Promoting your top rep to Sales Leader is the biggest mistake you’ll make in 2023

Growth is an exciting time for every company. As a founder or CEO, you’ve finally turned a corner, you have enough leads to feed the sales team… other words “Life is good”. Your sales team is growing and you are looking to add some oversight as you add sales rep 5-6-7 and beyond.

Naturally your initial direction is that your top sales person is deserving of such a high honor. They have been with you since day one and you are betting all chips that they will replicate their “take no prisoners” approach to selling with your entire team.

Fast-forward 4-6 months: You’ve seen nominal growth, or missed the number and realize Sales team morale is low. You’ve also lost a salesperson or 2 and your former “hero” looks like they are drowning.

The reality is that managing sales reps is the toughest job in sales. “The hard truth” is that being able to sell does not equate to leading and managing a team.

Promoting your top rep to manager is a mistake 99% of the time. Sadly it’s a mistake that companies make all too often. I thought I’d take this opportunity to explain why you should avoid this common management miscue altogether.

1. Managing people is not for everyone.
Great managers are patient, strategic and have a high emotional quotient. They need to have exceptional communication skills and the natural ability to slow down to help navigate challenges. They also require a sense of “tolerance and selflessness” and get a genuine sense of fulfillment in helping others succeed. For them the “team win”, outside of financial reward, has to be in the forefront. These qualities are a polar opposite to the traditional superstar salesperson.

2. Motivation is vastly different
Great salespeople love controlling their own destiny. They thrive on energy and momentum. They are motivated by money and the accolades that come with personal success. Managers, on the other hand, love solving problems and helping bring out the best in people. They are motivated by the impact they have on people, which in turn helps your business grow and thrive.

3. They will struggle with the compensation plan.
The sense of full-control that comes with steering your own financial performance is hard to give up. Once the sheen of a management salary bump wears off, new managers realize that getting to their quota while depending on others is a much tougher job than doing it themselves. The unfortunate news is that once they realize this, one of 4 things typically happens:

  • They will micromanage and isolate their team demoralizing the sales culture.
  • They will hastily hire and fire salespeople creating a churn and burn culture.
  • They will eventually ask to be a rep again.
  • They leave because they are frustrated.

4. Bad decisions aren’t cheap
Hiring the wrong manager is expensive. The negative impact that a bad manager can have on your team is vast. Demotivation, staff attrition, decreased sales performance, toxic culture and poor morale. Couple all of these with the loss of revenue and your top Salesperson no longer selling and the financial impact can be scary.

5. Set up to fail
Most first time managers fail. This is typically due to a mix of poor assumptions and bad planning. Most companies are reluctant to invest in training, coaching or mentorship for new managers. Unfortunately the impact on this false sense of certainty has a lasting impact when things go wrong.

Implementing management to scale the performance of your sales team is no easy task. The results can make or break your revenue goals.
The best salespeople are great at selling, pitching and organizing their own time.
Very rarely are they comprised of the patient nurturing components to keep a team on track in stormy weather. The best managers have chosen this path as their “craft”. They understand and the ebbs and flows that come with people management and accept that sales management is a marathon not a sprint. This is why good ones, in my opinion, are very hard to find.

Just like when you launched your product or service, adding sales management requires a strategy. My recommendation is to first take time to evaluate what problem you are trying to solve. If you want anyone to be successful in a management role, you need a clear understanding of your revenue gaps.

Even the best vice president of sales will fail if you don’t clearly understand the problems you have associated with growth. 

Before you hire or promote someone to a sales leadership role, ask yourself these questions:

  1. Do I fully understand my company’s current revenue growth challenges?
  2. What are the three most critical challenges I hope this sales leader solves?
  3. What steps do I need to take internally to ensure this new leader has the best chance of success?
  4. What skills do we need in a leader to round out the sales culture?
  5. Will the person I am hiring bring out the best in our salespeople?

Make sure you are being honest with yourself as to where you are in your revenue growth life cycle, and what the rest of your team (marketing, operations, support) are capable of in supporting your new leader. Your goal is to set them up for success.

With regards to scaling or managing the team, focus on hiring a leader with a proven track record who fits your company culture. If you aren’t ready for a full-time sales leader, consider fractional leadership where you can take advantage of executive-level skills on a part-time basis. Any investment you make with the best interest of your team should pay off tenfold if done properly. They weren’t kidding when they said, “you get what you pay for.”

Hiring or promoting a new sales leader can be an incredibly exciting time for any company, and, if done correctly, can catapult you and your team to the next level.

Want more insight on how to enable your team with the resources and processes to impact your growth this year? We’d be happy to connect with you.  Feel free to schedule time with us here.