You’ve got a proven sales wizard. A world-class closing champion, a masterful prospector, a top tier talent who consistently is number one in your organization when it comes to sales numbers.
So when you need to fill a sales leadership position, common sense would suggest that you look to that person first.
However, that tactic hardly ever works out well. Sales success doesn’t directly indicate leadership success. Usually, the top-notch sales performers end up being mediocre at sales management.
Why is this the case? First of all, we need to correct a major assumption about the relationship between leadership and sales.
Leadership is not the “next level” from Sales
Many companies act as though success as an individual sales contributor is not a viable career path in itself, but a precursor to a leadership position. There’s this idea that if an employee shows that they can be a success as a salesperson, they will be considered to “move up” in the organization into a management position.
If this is the tone you’ve set as a company, you’re setting your sales team up for failure.
The problem is that leadership and sales are two totally different skill sets. It’s not that a single candidate can’t have both sets: they can. But success in one doesn’t translate to success in the other.
To use a sports analogy, you rarely see a top-level player go on to be a top-level coach. A great wide receiver in football can be the best at reading routes and outsmarting the defense, but he may not be the most qualified person to lead an entire team to victory. A fantastic coach might have a great overall sense of the game and how to inspire top performances from his players, but chances are he wasn’t a top-level player himself, if he played at all.
Why Shouldn’t You “Promote” The Best?
Because thinking of leadership as a “promotion” from sales both minimizes the value of having top-notch salespeople and sets the wrong expectation for how to succeed in your organization.
If a leading salesperson gets the idea that in order to level-up or advance in their organization, (whether that’s an advancement of compensation or status,) they need to move into the leadership team, you weaken the organization as a whole.
What if your best sales rep gets a “promotion” to leadership, and then fails because his skill set isn’t ideal for the role? You’re left with the uncomfortable situation of either “demoting” them back to the position they were successful at, or fire them. If they level-down back to a sales rep position, chances are they will feel either bitter or demoralized, which can affect the morale of your entire team. If you have to let them go, then you’re not just back to where you were when you were looking to fill a leadership position- you’re also out your top performing individual sales contributor. Talk about turnover.
Individual reps who want to grow in your organization should have a way to advance in their area of expertise, not be forced into a leadership role that may not play to their strengths.
Why Do Great Sales Reps Often Make Lousy Leaders?
We’ve established that leadership and sales require two different skill sets. But what specifically is it about rock star sales reps that can get in the way of being great leaders?
For one, sales reps tend to be lone rangers. Success in sales hinges on an individual’s ability to perform, and has little to do with the rest of the team. Sales success doesn’t require much teaching ability. Sales agents don’t need to motivate anyone other than themselves. There is no preparation in sales for the team-focused skills that good leaders need to have to thrive.
Top individual contributors that have moved into leadership roles might have problems seeing other valid approaches to sales than what’s worked for them. They may try and force a sales team to do things their way, even when there may be a better approach for other members of their team.
They may be used to the freedom of structure that many top sales performers earn, and may have problems with learning how to structure their time to fit the needs of their team. And when their team is struggling, they may be tempted to step in and start doing it themselves in order to hit that short-term goal instead of coaching the team to learn from mistakes and get better.
It’s often hard for a former top contributor to shift focus from themselves to their team. Of course, there are exceptions to every rule.
If Sales Success Isn’t An Indicator Of A Good Leader, What Is?
If you’re looking to promote from within your organization, the best indicator of leadership success isn’t sales numbers. It’s how they are treated by the sales team.
Take a look at your current sales team. Ask yourself questions like:
- Is there an individual contributor that others look to for guidance?
- Is there someone who takes the time to help train new employees, even when they don’t need to?
- Is there a unanimous spokesperson for the group?
- Is there someone with a supportive, selfless servant attitude?
If so, you may be looking at a future leader!
Like we said before, that person may be your top performer. (More likely, they’ll tend to be running more toward the middle of the pack.) But regardless of outcome, the attributes that lead to sales ability and those that indicate leadership ability are totally separate. So look to those leadership skills!
What If There Are No Obvious Leaders On Your Sales Team?
That’s okay! You may have a great sales team that are all best suited to their individual roles. Don’t mess with that just to “promote” from within. Make sure that you have a compensation plan that rewards those top-performers and keeps them happy to do what they’re great at.
Now, look outside for your leaders. Outside your company, maybe even outside your industry! The important thing is to find someone with the leadership skills necessary to manage your team so that it, and your organization, can thrive.
If you need help finding a leader for your sales team, EAM Staffing can help. We specialize in recruiting the best candidates and building effective sales teams tailored to the needs of your business. Learn more about finding your next sales leader!