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Can You Promote a Top Seller to Sales Manager Successfully?

CEO Congratulating a top seller to sales manager
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There are many stories of promoting a top seller to a sales manager only to find them floundering and unable to deliver the overall sales number. With loyalty to the incumbent, companies will invest anywhere from two to five years, carrying a failing sales manager who has been internally promoted. Is it loyalty or not wishing to admit the decision was wrong, or possibly the process applied was poorly managed?

Whether the promotion was out of necessity as your sales recruitment firm did not know how to find the right candidate or had experienced problems with external hires. It may have been through their campaigning to take the role as they know the business; you have just promoted your top seller to sales manager. Your most reliable revenue producer is now focused on others in the business with little to no time to generate revenue.

If the company has experienced turbulence in previous external hires, there is a level of comfort in knowing what you are getting by doing an internal promotion. You can trust their intentions, and you feel there is continuity from a customer’s perspective. Promoting your top seller to the sales manager can be a very positive change to your sales organisation if it is done correctly. The challenge for companies is to identify the skills of the potential hire against the real functions required in the role. They can be skilled at advising what you want to hear, which becomes a tripping point in the interviewing process. The best practice is to have them independently interviewed using a highly skilled outsourced interviewing service mitigating the risk of a poor sales hire.

Hiring a new sales manager is often a test of the company’s robustness in systems and processes so that a new player can enter the business and build on what already exists. Much like with sellers joining the sales team. The key point is to build on what already exists, including alignment with the strategy of the company. External hirers want to change things, rightly or wrongly, to what they are used to in an environment they feel comfortable. Change is inevitable, and often, they are not equipped to handle the change, having had only a handful of management roles. An existing employee promoted is more likely to follow the established path and not rock the boat.

The strategy to hire internally can have merit, but typically, the strategy around it lacks enough consideration of the business needs. You are destined to be more of the same and not grow. An existing employee is anointed into the processes and thinking of the company, and most deliver only incremental improvement in the top-line numbers. In fact, more companies go back as the top revenue producer and are withdrawn from the market.

As a CEO, you need to ensure that the promotion benefits the individual and your company, and it takes the company forward. You need to appreciate the enormous adjustment required of the promoted top seller to sales manager, from being an individual producer to a sales manager making money through other people.

So as CEO, what do you need to do? How do you ensure that your top seller transitions to their new role successfully? How do you ensure that you achieve sustainable business growth?

Here are three things to consider:

1.    Set role expectations. The complexity of a sales management role is far greater than that of an individual seller. The sales role is a relatively simple function of ringing customers, making appointments, and closing sales. This may sound like a generalisation, but you get the point.

The sales management role has many layers of complexity. Sales planning, hiring, coaching, performance management, sales meetings, pricing discussions, major customer visits, customer contract reviews, proposal reviews, presentations, and management reporting, to name a few. This is even before strategy comes into play. They are the overseers of the team, and the larger the team, the more demanding this all becomes. The team may have cultural issues pulling down even more on their time. Most sales managers have only an idea of what the role entails based on observations in their role through a narrow funnel of exposure and have a belief that most sellers are motivated like they are.

The essential step in transitioning a top seller to the sales manager is setting clear expectations in their new role. A comprehensive position description is giving them an understanding of the full scope of the role. There must be a fundamental shift from managing customers to managing a sales team, and this will go to the core of how they operate and respond to situations on a day-to-day basis. Having someone outside the business who has the time and mandate to deliver the improvements is equally important.

2.    Commit to their development. As a new sales manager is promoted from within, giving them the right coaching and processes to build their team and results will be vital. Assisting them in having the right structure, communication, and approach to working with their team can be the difference between hitting sales goals year after year or the person struggling in a trial and error cycle. If the sales manager does not want to coach, alarm bells should be ringing for you as the skill set required from one role to the other is significant. A quick few days at a course just doesn’t cut it. They need situational coaching and guidance to build their skills and priorities.

3.    Take the business forward. New leadership in any part of a company is an opportune time to take a business up to another level. Improve its capability and performance with the new leadership showing the way. This opportunity is often lost on internal promotions where the emphasis is often on stability keeping the sales team stable and servicing customers.

With new leadership, whether internally or externally hired, is the opportune time to install new cultures, systems, and processes that leverage business improvement. Salespeople are more open to change and have an expectation of change with a change of leadership. The right approach can bond a team with its new leadership and establish a positive culture that drives the business forward.

The decision to promote your top seller to a sales manager can be a risky business. It all comes down to the preparation and implementation of their transition to have a positive impact on the business and individual. If not sufficiently prepared, they can negatively impact those in the team and your business.

We can assist you in coaching your sales manager and the implementation of methodologies and tools that will take the business forward. Purposefully designed, the Sales Improvement Services will provide your new sales manager with the focus, disciplines, and processes to positively impact the team and the business and deliver sales growth.If you are looking to hire an effective sales manager, we can assist you in that search.

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If you enjoyed this article, you may be interested in reading this:

Hiring an Effective Sales Manager

© 2019 Sales Focus Advisory. All rights reserved.

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About the Author: Adele Crane

A leader in Implementation Consulting.
CEOs and Managing Directors have relied on Adele Crane to solve challenges with the performance of their sales and marketing since 1990. Her consulting experience in delivering results in 90-120 days is unprecedented by any other known sales and marketing consulting professional in the world. As an author of 3 acclaimed books, appearances on major media, and publications in USA, NZ and Australia, Adele’s experience brings fresh thinking and contemporary practices to business.