Even well-intentioned leaders often make the same mistake when hiring a sales manager. They look for a person with a proven track record in sales, someone who knows how to create the exact results they need from the team they will lead. The logic goes something like this: “If they can teach others to what they do, they will be a certain success.” A very quick assessment of who fits that bill immediately brings forward the very best-performing salesperson.
Occasionally, a skilled salesperson also turns out to be a rock star sales manager, but more often, they fail to perform above average. The mismatch isn’t because they are not a good person, a great employee, or dedicated to delivering excellent results. Instead, the failure lies somewhere else.
Some of the competencies that make one a great salesperson have some cross-over applications with leadership, particularly unwavering integrity. Because B2B sales is a form of problem-solving, both resourcefulness and initiative are also necessary character traits in a leadership role. You can also add a sense of accountability to the list of sales competencies that easily transfer to leadership.
But these attributes and character traits, while being helpful, are not enough to ensure that a great salesperson can successfully transition into a sales manager, as the very role demands high-quality leadership. That’s why a large number of salespeople who become sales managers return to a sales role later, finding that they enjoy selling more than they enjoy leading others. In a lot of cases, they also make more money selling.
Great salespeople are responsible for themselves and their own results. Many of the best reps are incredibly selfish in a very positive way—they focus on the results for which they are responsible. A good portion of these salespeople are money-motivated, a rare desire (everyone wants more money, but few are actually motivated to do what is necessary to acquire it). While these sales folks will be happy to share some ideas with you, you are not going to find them spending a lot of time outside of their primary role or agreeing to join this year’s Christmas Party Task Force.
There are, however, occasions when your best salesperson may also be your best sales manager.
There are excellent salespeople who also happen to possess very high-level competencies and character traits that predict success in a Sales Manager role.
Leaders have to have a certain level of confidence that makes it easy for others to follow them. Much of the time, you can identify leaders by watching a group of salespeople interact. There is a certain respect or deference to the natural leader. Because others look to these individuals to know what is good and true, you should also determine whether manager candidates are highly optimistic. Every salesforce has a person that we might describe as “the spiritual leader,” a person who shapes how others see things, whether negatively or positively. Negative people will never be successful sales managers.
The best leaders also possess an intrinsic motivation. They act on their own volition, never needing to wait for instructions as to what to do, when to do it, or how it needs to be done. They have both energy and drive, which they use to move their team to action. In any sales force, you are certain to find salespeople who are great at their job, maybe even topping your stacked rankings, but who lack the energy and drive to lead others.
Finally, leaders are responsible for creating and maintaining a culture of accountability, a task that requires them to be comfortable with conflict and able to impose humane consequences on those who are unwilling to do the work required of them. An inability or unwillingness to deal directly with the challenges that come with leading others will all but ensure the leader fails.
The Only Person You Can Hire to Lead
It’s incredibly helpful to hire a sales manager who has actually done the work of creating and winning new opportunities, especially winning big deals. Those who can see what others cannot yet see often end up being good managers and teachers, but only if they are also leaders. When you focus too heavily on sales experience, you can miss the opportunity to determine whether the salesperson you are considering has the leadership skills and abilities to be an effective sales manager.
If you want your team to succeed in sales, the very best thing you can do is provide them with a leader: one with a vision and the ability to communicate it, one who can build a psychologically safe culture of accountability, and one who will help every salesperson become the better version of themselves by genuinely caring about their individual success—as well as the success of their team.
Hire managers for their leadership traits and the ability to help salespeople improve their results. Don’t settle for someone with great skills in sales alone—it’s much better to wait until you find someone who is capable of leading than to make the mistake of hiring someone who can’t or won’t lead.
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