation is to look at a person who is performing well in the team, if they can do the job then they can manage other people doing that job can they not? It’s not uncommon for top-producing salespeople to be promoted to the position of sales manager in the hopes that they’ll manage and lead others to be equally successful. Great salespeople with no experience in leadership and management being thrown into a position they’re not prepared to play. The move often fails because they move up the ranks for all of the wrong reasons.

There are many things to think about when installing a new sales manager and, the skill set, experience and maturity required to be a manager tends to be different to that of a salesperson, albeit of course there is some crossover. In the same way that you need to with a salesperson, the best place to start is by profiling what you actually want from a manager. What type of engagement? what type of leadership? What are the specific needs of the team members? You cannot say that a salesperson shouldn’t ever be promoted to the manager of the team, this is why the headline of this article uses the term ‘necessarily’, but there are some significant considerations before making that decision.

What do you need a sales manager to do

A sales manager is charged with ensuring that the team’s sales targets are hit, that the team is equipped to achieve those targets (in tools and in skills) and that motivation and morale are kept up. They lead a sales team by providing guidance, training and mentorship, setting sales targets and goals, creating sales plans, analysing data, studying competitors, assigning sales territories, building and promoting customer relationships and building their team. They also need to represent the sales team with the senior leadership both in presenting results and forecasts to them and also seeking resource improvements where needed. Whilst it would be clear that a successful salesperson knows how to do the sales job, that does not necessarily mean that they innately know how to do that from an oversight perspective.

Some common skills of a sales manager are;

  • Strong leadership

  • Business and sales planning

  • Deal strategy

  • Competitor analysis

  • Target and incentive planning

  • Excellent written and verbal communication skills.

  • Tracking and reporting sales, data analysis

  • Budgeting and expense control

  • Guidance, counseling and coaching

What are some of the implications of moving a salesperson into the sales manager seat?

You lose the sales contribution

If you promote one of your best salespeople into the manager role, you are straightaway losing their contribution to the sales numbers. They are now responsible for making others hit their targets rather than just themselves. This will have an immediate impact on your bottom line.


One of the ways that some companies overcome the issue of potentially losing their star salesperson is to put a person in charge of the team whilst still being a salesperson themselves – to use a footballing analogy, as a ‘player-manager’. This arrangement comes with its own issues, whilst you do not lose their full sales contribution (although it is unlikely to remain at the same level), their focus is split between leading the team and making sales. Given they have a target to hit, and they are inherently a salesperson their attention will naturally align with hitting those targets and they will give less attention to the leading part. Worse still, if you make the decision to promote your good salesperson to the manager – and then that manager does not still make good sales – you run the risk of not only losing that contribution but also not having the required level of leadership plus they will lose the respect of the team as they are now not showing up for the numbers.

They need the respect of the team

Some companies translate that into people having seen someone do it, makes them the ideal person to lead other people. This is true up to a point, there is an in-built respect for someone who has succeeded when they were in your shoes. On the other hand, when they were just a peer of the team there was no requirement for a hierarchical respect level, and shifting from peer to manager creates a number of scenarios where that would prove difficult. Further to that, if someone is promoted to be manager of their own team, then holding people accountable adds another layer of difficulty by having to manage their ex peers

Sales ‘Manager’ is kind of a misnomer

A sales manager’s role is less about ‘managing’ and more about leading, motivating and coaching. Salespeople often think they want to be sales managers without fully understanding the implications. They want it for prestige, or because their results or their tenure ‘warrant’ the promotion. Or because they think that all the sales manager has to do is manage the operations of the day to day, calling them about results, looking at the CRM etc. Not seeing the more strategic, planning, more forward looking, aspects of the role, nor the softer elements like training, counseling, coaching and mentoring.

Sales hype or tactics are not sales leadership

Sometimes what passes for sales management are things like tactical decisions and holding sales huddles. Whilst these are clearly important as part of the whole sales picture, as we have highlighted above, they do not encompass what is needed to be a true sales manager.

On the other side of the coin;

They need to start somewhere

Of course, if a salesperson aspires to be a manager they have to start somewhere. One job has to be their first, the key is in a proper profile of the sales manager role and measuring that salesperson against that profile. Ensuring that they are not being considered for the manager role solely on their sales achievements or how long they have been at the company.

Promotions are good for the company psyche

It is a great internal PR piece to be able to show that you promote from within. Others across the organisation will not see the more complex side of the decision in these instances.

What SHOULD you do then ..

  • Spend some time to properly profile the manager role

    • consider what has worked well, and not so well, in previous appointments

    • really frame out the competencies, capabilities and potential of the role rather than focus on the ‘silver spoon’ aspect (focus on the skills rather than the specific experience)

  • Consider bringing in someone from the ‘outside’ who has proven themselves in the marketplace, industry (or an aligned one) so that their credentials are clear, but their ability to lead a group of people was not muddied by the fact that they themselves used to be one of that group. This person would still need to be a good match in terms of capability and potential.

  • Try to avoid player-manager situations

  • Do not make a decision purely for speed

    • Consider other temporary oversight and team leaders

  • Think about getting the benefit of internal promotions across your organisation where the person could be managing a team they were not previously a part of and one that do not directly impact sales numbers

There is no hard and fast rule to be followed about whether or not you should promote your salespeople, but there are many things to consider when making this decision.

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