I contend that the frontline sales manager has the toughest job in all of management.
In no other management position is accountability measured more by the results produced. And in no other position are the results so visible. And in no other position is average tenure so short.
The numbers tell all. The sales organization, the territories, and the individual salespeople either meet quota or they don't. There's no in-between.
The position can be thankless. There is little or no public acknowledgment or appreciation. It’s similar to coaching in major sports. With a few notable exceptions—like Bill Belichick—coaches in professional sports receive either none of the credit for success or all of the blame for failure.Much is the same in sales management..
When a company sets sales records, the usual acknowledgment is to the phenomenal production of a few "superstar" salespeople. When the organization isn't meeting quota, however, the manager's inability to elicit results from their people is the reason cited. With sustained poor performance, termination is likely to follow.
Why? The sales manager must generate results.
“Nothing happens until something is sold.” Thomas Watson, IBM.
Similar to the sports coaching example, where they can’t fire the entire team, companies can't fire all of their salespeople. So they fire the coach, in this case, the sales manager.
So which employee is often identified as the heir-apparent? You guessed it--the top salesperson in the company. After all, if someone is successful selling by themselves, they’ve got to be even more successful when they are leveraging their skills across an entire sales team, right?
Promoting great salespeople to a sales leadership position is one of the biggest mistakes I see in corporate America. While some superstar salespeople become superstar sales managers, it’s the exception rather than the rule. Both positions require unique attributes to perform successfully.
Harvard Business Review research has shown that the following characteristics are common to most high-producing salespeople:
The research also identifies these following characteristics common to the most effective sales managers:
Do you see many similarities between these two lists of traits?
While many top salespeople and top sales managers share similar traits, neither of these lists of traits are inherently transferable to the other role. So to assume that success in one role necessarily predicts success in the other is fundamentally flawed.
There is an old African proverb,
“If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
Top salespeople often go quickly and alone. Sales managers need to go far and together.
First, they don’t know how to identify the people, whether salespeople or not, who are likely to succeed at managing sales teams.
Second, they get lazy or take the easy way out. Promoting a successful salesperson is so much easier than finding that unique person that has the skills required to be a great sales manager.
Finally, my consulting experience reveals a common point when evaluating sales organizations.
Most companies simply do not understand the value of a top sales manager so they don’t spend the time hiring the right person.
A Harvard study conducted several years ago proved just that in revealing:
It’s a tragic failure that many companies do not understand—or value—the significance an effective sales manager can play.
It makes those companies more susceptible to chronically underwhelming sales results, sales rep churn, and continuous searches
How is your organization doing at hiring, growing and retaining great sales leadership?
Good luck and good selling. Ron
[Note: Thanks to Roy Chitwood for his contributions to this article.]
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