Your Best Salesperson is Not Your Best Sales Manager

Who’s the first person you look to when it’s time to make a promotion? If you’re going by pure logic, it’s usually the best person on the team. But that’s not always the case for your sales team. Your best sales person may even be your worst sales manager candidate.

sales manager

Sure, a good salesperson knows how to sell, but how often do managers sell? They may still hit their numbers — hey, they may even surpass them — but the rest of your sales team is left struggling to hit their full potential because they’re not being properly managed.  And if your sales team isn’t hitting their full potential, neither is your business. In fact, Cisco Systems estimated that bad bosses cost firms $12 million annually. Imagine how much you could grow your business if even just a fraction of that was filtered back into your businesses? Ready to start looking for the real candidate for your sales manager?

“The characteristics of a good salesperson are money motivated, large ego, and a bit selfish,” said Greta Schulz, founder and CEO of Schulz Sales Consulting. “These are the opposite of what a sales manager should be.”

So, what qualities should you look for in a sales manager? Glad you asked. Schulz suggests finding someone with these three qualities:

  1. Strong coaching: The last thing you want in any type of manager is a big ego because it can’t, nor should it, always be about them. You need someone who not only knows what to do, but can teach it to others and understand what happened — and why it happened — if a sale didn’t go through.
  2. Leadership: No one likes being told what to do. The best sales managers will ask their team questions to help them realize on their own what they should do. That way they’ll figure out the answer on their own, and when they do, it’s ingrained in their memory.
  3.  Accountability: Sales beckons a do-it-yourself mentality, but even though they’re on their own, they still need management. Your best sales manager will keep the rest of the team accountable for their activities and coach them through each step of the process to get them closer to the close.

When you find someone whose skills check out, whether they’re homegrown or an outsider, you’re not free from red flags just yet. In order for them to succeed, they need some support from you. You need to give them:

  1. Proper management training: This is especially the case if your new sales manager has never directly managed a team before.
  2. The right responsibilities: Your sales manager is not a marketer or an office manager. You promoted them to lead, not to be stuck behind grunt work. They’re there to create the your sales process; staff and train the department; set company sales goals and track progress; and finally, lead and motive the team to hit those goals.
  3. Freedom to manage their way: Sales managers are the epitome of a middle management role: They have people reporting to them, but ultimately will be reporting to you. Instead of you being involved in every decision, step back and let them lead. Giving someone the freedom to make mistakes will help them learn from their mistakes and correct them.
  4. Time to learn: One of the worst things that can happen to any manager is them becoming complacent.  They get stuck doing the wrong responsibilities, and they lose the designer to learn and better the department.  Sales managers need the time to effectively learn what happens between sales call and closed sale, and stay in touch with resources so they keep evolving.

While it’s important to look to other outlets to find the best person for the best job, don’t immediately rule out your best sales person because they may have all of the qualities mentioned above. And if they do, your job just got much easier.

Sales Manager Photo via Shutterstock


Erin Everhart Erin Everhart is the director of digital marketing at 352, a digital agency providing design, development and marketing solutions. She's a contributing author for a number of blogs, including Mashable, Search Engine Land, Search Engine Watch and Small Business Trends, and speaks at conferences nationwide, including SMX, SES and PubCon. Erin is an alumna of the University of Florida and currently lives in Atlanta, where she’s an avid tennis player and one of the few people who actually likes grammar.

8 Reactions
  1. Thanks for reminding me of my past!

    (I think)

    I was considered a top salesperson.

    Then, I wanted to try my hand at managing a salesforce.

    That didn’t go too well, at first.

    I got better at it, the longer I did it.

    It was a pretty tough transition, though.

    The Franchise King®

  2. Indeed, good sales manager needs to have: Strong coaching, Leadership and Accountability. Thanks for the great article!

  3. Erin, good article. The transition from sales can work if you get just as much of a rush seeing other people succeed as you once did making your own number.

  4. I love this article! It is right on and all companies should pay attention. The fastest way to destroy a business is to promote the best salesperson to manager!

  5. Great article-very accurate. Now if only sales divisions would subscribe to it more often. In my last organization, we saw this very promotion scenario happen too often and many good sales people left and went to the competition.

  6. R Chidester, CPA

    I’ve been a financial advisor and management consultant for over 20 yrs and can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to unravel this mistake. Lesson learned: Don’t structure your sales team to reward top performance solely based on a promotion to management. IF you have someone that:
    1-Has great management potential, likes teaching/mentoring, can lead.
    2-Is willing to make LESS money than the top sales people he (she) will manage.
    3-Wants to spend less time on the road, but Is still willing to go out as necessary.
    Then give it a try. Otherwise, don’t ruin your best sales people by making them managers. Sales is one of the most difficult jobs in the company – best reward is hard, cold cash.

  7. Hello Erin,

    It seems the wisdom of your words (Your best sales person may even be your worst sales manager candidate) is not known or it is not believed by many sales executives. Few executives, including sales executives, have ever been exposed to the concept of job talent.

    Top sales people have the talent for job success in sales.
    Top sales managers have the talent for job success in managing
    The two job talents are more often than not mutually exclusive.

    80% of employees self-report that they are not engaged.
    80% of managers are ill suited to effectively manage people.
    The two 80 percents are closely related.

    Successful employees have all three of the following success predictors while unsuccessful employee lack one or two and usually it is Job Talent that they lack.
    1. Competence
    2. Cultural Fit
    3. Job Talent 

    Employers do a… 

    A. GREAT job of hiring competent employees. 

    B. good job of hiring competent employees who fit the culture. 

    C. POOR job of hiring competent employees who fit the culture and who have a talent for the job. 

    Identifying the talent required for each job seems to be missing from talent and management discussions. If we ignore any of the three criteria, our workforce will be less successful with higher turnover than if we do not ignore any of the three criteria.
    1. Competence
    2. Cultural Fit
    3. Job Talent

    There are many factors to consider when hiring and managing talent but first we need to define talent unless “hiring talent” means “hiring employees.” Everyone wants to hire for and manage talent but if we can’t answer the five questions below with specificity, we can’t hire or manage talent effectively.
    1. How do we define talent?
    2. How do we measure talent?
    3. How do we know a candidate’s talent?
    4. How do we know what talent is required for each job?
    5. How do we match a candidate’s talent to the talent demanded by the job?

    Most managers cannot answer the five questions with specificity but the answers provide the framework for hiring successful employees and creating an engaged workforce.

    Talent is not found in resumes or interviews or background checks or college transcripts.

    Talent must be hired since it cannot be acquired or imparted after the hire.