Should You Promote Your High Sales Performer to Sales Manager

By Steve Weinberg Steve Weinberg has been verified by Muck Rack's editorial team
Published on September 19, 2022

“Jennifer” is among the best-performing salespeople on your team. She has let you know that she wants to be considered for the sales manager opening you have. You had not considered Jennifer. She has only worked for you for a few years and she may be too inexperienced for this role. Yet, she has exceeded her sales quota in the last two years, one of only two who accomplished that. What should you consider when deciding whether to promote Jennifer?

Does Jennifer, or any candidate, fit the sales manager skill set?

The skill set of a sales manager is vastly different from that of a salesperson. It is not a senior salesperson position either. An exceptional sales manager can transfer their knowledge to their team members. They devote adequate time to training and coaching, with special emphasis on new and failing salespeople. In addition, they need to manage the sales pipeline, hire (and fire) salespeople, accurately forecast sales, and manage upwards.

Is Jennifer respected, or liked, by the other team members? Will her former peers see her as their manager or their friend? Often there is respect because they know that Jennifer has achieved the sales quotas. But sometimes friendships interfere with the new roles Jennifer and her friends will have. If she is despised by some because of her achievements, which they did not have, or her aggressiveness, the situation will be exacerbated when she becomes the manager. If Jennifer is promoted, she will need coaching on how to work with her former peers. And her friends should also receive coaching on how to interact with her.

A question I always asked was “would we hire Jennifer for this position if she was an outside candidate?” If not, let’s pause and consider the risks.

What are the known risk factors of promoting Jennifer?

Many star salespeople fail as sales managers because of the difference in skills needed for each position. Successful salespeople are usually “lone wolves.” They like to work independently and dislike managers who try to control them. Successful managers must be the ultimate team players. They must be constantly engaged and communicating with their team and be available 24 x 7.

To exemplify, many star professional athletes have failed as managers. In contrast, some of the greatest coaches and managers were below average as players.

Another consideration is Jennifer’s ability to drive the team to success. Does she have the capability, drive, and energy to direct others, not just herself? She will need the courage to push her former teammates to achieve the team sales quota. If they are not achieving success, can she recognize it and take corrective actions? Can she fire a non-performer? If the answer to any of these three questions is negative, you need to consider somebody else.

What if you don’t promote Jennifer?

The greatest risk of not promoting Jennifer is that she may leave to take a sales manager opportunity at another company if that is her ambition and you don’t promote her now. This is especially a concern if her peers know that she has applied for the position. It is also impossible to return Jennifer to your salesforce if she is unsuccessful. It is too big of an ego hit. And your competitors and other companies are always on the hunt for outstanding salespeople and already know about her.

Secondly, but equally important, by taking a top seller out of the salesforce and making her or him a manager you are reducing the probability of your team reaching quota. Who will make up for the lost (above quota) sales revenue? A new hire? Not likely. Of course, depending on her motives for wanting the promotion, you may lose here regardless.

The Ultimate Outcome

What message are you sending to the company if you hire Jennifer for the position? Or, if you don’t?

If Jennifer is promoted, it sends a message that you will promote from within, which is a positive signal, assuming she is qualified. If she isn’t qualified , it may send the message that she was promoted because she was favored. It also may be considered a reward for Jennifer’s outstanding performance.

If Jennifer isn’t promoted and somebody is hired from the outside, it may send the message that the company isn’t confident in Jennifer, or perhaps their employees and training in general. Or, it may send the message that the company prefers to hire from outside.

Having faced this situation on many occasions, I advise cares in making the decision. I suggest interviewing people from the outside, as well as others on the inside, and comparing the candidates to Jennifer. Often there is a bias to hire the outsider because we know the faults of the person who works for us now, whereas the outside candidates’ negatives will mostly be unknown unless there is a prior history or somebody familiar with their personality and performance. And they will be on their best behavior during the interviewing process. Sometimes companies feel there is a need for “new blood” and practices.

However, if Jennifer has the necessary skills and ambition, it may be worth trying. You could be gaining a new outstanding sales manager – or creating a disaster in which you not only lose a top sales producer, but also lose the sales manager, by resignation or termination if there is a failure. Then you will need to deal with the disruption of replacing not just the sales manager, but also a productive salesperson.

If you don’t promote her you need to have an honest discussion of the reasons for your decision and what skills she needs to be promoted in the future, as well as your willingness to help her obtain those skills. This must be done in a timely manner, not waiting until the time of the next formal performance review. I suggest you request the assistance of a human resources person in planning the discussion.

Always keep in mind your objective is to try to promote the best person for the position to ensure their success, your success, and the company’s success.

By Steve Weinberg Steve Weinberg has been verified by Muck Rack's editorial team

Steve Weinberg is a contributor to Grit Daily News who has spent his life selling and helping others sell better, sell faster, and sell more. He is an expert at building, guiding, and sustaining high caliber sales teams, and creating exemplary standards in account management. He has over three decades of leadership experience in sales, including Vice Presidencies at Dun & Bradstreet Software, AC Nielsen, Solcorp (then part of EDS, now HP), and Deloitte and Touche. Steve earned a B.A. in Economics / Business Administration from North Park University, and an MBA from Loyola University of Chicago. He is also a CPA and has experience in accounting, consulting, and as a graduate-level Economics instructor. He is married and has two adult children. He is the author of Above Quota Performance (Armin Lear Press, 10/18/2022).

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