Executives generally prefer to promote from within the ranks when adding management positions. Promoting someone who’s been in the trenches is great for team morale. New managers also bring along credibility in knowing the organization and having had their strong, individual contributions acknowledged by the team they will manage.
But the ideal career path is not always so easy. Selling your product and managing others who sell your product are two very different skill sets. At most organizations, salespeople follow a career path through various levels of selling, culminating with a promotion to sales manager, director, or V.P. Once they get there, many realize that they may not have what it takes to do the job.
A 2012 Harvard Business Review article set out a great theory for why that is. Its argument is that sales reps struggle with the transition from being individual players to coaching others. “When a salesperson gets promoted to manager, it's no longer about ‘me’ — it's about ‘the team.’” These newly minted sales managers, the scholars say, tend to micromanage their team member’s sales relationships, assess their team based on results only and avoid administrative responsibilities.
So why are they promoted in the first place?
The stereotypes we’ve created about salespeople are part of the problem. Recent Washington Post coverage highlighted that “The conventional view that extroverts make the finest salespeople is so accepted that we’ve overlooked one teensy flaw: There’s almost no evidence it’s actually true.” The same goes for leaders. So just because someone is outgoing or networked doesn’t necessarily mean that he would make a great team leader. The social skills required for a management job - listening, communicating, persuading and collaborating (among others) - are often not part of the DNA of an independent, successful salesperson.
Here at Prialto, we work with sales teams ranging in size from 2 to 120 salespeople. Over time, we’ve noticed again-and-again that sales managers promoted from the field need a little help with the transition. They can become great team builders, but only if they can work around being overwhelmed by the administrative burdens of their new managerial position.
To help them get there, companies should provide support that take the admin work off of the new manager’s plate. Those administrative tasks will always be the Achilles heel of an ambitious field sales rep. By teaching him to delegate them, the organization can have its cake and eat it, too. It can benefit from having a manager who is respected by the team for having had deep, first-hand sales experience, while still avoiding the new manager’s organizational shortcomings.
Providing new managers with administrative support both rewards them and helps them excel in their new roles. The company in turn validates their promotion decision and now gets consistency and best practices across its sales department. And all that happens without requiring star employees to change the way they work.