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For Excellence in Sales Management, look beyond your best reps in the talent pool.

I was listening this morning to Eddie Jones on the radio, reflecting on the recent world cup run for the England rugby team and taking about his career. Something he said prompted me to think about a problem companies often face when appointing a new sales manager.

I’m sure we have all seen this scenario play out where a sales manager vacancy is open and the company promote their ‘best sales person’ into the role.

Sometimes this makes sense, though it is not always the best approach and I say this for a number of reasons.

1. You lose your best performing sales rep and they are really hard to replace without a lag to the team’s performance. On average it takes 9.2 months to get a new hire to productivity (CSO Insights Talent Study, 2018) so this can leave a huge hole in achievement.

2. Your best rep may not have the right capabilities to succeed as a sales manager. Only some of their selling talent is transferable to a totally different role of managing and leading a team of sales people.

3. They try too hard to become a player-manager and eventually struggle to do either role very well. What’s more, the people working in their team get over reliant on the manager doing stuff and the team’s capability is ‘dumbed down’

4. The role of a sales manager can be a hard slog. It may well be more mundane (not always but often the case) and it is certainly focused on helping the success of others in your team. This can limit the number of opportunities for an individual to shine if this motivates them.

Your best sales rep is not [necessarily] your next sales manager. 



So what did Eddie say that prompted me to write this? That the best managers often do not come from the most talented players. These ‘more average performing’ players are not blessed with the same natural talent and therefore have to work harder to compete at the top level. They have to think harder too and this results in a better understanding of what it takes to succeed.

This is true for Eddie Jones, regarded as one of the best coaches in the world of Rugby Union. In the world of football some of the best managers of recent times such as Sir Alex Ferguson, Arsene Wenger and Rafa Benitez all worked hard to be great professionals yet average players. I believe this applies often to sales management too.

Sales managers who have worked hard to understand the cadence of key selling activities are better placed to support, coach and guide their team for sustained success. They understand what the average rep needs in terms of support and is well placed to provide the right support at the right time. They are less likely to grow frustrated by the ‘average’ sales team.

I have noticed that naturally talented reps turned sales manager is prone to despair that their team ‘just don’t get it’ even though it’s ‘easy’ [for them]. They are perhaps less tolerant of solid and sustained performance and expect miracles from their team [like they did]. In football you see this in managers who have struggled to take their playing genius from the pitch into management.

Of course there are times when the next step in a career ladder is for the best rep to make a move to a management role. When well planned it is possible to manage the succession plan and make a hugely successful transition – just look at Frank Lampard go!

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